I strongly suspect that this comes as no shock to most of you, but I'm very much pro-choice. I've never made a secret of this. Whenever the subject comes up, I'm more than willing to share my thoughts. One of the things that always annoys me is the blatant inconsistency of the so-called "pro-life" crowd. The logical gap between claiming that abortion is murder, but making exceptions for rape and incest is a source of bother to me.
First, terminology: Each side of the debate, obviously, wants to frame the debate in a way that helps their side. That's totally understandable. One side wants to be called "pro-life." While I take it as obvious why this might be, it can't hurt to examine, anyway. By calling themselves "pro-life" they get to select the focus of the debate. The pro-choice side want to focus on the rights of a woman to control her body. In general, most people don't have a problem with the idea that we should have control of our body, so they call themselves "pro-life" because it shifts the focus from the rights of the woman to the alleged rights of the fetus. It's, in large part, an appeal to emotion- the fetus is incapable of defending itself, and is an "innocent" life. So, they frame themselves as the defenders of these helpless little babies. A new tactic of theirs is to call the other side "anti-life." More on that in a second.
I, on the other hand, think of myself as "pro-choice." Again, it should be obvious why, but I think that certain aspects get missed. Pro-choicers are not pro-choicers just because they think that women should have the option to abort, although that's the hot topic. Pro-choicers think that women should have the ability to make choices about all aspects of their reproductive health. Abortion is one choice, but choices about contraception, adoption, etc are all important as well. If a woman wants to have a child, she should be able to make that choice, and shouldn't be shamed or derided for it. She should have all of the tools necessary to make that choice.
The opposition wants to frame this as "anti-life," though. The implication is that supporting a woman's right to choose abortion must, necessarily mean that you endorse killing babies. This is a ridiculous and offensive position to take. Being pro-choice is about supporting whatever choice the woman thinks is best. This is why pro-choicers are accurately thought of as pro-choice, and not anti-life. I've never met someone who thought that all women should be forced to have abortions, which would be the stance of someone who was pro-abortion or anti-life.
Some pro-choicers (myself included, in many instances) have taken to thinking of the other side as anti-choice, or pro-forced-pregnancy. I think that this is both an appeal to emotion, and a fairly accurate assesment of the opposition's stance. The pro-life side, by and large, seem to care a lot less about the life of the fetus, and a lot more about the choices that the pregnant woman made that got her there. The opposition mostly support policies that force women to give birth, or oppose women's ability to make choices- both the choice to get an abortion, as well as the choice to have sex. They may not think that sex should be illegal, but they certainly condemn and criticize women who have sex out of wedlock. The idea seems to be that women who have and enjoy sex "should have known better" and that being forced to have a child is a consequence that will make them be more responsible in the future.
Their opposition to choice doesn't stop there, though. The anti-choice crowd tend to be the same ones that oppose ready access to birth control and accurate sex education. The opposition to a woman having the right to choose begins when they're still girls, with the opposition to safe, accurate information about sex and sexual health. As women get older and consider having sex, it moves into an opposition to women having easy access to birth control. Once a woman is having sex, it takes the form of refusing access to Plan B and other emergency contraception. Once a woman is pregnant, it rolls over into opposition to programs that would provide a pregnant women with ready access to prenatal care, and ends up with a complete and vocal criticism of abortion and attempts to ban and block access to the procedure. And after woman have given birth, where are the pro-life crowd? Are they out trying to help programs that give aid to women in poverty and women who can't afford health care for their children? Go ahead and guess.
Now, I completely understand why they'd bristle about being called anti-choice or pro-forced-pregnancy. When using terminology like that, you're starting from a pretty tough place. It's a lot harder to convince people that your position is the right one when your position is that women should be punished for having sex. It's hard to sway an audience when your position is "We support forcing people to endure a major life change against their will." It's a lot easier if you're saying "but what about the innocent baby?!" Innocent babies aren't a tough sell- even people who dislike children are hard pressed to think that it's good to kill them.
The problem is that the pro-life stance seems to be logically inconsistent. The most vocal pro-lifers positions, upon close inspection, become clearly intellectually dishonest, which helps make it very obvious that their concern isn't so much the life of the fetus as it is moralizing and punishing women who are "foolish enough to get knocked up."
The rape and incest exceptions are key here. The average pro-lifer seems to say "Abortion is wrong and should be outlawed. Except for in cases of rape and maybe incest. In those cases, we should allow it." I think that most people think that abortion should be allowed if the woman's life is threatened (although not everyone thinks so). On the surface, it seems hard to argue against that, right? I mean, nobody wants to force a woman to give birth to her rapist's child, right?
There's a major problem with claiming to be pro-life, but willing to make exceptions for rape, though. The idea of the pro-life side seems to be that the fetus is an innocent in the whole thing, and should have the same right to life that all of us have. The fetus can't choose to be conceived or not, and it's wrong to kill it... because it's innocent and helpless. That would be a pro-life stance. The fetus is alive. It's wrong to kill it. End of story.
The rape exception throws a wrench into the whole thing, though. The fetus is no less innocent for having been the product of rape or incest. The fetus still had no say in the conception, and still can't speak or defend itself. If your problem is with the idea of killing a fetus, it doesn't make sense to make exceptions for something like rape, since the fetus is no less innocent and no less helpless, etc, for the circumstances of the conception.
The only reason that one might make an exception for rape and remain logically consistent is because you're judging abortion in regards to the woman, and not the fetus. Specifically: you're concerned about her actions. In that case, rape exceptions make perfect sense, since it wasn't any direct action on the part of the woman that led to the conception. That the fetus is an innocent is irrelevent, because the woman didn't have a choice.
Following through, we realize that the reason abortion is wrong isn't because of the status of the fetus, again, but because of the actions of the woman. The pro-life stance is anti-choice, because their objection is to the actions of the woman. It's about controlling the actions of women and controlling sexual identity.
A woman who gets pregnant because she made a choice to have sex is somehow "less than" a woman who is pregnant because of the actions of an other. She shouldn't be allowed to make the choice to have an abortion, because she needs to accept the consequences of sex. In other words, she needs to be taught a lesson. You'll see many anti-choicers using language like that: "She needs to accept the consequences of her actions" or "If she didn't want to get knocked up, she shouldn't have had sex."
In fact, a careful look at most major pro-life arguments shows how quickly the debate takes that tone. Lip-service is paid to the whole "but the innocent baby!" line, but the argument almost always breaks down into a criticisms of the woman and her actions. It's almost always more about her being sexually active and needing to learn her lesson than it is about the life of the fetus.
There are a few people who really are pro-life, I think. There are a lot of people who are anti-choice because they haven't done a lot of personal searching on the issue. For a lot of them, it's a religious issue, or it's something that they've been indoctrinated in, and they're repeating the sound-bites. I've only seen a few people who are logically consistant pro-lifers.
I find it a lot easier to respect pro-lifers like that, even though their position is even more offensive than the average pro-lifer's. I can respect it because those are the people who really believe that abortion is murder. I completely disagree with them, but at least they're being intellectually honest in the debate- they believe that the fetus has a right to life- if you kill one, you're murdering it, and that's wrong. They're not just moralizing to women about sex, they're trying to save lives.
I still think they're wrong, though.
I wrote a lot of this some time ago, but I want to take a moment here to discuss something that really has been bothering me. On one of the sites I go to on a regular basis, a commenter has taken to making blatantly offensive comparisons between abortion and, say, rape or assault.
So why not let men date rape women? I mean, if a guy can't have any other options for sex, why can't he get a girl a little drunk and make her do something she'll regret? After all, he has a right to experience life as a sexual being. Are anti-rapists "forcing abstinence" on unwilling men?
We don't allow robbery of grocery stores because we are against "forced starvation," we don't allow embezzlement because we are against "forced poverty," we don't allow rape because we are against "forced celibacy," and we shouldn't allow abortion because we are against "forced birth."
I don't think that men should be able to get out of parenthood by kicking their girlfriends in the stomach, even though that would accomplish the unalienable right to decide how and when to become a parent.
These kinds of tactics only further illustrate the intellectual dishonesty of some anti-choicers. Intentionally conflating a woman's right to control her own body with a rapist's forcing himself on another person shows a marked lack of concern for the rights of women. Further, it shows an intentional disregard for the pain and suffering of victims of assault, and a disdain for women who do get abortions. The differences between wanting to control your body's integrity and wanting to force yourself on another person sexually should be obvious to anyone who is being remotely honest and sincere in their beliefs.