Judith Warner on the Stupak Debate

This article is from the archive of our partner .

The abortion debate is often a matter of trench warfare, with both sides firing from well-dug, well-worn lines. Judith Warner is a proud pro-choicer, but she offers insight on her New York Times blog that goes beyond the common talking points. Taking a big-picture look at the trajectory of the women's movement, she argues that a continuing subtext of conversations about abortion and marriage is the belief that mothers' interests are pitted against their children's. Here is her contribution to the Stupak debate, departing from a Mad Men episode in which a character is denied custody of her children upon leaving her unfaithful husband:

It was, in large part, to free women from this utter dependency upon--and definition by--men that the women’s movement came into being. Self-determination, at base, is what abortion rights in particular have always been about.

Americans ... have embraced many aspects of women’s "liberation." They approve of the movement of women into the work force ... But true self-determination, on the most intimate level, has remained problematic, particularly in the past decade or two, as memories of the prefeminist '60s have dimmed. At the same time, some of the more insidious elements of the long-brewing antifeminist backlash have become an accepted part of our cultural landscape.

We've seen this for years in the way we talk about motherhood: celebrating selflessness, demanding an almost inhuman degree of child-centeredness, positioning the interests of mothers in opposition to those of their children, as our political and personal debates so often do. Nowhere has this come to be more true than in the abortion debate, in which anti-choice activists have pitted the lives of unborn children against the selfishness of their mothers.

Warner declares that this is a "false conflict." Pro-life activists may disagree with this conclusion, but the perceptive and provocative analysis--in stark contrast to the mechanical fury from the trenches--should offer both sides food for thought.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.