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Monday, January 2, 2017

A response to Shawna Kay Rodenberg


Shortly before Christmas, Salon published an article that surprised me. I almost didn't read it, because I'm not a big Salon fan; it's home to many anti-choicers-hate-women screeds, and I still have some lingering distrust from the publication's anti-vaccine days (although there appears to have been some improvement on that front in the years since Robert Kennedy's infamous rant). But this article came to me from a trusted friend, so I opened the link.

The title: How to argue with your relatives about abortion: A few arguments that don’t work with pro-lifers and some that might. The lede: "If you anticipate an argument over abortion politics with Aunt Cheryl at this year's family dinner, read this first." Already I was groaning. Aunt Cheryl? You know Millennials are more pro-life than Aunt Cheryl's generation, right?

But I kept reading. I'm so glad I did.

Kudos are due to author Shawna Kay Rodenberg for the single most intellectually honest pro-choice piece I have ever encountered. So please allow me to engage, section by section, with her do's and don't's for convincing Aunt Cheryl. (For the sake of not repeating her entire article, I'm mostly quoting the thesis statements of each paragraph. I do encourage you to read the whole thing.)
First, acknowledge that abortion isn’t only a conservative Christian concern.
This opening made me do a double take. THANK YOU.
Don’t argue semantics like using “anti-abortion” versus “pro-life.”
Agreed, this is a waste of time. Likewise, insisting on using "pro-abortion" for someone who prefers "pro-choice" is also a waste of time.
Remember that her news feed does not resemble yours. If she keeps pro-life company, she is daily inundated with graphic images of mangled babies and brutal videos of late-term miscarriages and forceps-requiring stillbirths being passed off as abortions.
Okay, this is a little much. Yes, I see images and videos of miscarried children—from pro-life parents who suffered miscarriages and want to showcase the humanity of their deceased children. They're not pretending to have had abortions, nor am I "daily inundated," and if you want to see footage of actual abortions you may do so here.

A much more common sight in my news feed, I'd say approximately once a week, is the latest news about a woman maimed or injured at an abortion facility. The movement (particularly Operation Rescue) keeps good track of ambulance calls. Health inspection failures, too.
Never say that a fetus is not a baby or argue that it is not alive. Pro-life women are disgusted by the “vagina as magic portal”-style pro-choice argument in which some dark magic takes place during birth that transforms a fetus into a person. Even if you maintain that independent breathing marks the beginning of life, many premature infants cannot breathe on their own, but we still call them infants, not fetuses. Concede the human-ness of the fetus.

Thank you for that. Moving on:
Don’t argue that abortion gives a woman autonomy over her body. In doing so, you infer that the woman’s body is the only one involved, and whether you believe a fetus should have civil rights or not, we must all admit that it does in fact have a body, a tiny physical manifestation. Denying that it does ensures you will lose the argument.
This is the point where I started wondering why Ms. Rodenberg supports abortion at all. Her very next paragraph sheds some light:
This argument also ignores our collective tendency to fetishize maternal sacrifice. Who doesn’t adore at least one of the hundreds of movies in which a woman is transformed by motherhood and makes great personal sacrifices, or even dies, to save her child? American politicians on both sides consistently fail to demonstrate that women have as much value as men or children, so you should not be surprised that Aunt Cheryl is most concerned with the rights of the child.
I also happen to like movies where fathers sacrifice for children, and movies where strangers sacrifice for children. Hollywood should make more of those. Sacrificing for children, paying it forward to the next generation, should be a moral and societal value for all adults, not just mothers. I'm not saying misogyny doesn't exist—it clearly does—but the solution to women's oppression is not violence toward unborn children.
Don’t argue against adoption as a viable alternative or say that it’s unreasonable to expect a woman to give up nine months of her life, that she might lose her job, that her health might be compromised. Again, you are likely talking with a person who idolizes maternal sacrifice and does not realize how little she thinks about the experiences of women, who probably voted for a man who boasted about sexually assaulting women simply because he could, just so she could save babies.
Sigh... so many assumptions here. Let me just take the obvious one: Trump's candidacy was extremely controversial among pro-lifers. A long list of pro-life leaders joined an open letter begging Iowa GOP primary voters to pick anyone else. I myself voted third party.
Don’t talk about exceptions for cases of rape. ... Aunt Cheryl will never believe those few cases justify the continued slaughter of millions of innocent lives.
True. Next:
Never contend that abortion is a single issue and there are other issues of equal importance. For the pro-lifer, there is no issue that trumps life. Many of them refer to contemporary America as a “culture of death,” which might be confusing for anti-war, anti-death penalty liberals, but pro-lifers not only support the rights of the fetus; they also tend to rally against Kevorkian-like practices; they do not support mercy killings.
And a lot of us are anti-war and anti-death penalty, too.

Having exhausted the most popular ad hominem attacks and anti-scientific blather used by the abortion lobby, I wondered... what's left? Here are Ms. Rodenberg's arguments:
Emphasize the importance of pregnancy prevention. Tell your Aunt Cheryl that the vibrant presence of many organizations advocating for women’s health, such as the leviathan Planned Parenthood, decreases the number of abortions women seek. At least you’re acknowledging that abortion is not ideal and she will appreciate that.
I'm all about pregnancy prevention, but if Aunt Cheryl is actively pro-life, she'll know that the pro-life efforts to defund Planned Parenthood are not proposed cuts to contraceptive funding; the proposal is to reallocate those dollars to federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) that treat low-income women on a sliding scale. FQHCs have far more locations than Planned Parenthood, and don't commit abortions.

And now, sadly, we go off the rails:
Unintended pregnancies carry risks for the child, too. ... Children of unintended pregnancies are less likely to succeed in school, more likely to be poor and receive government assistance and eventually more likely to participate in criminal activity. In your Aunt Cheryl’s sheltered mind palace, every woman loves her baby. Remind her that is not always the case, that not all women are cut out to be mothers. Of course, she will begin ranting about personal responsibility and accountability.
I don't know what Aunt Cheryl will rant about, but here's what I'll rant about: People are not better off dead because they don't get good grades in school, you psycho. People are not better off dead because they are poor or receive government assistance. That liberal elite bubble everybody's been talking about since November 8? Here it is. "Sheltered mind palace" indeed. Have you ever even met a low-income person? Maybe try asking them how they value their lives. And don't even get me started on the logic that we should kill "unintended" babies because they might grow up to participate in crime. Weren't you opposed to the death penalty a few paragraphs ago?

Ms. Rodenberg, these are my friends you're talking about, and there is more than a hint of eugenicist, racist thinking in your argument. This is the point where I stopped engaging politely and with an open mind.

Fittingly, the rest of the article is all about Aunt Cheryl's assumed Christianity, because we forgot the first paragraph, apparently.

Despite the disappointing ending, this article was still leaps and bounds ahead of most online abortion advocacy these days. I expect Ms. Rodenberg has received or will receive a lot of flack from her compatriots for calling abortion "not ideal," deviating from the new narrative that abortion is a great thing responsible for women's success in life.

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