a bird and a bottle

Protecting Women from Themselves, part 75792.
November 13, 2006, 9:07 am
Filed under: feminism/s & gender, law, politics

One of the trends to emerge from the brouhaha over abortion rights in South Dakota is a new anti-reproductive rights rhetoric. As Yale Law Prof Reva Siegel and her coauthor Sarah Blaustain noted in a recent American Prospect article, there has been a shift in whom or what the anti-choicers seek to protect. Traditionally, anti-choice activists spoke for the fetus, and sought to protect the “rights” of this “American” (their language not mine).

But not anymore.

Realizing that the influence of fetal rights is on the wane, antis are now justifying their push for more restrictive abortion legislation on the grounds that such laws are necessary to protect women. Women, it seems, cannot make an informed decision about whether or not to have an abortion. Apparently, our brains are too small to enable to us to take in and digest a lot of information and make a choice that is thought out and not coerced. So women need laws that force them to wait 24 or 48 hours after first visiting a doctor, or they need the state to tell them when they can have an abortion and whom they have to tell (or from whom they have to seek approval) before doing so. Because we can’t trust women to make informed decisions about whether or not they want to become mothers. No, because as Pandagon’s Amanda notes, women don’t have the agency to decide for themselves to terminate a pregnancy.

Does this sound like a flashback to 1910 and the protectionist legislation than kept women from pursuing their chosen professions to anyone else?


5 Comments so far
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Yes and no. The problem is that abortion is justified as a good choice for a woman – so necessary for her as to override the rights of the baby/fetus/embryo/what-have-you. This is akin to the theory of self-defense: the person defending himself will ultimately benefit from said defense. When you remove the “necessary for woman” justification, abortion becomes indefensible.

The reality is that most women regret having their abortions; many are coerced into having them; and most women who have abortions would, in retrospect, make a different decision. The largest supporters of abortion are young men (18-35) who know that abortion allows them to have sex without consequences.

Coercion takes on many forms: economic (inability to support the child when the father states that he will not pay), social (parents who tell their daugthers to get an abortion or they will be disowned) and legal (an abused woman who has a child cannot give it up for adoption without her abuser’s consent). It is patently absurd to suggest that removing those elements of coercion is against women’s autonomous interests, unless, of course, one believes that a woman’s decision to carry her child is inferiour to her decision to abort.

There are waiting periods for cosmetic surgery, age requirements to buy booze, and parental consent requirements for giving a minor crutches and an ACE bandage. In the state of California, a person who contracts for services has 72 hours to cancel the agreement and get all of her money back.

How is any of that patronizing? More importantly, how does any of that differ from abortion laws?

Comment by theobromophile

thanks for your comment, theobromophile. But I have to say that I disagree with most everything you said.
First of all, I think that the analogy to self defense is misguided, and I fail to see how abortion rights are anything like self defense in the criminal context. A woman decides to have an abortion because she (SHE) feels that it is not the right time in her life for her to give birth to a (another) child. A person defends herself becuase she has no choice. These are fundamentally different.

I don’t want to get into a values debate here about whether abortion is “right” or “wrong.” I have found in my poltiical work that this is a pretty closely held belief and if you know what you think (which it seems you do), I’m unlikely to budge you. But I do want to point out some things in your comment that could be misleading to readers who are not as well-versed in the facts and politics of abortion. First, there is no solid (peer reviewed) evidence that (a) the majority of women who have procured abortions would have made a different decision in retrospect, (b) that “many” women are coerced into abortions, or (c) that the reason young men support abortion rights is because it allows them to have sex without consequences.

In fact, I would venture that if it is true that the staunchest supporters of abortion are young men, it is because they have been raised in a society that values women as full actors in all parts of American life, not just as reproductive entities. But whatever the reason, the percentages (again, if men are the largest supporters of abortion rights) do not at all necessarily lead to the conclusion you draw.

As for coercion, it’s true that unfortunately some women are coerced into abortions. But women are also coerced into childbirth. So to frame it as one sided is, again, misleading. Parents sometimes tell teenage women who want to have abortions that they cannot. How is that not coercion? The Federal Government tells poor women that it will not help them pay for abortions, and sometimes not even birth control. How is that not coercion?

There are certainly all types of coercion, as you point out, but it’s a folly to say that coercive forces push in only one direction. Coercion is a fact of life. In business, in friendships, in familial relationships, in romantic relationships. It’s naive to think that we can eliminate it, particularly by restricting women’s decisionmaking. We need to respect women – especially the vast majority of women who are not coerced – to make the right choices for themselves. Perhaps if the law respects women, abusive partners, parents, and everyone else will fall in line.

Comment by bean


You are correct that the self-defense analogy falls apart, but its lack of correlation to abortion supports the pro-life side.

No values debate from me. 🙂 I’ve often said that the only difference between pro-choicers and pro-lifers is whether they feel worse for the woman or the baby. I am, personally, a (very) marginally pro-choice woman but cannot help to see modern abortion as the most anti-woman problem we have.

As for women regretting abortions, please see:

I find it impossible to believe that young men are somehow more enlightened about women’s rights than women of the same age. Consider that most abortionists are male and MDs in training who oppose abortion and the teaching of it are largely female. Perhaps the disparity is because women see abortion as a moral wrong (necessity of which is not to be debated now).

To clarify: When 1.5 million women have abortions every year, “many” of them are coerced – numerically if not as a percentage.

To answer your rhetorical questions, it is not coercion into pregnancy to not pay for an abortion. (Excepting rape), the woman affirmatively chose to become pregnant (pregnancy being the logical consequence of sex, whether or not that consequence is likely or not). The fact that she chose to not exercise another option is not the fault of the taxpayer. I cannot afford a BMW, but the gov’t is not coering me out of car ownership by refusing to purchase one for my personal use. My freedom of speech rights are not removed when the government does not purchase the NY Times for me.

A parent who refuses to allow a teenage daughter to have an abortion is not coering her into being pregnant, only into having her remain pregnant. (Rape, of course, being an entirely different issue.) I don’t think that parents have a legal or moral obligation to ensure that their daughters need not inconvenience themselves.

It seems rather patronizing to suggest that women NEED to be removed from the logical consequences of their actions, much in the way that we excuse children and the mentally ill from dealing with the logical consequences of their actions. The fact that those consequences fall more heavily (for, oh, only nine months) on one gender is not really an excuse for moral wrongdoing.

Your last paragraph ignores fundamental legal issues. We cannot eliminate murder, rape, robbery, embezzlement, and a host of other social ills, but we make them illegal in an effort to punish wrongdoers and deter wrongdoing. Likewise, we cannot eliminate coercion, but we give coerced people legal recourse.

If I am coerced into giving up the jewelry that I am wearing, I would not defend that as my “choice” to give it up (as I may happily do in other circumstances) instead of to be shot or assaulted or what-have-you. The law gives me recourse against the hypothetical person who forces that “decision” upon me. Likewise, in contracts, duress is a reason to void the contract; no one says that voidability is patronizing to a businessman. It is nothing more than pure chauvanism to deny women legal recourse against coercive abortions simply because they have the uniquely feminine trait of being able to be pregnant. THAT is the anti-feminist notion.

Finally, citing Susan Faludi’s Backlash, the abortion rate has not changed in the past 100 years. During that time, pregnancy has become safer, birth control has become readily available, safe, and reliable, and the infant mortality rate has dropped. Yet, abortion rates have not dropped. Planned Parenthood states that 70% of women who seek abortions did not use any form of birth control. That leads this feminist to ask how anyone can say with a straight face that abortion is about respecting the decision-making capacities of people too dense to use a condom. The decision to have unprotected sex has its consequences; legally and morally, we do not remove cuplability for the natural consequences of decisions, unless we are dealing with children or the retarded.

The law has “respected women” since 1973.

I do not aim to change your mind on abortion… merely to point out that, when you think about it, abortion is not the great realization of women’s rights that we are lead to believe it is.


Comment by theobromophile

Most women are not coerced to abort any more than they are coerced to have chemo when they have cancer. They are making an informed responsible decision based on resources available.
I do not think that word means what you think it means. There is a very great difference between a woman being forced under threat of punishment by parent or spouse, and a woman making a decision based on a reasonable assesment of her resources. Continue to breathe if you wish, but do not pretend you are being coerced to do so.

Comment by thebewilderness

I’m perplexed. I never said that most women are coerced; I merely stated that some are (and, given how many women have abortions, “some” of 1.5 million is quite a few) and they deserve legal protection. Only the most rabid anti-feminist would deny them protection given in every other legal arena.

This gives a limited although accurate definition of “coerce:”

“…based on resources available.” So instead of helping women to have more resources so they can have MORE choices, we should limit their options?

Comment by theobromophile

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