Feminism and Abortion

Pro-choice arguments, the author says, reflect the ambitions, hypocrisies, and contradictions of contemporary feminism
Bring on the Bull

By such maneuvering, pro-choice advocates can usually avoid admitting that the relationship between a woman and a fetus is not contractual. But if not contractual, then it must be organic—an outcome that leaves pro-choicers with only two options. They can deny the humanity of the fetus, which (as we've seen) is both unpopular and unproductive. Or they can change the subject.

Because the comparison between maternal and fetal consent favors the fetus, the logical solution is to shift to a comparison that favors the woman—that is, between the degrees of consent exercised by men and women having sex. In its wisdom (which has remained remarkably consistent over the years), public opinion tolerates legal abortion in cases of coercive sex, such as rape and incest. But this consensus isn't good enough for those pro-choice activists who have an overriding rhetorical need to stress female, as opposed to fetal, helplessness. Their hypocrisy peaks when, after granting women life-and-death power over the unborn, they depict sexual relations as beyond women's control—in rhetoric that harks back to the old militant equation of sex and rape, as expressed by the activist who told Kristin Luker that without abortion, women would have "about as many rights as the cow in the pasture that's taken to the bull once a year. "

This is not to suggest that the activists counsel sexual restraint. Like most "progressive" people, they have a horror of appearing prudish. Nor do they want to revive the old double standard that gave men more sexual liberty than women. Yet their dislike of male irresponsibility makes it tricky to advocate similar behavior in women. Perforce, they resolve the conflict by taking the "me first" ethic of the sexual revolution and cloaking it in the "caring" verbiage of superiority feminism. Here is Luker's summary of the pro-choice view of sex:

"Because mobilizing such delicate social and emotional resources as trust, caring, and intimacy requires practice, pro-choice people do not denigrate sexual experiences that fall short of achieving transcendence. They judge individual cases of premarital sex, contraception, and infidelity according to the ways in which they enhance or detract from conditions of trust and caring. In their value scheme, something that gives people opportunities for intimacy simply cannot be seen as wrong."

Does this mean that when Hank Williams sang "Your Cheatin' Heart," he was really singing about a practice mobilization of delicate trusting and caring resources by a person given an opportunity for intimacy? More likely, Hank meant that the human objects of trust, caring, and intimacy shouldn't be batted around for practice, like so many interchangeable tennis balls. Since the main purpose of such verbiage is to rationalize self-indulgence, it's no wonder that such verbiage also dominates feminist discussions of the higher morality of abortion.

Presented by

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus


A Stop-Motion Tour of New York City

A filmmaker animated hundreds of still photographs to create this Big Apple flip book


The Absurd Psychology of Restaurant Menus

Would people eat healthier if celery was called "cool celery?"


This Japanese Inn Has Been Open For 1,300 Years

It's one of the oldest family businesses in the world.


What Happens Inside a Dying Mind?

Science cannot fully explain near-death experiences.

More in National

More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In