a bird and a bottle

Flanagan Reformed? Nope, Just More of the Same.

It’s an odd day when I disagree with Amanda Marcotte, who I normally believe hits it right on the head all the time.

But not today.

Amanda’s got a post up praising Caitlin Flangan’s review of two books about abortion rights in the Atlantic. Amanda shares my general disgust for Flanagan, but she is buoyed by certain of Flanagan’s pronouncements in this review, particularly this one:

I’ve never had an abortion, and at this point in the game, I never will. Nor do I have daughters, so this is not an issue that will affect my own life in any immediate way. But I understand that the reality of women’s and girls’ lives is that they include as strong an impulse for sex as men’s. And maybe because I am a woman, the practical has always had a stronger pull on my emotions than the theoretical. Those old debates about the nature of the human soul have never moved me; surely a soul is no more valuable to God if it exists in this world rather than the next. And a thousand arguments about the beginning of human life will never appeal to me as powerfully as a terrified pregnant girl desperate for a bit of compassion.

I agree with Amanda that this sentiment is both encouraging and commendable. But I think it’s only so when you ignore its context. Because not two breaths later, Flanagan has this to say:

But my sympathy for the beliefs of people who oppose abortion is enormous, and it grows almost by the day. An ultrasound image taken surprisingly early in pregnancy can stop me in my tracks. In it is much more than I want to know about the tiny creature whose destruction we have legalized: a beating heart, a human face, functioning kidneys, two waving hands that seem not too far away from being able to grasp and shake a rattle. One of the newest types of prenatal imaging, the three-dimensional sonogram—which is so fully realized that happily pregnant women spend a hundred dollars to have their babies’ first “photograph” taken—is frankly terrifying when examined in the context of the abortion debate. The demands pro-life advocates make of pregnant women are modest: All they want is a little bit of time. All they are asking, in a societal climate in which out-of-wedlock pregnancy is without stigma, is that pregnant women give the tiny bodies growing inside of them a few months, until the little creatures are large enough to be on their way, to loving homes.

Doesn’t sound like the same woman who wrote the stuff Amanda praises. Now, I’m ok with people saying that they understand why some people don’t support abortion rights. I understand it. But I don’t have sympathy for the tactics they’ve used, which have only made it harder for those women and girls who do support those rights and do choose to exercise them. The demands of the “pro-life” movement are not modest. Not at all. Making a woman who has traveled ten hours from another state because she lives in one of the 87% of US counties that don’t have abortion providers and this is the nearest one wait overnight is inexcusable. Many women in this position have had to take a day or two away from work, days off they cannot afford, to make this trip. They’ve had to leave their children with family members, or maybe even bring them. They’ve had to pay for the journey and gather the money to pay for the procedure itself. They’ve thought long and hard about what they’re doing. Foisting an ultrasound or a 24 or 48-hour waiting period belittles women’s agency and their decisionmaking ability. If the mother’s instinct is as strong as Flangan claims it is (she calls it the strongest emotion imaginable), then why question a woman’s instinct that she can’t become a mother (or become a mother again) at this time.

Flanagan’s suggestion that out of wedlock children and their mother don’t face any stigma is also laughable. Certainly there are some women who choose to become single mothers who don’t face much hardship. They’re in the minority and they’re older, whiter, and richer than the vast majority of single mothers. Single mothers often face struggles particular to their singlehood, including but not limited to increased difficulty finding childcare, working a full-time job, or finishing school. To say that becoming a single mother today imposes no special burdens is to ignore everyone but the thirty-something unmarried white women who decide to go it alone — the only women Flanagan seems to know.

As Flanagan herself says, tales of young women and single women seeking abortions to avoid single motherhood are a thing of the past:

But the stories in such books [about women who got illegal abortions or gave children up for adoption] ought to have little role in shaping today’s public policy. The women described in their pages are travelers from an antique land, reporting about an America that is at once fairly recent and utterly unfamiliar. Bearing a child out of wedlock is so accepted today that some of the most respected professional-class women I know have done so intentionally.

That’s exactly right, some women have chosen to become single mothers, and many of them have not faced stigma. But they’re a small subset of women. It’s also folly to suggest that the specter of botched illegal abortions or of women being forced into adoption should have no impact on today’s politics. It is exactly this history that can shed light on what a U.S. without Roe would look like, and of what it already is like in many places in the U.S. that do not have abortion providers and that do not provide women with public (medicaid) funding for abortion.

Sure, I can admit, as Amanda does, that Flanagan is a powerful writer, and that she should use her powers more for good. But I disagree with Amanda that this is one of those times.


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[…] UPDATE: another interesting view about the Flanagan article from a bird and a bottle. […]

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[…] by Jack Stephens on April 7th, 2007 Bean, of the blog A Bird And A Bottle, writes about her disagrement with Amanda Marcotte of the blog Pandagon who agrees with Catlin […]

Pingback by (Dis)agreements on Abortion « The Blog and the Bullet

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