The rhetoric of abortion: Not pro-choice anymore

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So these nine white guys walk into a room… and out comes the decision that a woman’s choice to have an abortion is protected under the 14th Amendment.

This seems to me one of the least likely results of putting nine dudes in a room for a few hours – in history. There’s that whole historical patriarchy thing, and then there’s the recently resurgent breed of crazy in US politics – the one that denies the importance of birth control or a woman’s right to manage her own reproductive health.

Considering the recent history of conservative male politicians discussing “legitimate rape,” and how the female body has ways to “shut that whole thing down,” it’s amazing to think that nine male judges in 1973 determined that yes, women should have the right to choose a safe and legal abortion.

But of course it’s not that simple. Nothing is. And even as Tuesday was the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, a woman’s right to a safe and legal abortion is consistently being attacked by opposing legislative forces.

Essentially, the anti-abortion agenda consists of making abortions more and more difficult to obtain until no one can reasonably obtain one. Since local politicians can regulate abortion legislation in their region, barriers to safe and legal abortion have been applied in more conservative counties first. Despite Roe v. Wade, anti-abortion beliefs can effectively scale back the rights of women.

Most often these beliefs are packaged and delivered to the public as “pro-life,” and while that stance spouts from a genuine belief, it seems a tangential discussion to the “pro-choice” opposition; the traditional labels for both sides do not necessarily involve them in a discussion with each other.

In my mind, the implied exchange goes something like this:

Person A: “I fight for life!”

Person B: “Oh yeah, well, I fight for choice!”

Person C: “Cool story, bros.”

Thus has the semantic dance of the abortion debate evolved.

While the binary opposition in this battle has historically been pro-life versus pro-choice, Planned Parenthood recently announced that it would stop using the label “pro-choice,” explaining that the term reinforces binary opposition instead of respecting a larger spectrum of beliefs in the abortion debate.

Rather than continuing to organize around the term “pro-choice,” Planned Parenthood hopes to expand the narrative spectrum of the unique circumstances women face. Rhetorical phrasing has shifted to the phrase “reproductive justice,” respecting that women should have this right, but that different women face different choices. One critique of “pro-choice,” summed up by Tracy Weitz, seems particularly important:

“Pro-choice is a label that connects most directly to the situation of middle- and upper-class women. Childbearing is an obligation for white women, thus abortion is the alternative choice. However, for women of color, whose reproduction has been controlled across time, abortion is not the only right for which women need to fight. Rather women need to be able to have a child, not have a child, and parent the children they have.”

Expanding the narrow term “pro-choice” to the broader label of “reproductive justice” respects the multitude of women who may ultimately face the choice of abortion, and heeds the importance of direct causes such as lack of access to contraception as well as larger systemic issues.

Meanwhile, a physical form of abortion debate played out in White Plaza on Tuesday. Stanford Students for Life set up a mock graveyard to represent the abortions of unborn fetuses, while Students for Reproductive Justice had an information table and a fundraiser benefiting a New Orleans abortion clinic. Our campus also had a special guest in the fundamentalist zealot on Dinkelspiel steps, who rattled off the greatest hits of ultra-conservatism to mourn Roe v. Wade..

And though he showed up on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, decrying the same decision Stanford Students for Life did, I know the physical distance between them represented the deeper chasm of his crazy hate, which they would not support.

But even respecting their intellect, I can never understand the mock graveyard. As a Catholic high school graduate, I’m accustomed to the appearance of similar rows of crosses every Roe v. Wade anniversary, and I am always disturbed. Not disturbed that women had the right to choose to end a pregnancy for any number of reasons, but disturbed at the graves as uniformly representative figures, as if the decision to have an abortion is one type of decision for one type of woman.

Women are black and brown and white and wealthy and poor and capable of making decisions. The fight for reproductive justice aims to ensure that all are equally equipped with the resources to do so.

Contact Annie at [email protected]

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Annie Graham is a junior from Phoenix, Arizona majoring in English. She is a member of the women’s club soccer team, a founding member of Stanford Athletes and Allies Together, a farming SPOT leader, and she tries to call her grandparents often.