In Defense of Pro-Life Pragmatism

This week, the internet has been abuzz with talk of a Texas state senator’s filibuster. State Senator Wendy Davis stood on the floor of the Texas for over twelve hours and delivered an impassioned defense of the necessity of abortion in the face of a bill that would have banned all abortions past twenty weeks of pregnancy. “#StandwithWendy” began trending on Twitter (copying the much more catchy “Stand with Rand“). Commentators nationwide have praised Sen. Davis for “standing up for women’s rights.”

Senator Davis during her filibuster.

Conservative (and conservative libertarian) women like myself greatly resent being told that our rights are ultimately about whether we want an abortion. We’re often very annoyed with such condescension on the issue of abortion. However, quite frankly, conservatives have done a very poor job of defending their pro-life stance in the face of arguments about women’s rights.

So how can we fix this?

First, for the purpose of this article, I am assuming that the gender gap exists. However, I do not believe it is natural for women to align themselves more often with liberal causes.  I am also assuming that readers are in general agreement with me that abortion is wrong. I’m not going to attempt to change anyone’s mind on the broader issue of abortion because I don’t have the time or the desire to do so. Rather, what I want to accomplish is for conservatives to take a good, hard look in the mirror and see what we’re doing very wrong and how we’re allowing ourselves to be put into a stereotype of not caring about women.

Recognize and point out that calling abortion an issue of “a woman’s body” is intellectually dishonest.

Life is not life only when we want it. Conservatives need to step away from responding with talking points and slogans (“I’m pro-life”) and actually take some time to articulate the reasoning behind them. Some states can charge people with double murder for killing a pregnant woman. Many women experience lasting depression after miscarriages. Not wanting to carry a fetus to term doesn’t make it more or less of a life. As conservatives, we have to challenge the idea that abortion is as simple as someone making decisions that only affect them.

Stop acting like rape is no big deal.

Some conservatives think that abortion should not be allowed in cases of rape. Some think there should be an exception. Either way, this is always going to be the rebuttal of the left (“what about rape?”), and we have to realize that this is a very sensitive topic. Unlike in cases where abortion is an issue of convenience, there is no choice involved in this. Pregnancy by rape is something that, by its very nature, is thrust upon a woman against her will. Flippantly dismissing these cases is wrong and offensive to rape survivors. It also doesn’t look great for our “we really don’t hate women” cause. And while we’re on that subject…

Think before you speak!

Let’s summarize some of the things that Republican politicians have said about rape and abortion. Rape victims shouldn’t need abortions because rape kits are abortion tools. Pregnancy rarely comes from “legitimate” rape. Pregnancies resulting from rape are a blessing from God. Going through a rape is “something similar” to a man’s daughter getting pregnant out of wedlock.

Disregarding the fact that these are all blatantly false (some laughably so), just look at how much the left has taken these comments and repeated them ad nauseum. I don’t think that these patently false and rather heartless comments are representative of any mainstream conservative view. But by speaking without thinking about what they’re saying or knowing what they’re talking about, these politicians have made it even easier for the left to tell women “conservatives don’t care about you.”

And while we’re on the subject of knowing what you’re talking about…

Being blatantly anti-science doesn’t help anything.

I strongly believe that conservatism which seeks to impose ideas about how individuals should live their lives is not true conservatism. Conservatives traditionally want smaller government. Liberals may say that they don’t want to run your life, but that promise ends when you want to drink a big soda or homeschool your children. Conservatives may be hypocritical about our small government stance sometimes, but at the very least, it is at the core of our philosophy.

With that in mind, the pro-life movement must separate itself from efforts to ban or discourage birth control, punish premarital sex, or promote motherhood as the ideal for all women. I realize this is controversial for a lot of pro-lifers. But abortion is not wrong because it’s taking away from women’s “natural inclination to be mothers,” it’s not wrong because it’s stopping the “natural process of pregnancy,” and it doesn’t happen because people have sex before marriage. Abortion is wrong because it’s the taking of a life. If we stray from that fundamental argument, we get ourselves caught up in actually telling women what to do with their bodies.

On a related note, if we are ever going to provide alternatives for abortion, we simply can’t argue that birth control also shouldn’t be an option. I am not opposed to birth control. But for the conservatives who are, can we at least agree that birth control would be the lesser evil? The same goes for emergency contraception. While we’re on the subject, emergency contraction doesn’t actually cause abortions. Neither does regular hormonal birth control (not that oral birth control pills are the only form of contraception).

So stop saying these things! We’re fighting a losing, anti-science, anti-reason battle, if we try to convince people not to even use contraceptives. And guess what? Abortions still happen when abortion is illegal. Since Roe v. Wade and subsequent court decisions, abortion has been legal nationwide. Regardless of who we put on the Supreme Court, there is quite a bit of jurisprudence to overthrow in order to change that. If we really want to be pro-life, we can’t just focus on the legal status of abortion (which may not change, soon, or ever!), but also on reducing it overall. As much as we may not like it, that’s going to include not trying to block women’s access to birth control.

Rhetoric matters.

We should be able to accept that having an abortion is a complex, highly emotional decision, and not something that women do because they’re horrible monsters. Stop calling women who feel they need an abortion “baby killers.” Stop saying that rape victims need to accept their “blessing from God.” Yelling at women, telling them they’re murderers, and trying to physically block them from going inside abortion clinics doesn’t help.

One of the few pro-life protest images available that doesn’t include gruesome images of aborted fetuses.

Recently, anti-abortion activists in my hometown were proudly passing around a personal story from a woman seeking an abortion who had been so disturbed by the protesters outside of the abortion clinic that she left… and went to a clinic a couple of counties away. That is not a win! You know what might actually help? Providing women with options so they don’t feel like abortion is their only choice. Screaming, shouting, and condemning is not going to win people over. Nor is it going to do anything to convince women who are drawn to the left that the right doesn’t really hate them.

I do not like being told that it is my right (and the only thing I should care about) to take the life of a child (at the very least, one I chose to conceive). I also don’t like listening to conservative politicians try to argue against abortion by using wrong, unscientific, or sexist arguments, lumped in with dismissal of other women’s health issues like birth control. I’m not calling for a compromise. I’m just calling for using methods that actually work.

6 thoughts on “In Defense of Pro-Life Pragmatism

  1. Twitter is abuzz with women pointing out that slaughtering children via abortion cannot be construed as “pro-woman” because roughly half of those lives ended will be women.

    That’s a damn good argument.

    • Second what Cathy has said. Great job.

      The only thing I would add is that I suspect that pro life folks have attempted to have the argument of where life begins but have found those philosophical arguments either beyond most Americans/their constituents and/or uninteresting to those people. It’s difficult to persuade someone based on philosophy, and that’s really the fundamental difference discussed here.

      • That may be true. In my experience there is not much debate over when life begins among pro-lifers, and it’s kind of accepted that it’s either at conception or implantation. I think that most people (even in the pro-choice camp) wouldn’t support abortion after the (admittedly ill-defined) point of “viability,” but anything earlier than that becomes really fuzzy as far as *proving* one way or another if it’s a “life.” I have my own views about when life begins and still would support legislation restricting abortion at the state level, but because it’s such a fundamentally unanswerable question, I think it’s also important that pro-lifers try to limit abortion in ways other than just through legislation. It’s also why I support abortion being left up to the states.

  2. Pingback: How Can You Be Pro-Life And…? | Liberty Without Apologies

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