Growing Up Pro-Life: Talking About Abortion

For too long the two sides in the mainstream
debate over abortion have been talking past each other,
speaking completely different languages and approaching the issue with
radically different perspectives. I was reminded of this last month
when, in one of his final acts as president, Bush issued
a proclamation making
January 18 "National Sanctity of Human Life Day." The language used was overtly religious and unapologetically pro-life: 

"All human life is a gift
from our creator that is sacred, unique and worthy of protection. On
National Sanctity of Human Life Day, our country recognizes that each
person, including every person waiting to be born, has a special place
and purpose in this world." 

The proclamation goes on to
outline accomplishments of the Bush White House: 

"My administration has been
committed to building a culture of life by vigorously promoting adoption
and parental notification laws, opposing federal funding for abortions
overseas, encouraging teen abstinence and funding crisis pregnancy programs." 

To anyone in the reproductive
justice movement this is a list of horribly sexist anti-choice
legislation that we have been organizing against for at least the last
eight years. Parental
notification laws

are an extra barrier that can prevent young women from being able to access abortion
services in a timely manner, causing them to wait until it is too late
for a legal abortion. The global
gag rule
, which
President Obama lifted, tied the hands of healthcare
providers all over the world, keeping contraception and other reproductive
health services out of the hands of women outside the U.S. Abstinence-only
stop young people from having sex, but they do keep them from learning
how to have safe sex. Crisis
Pregnancy Centers

mislead women, doing whatever they can to stop people from obtaining
abortions. The cumulative effect of presidential support for these policies
and programs has been devastating. 

But reading the language of
Bush’s proclamation I was reminded of a time, not all that long ago,
when that sort of rhetoric spoke to me. I grew up in a Christian fundamentalist
family and community, and was raised vehemently pro-life. Now I look
at this proclamation and shudder, aware of what these policies have
meant and continue to mean in the lives of real people the world over.
Back then, I heard this same sort of language about a "culture of
life" and my mind turned to the souls of unborn babies murdered in
cold blood before they even had a chance to experience the world, before
they could defend themselves. 

I say this not because I think
this ideology is anywhere close to right, but because it is a mindset
I believe we must come to understand if our movement is to succeed.
Growing up surrounded by Focus
on the Family
announcements for Sanctity of Life rallies and marches, stories about
the "silent scream," I never really thought about the effects of
all of this on actual living women. To me, it was all about the innocent
lives I believed were being destroyed. My father’s stories about praying
at women outside abortion clinics with Operation
sparked my first thoughts about what those women
must be experiencing. But it wasn’t until a radical change of community,
until I was surrounded by pro-choice organizers and was presented with an
alternative logic, that my worldview changed. I came to recognize the
narrow and deeply religious ideology that led me to focus on the unborn
and ignore the lives of women. I came to to see abortion as about saving
lives or making more fulfilling lives possible, about recognizing the
humanity of all people. 

From this perspective Bush’s
proclamation is an insult, a proud affront to human dignity and self-determination,
and a direct attack against women. Thinking back to my younger pro-life
self, though, I know others read this proclamation as a gift, a recognition
of the valuable humanitarian work they are doing. 

Yes, anti-choice ideology is
fundamentally sexist. I didn’t know this when I was a pro-lifer, though,
and I do not believe hatred of women is an intentional part of the belief
system of most people in that movement. It’s easy to paint pro-lifers
with one simplistic stroke as misogynist bigots bent on maintaining
patriarchal power, and this may be true of much of the movement’s
leadership. But I do not believe the average pro-life person is coming
from a place of hate. Most of these people believe they are doing good,
compassionate, life-saving work. Our movements simply cut the issue
in radically different ways. To a person whose religious beliefs are
a central part of their identity, being told that abortion is about
a human soul connects the issue to their most deeply held convictions,
making it an unquestionable moral good to work against access to abortion.
Women’s lives barely enter the picture. 

As a pro-lifer I didn’t understand
the likelihood of an unplanned pregnancy: I didn’t appreciate the
ways having a child can limit a woman’s opportunities, didn’t hear
stories about dangerous illegal abortions or understand why someone
would swallow poisonous chemicals because they couldn’t access an
abortion clinic and absolutely could not carry a pregnancy to term.
It was easy to focus on the unborn child when I wasn’t thinking about
the many different things getting pregnant and having a child can mean. 

It is vital in our work for
reproductive justice that we do not oversimplify and underestimate those
working to restrict reproductive rights. Our opponents are not Disney
villains bent on doing evil; they are good, well meaning people who
believe wholeheartedly that they are doing the right thing. We have
to understand where these people are coming from so that we can look
for connections, find the beliefs we share, and then find ways to present
a different perspective on these issues. It took cutting the issue differently
for me to change sides; I know I am not the only person out there susceptible
to a compassionate argument in favor of abortion. But that conversation
starts with respect and understanding for the beliefs of pro-lifers.

The more we frame the conversation as being about the lived experience
of real people the harder it becomes to argue that restricting abortion
is about caring for human life. If someone in the pro-life movement
is really motivated by a desire to save lives this humanizing of abortion
can speak to them, as it did to me.  

Bush has proclaimed eight "National
Sanctity of Human Life Days," each one a gift to pro-lifers and an
insult to the reproductive justice movement. But I choose to look back
on the past eight years as an opportunity to examine the state of the
abortion debate, to charitably contemplate the ideology behind Bush’s
rhetoric, and to recognize the vital work of changing hearts and minds
that must be done if we are ever to achieve reproductive freedom for
all. As we move forward with a pro-choice administration let’s work
to reframe the issue so we do not continue swinging back and forth between
administrations that focus on the rights of the unborn or the rights
of women. We need to connect abortion to people’s daily lives and
create a conversation that is relatable instead of rehashing abstract
political arguments. Someone had the conversation with me once, so I
know it can happen again.

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  • amanda-marcotte

    I agree with you about the majority of everyday people in the movement—they don’t examine their motivations, and never think about how fundamentally misogynist it is to work against women’s health care by ignoring that women are even part of the issue.  No one wants to believe they’re a bigot.  But anti-abortion ideology is inevitably wed to a worldview that is about a lot more than "life".  The correlation between being anti-choice and being anti-premarital sex, and pro-wifely submission is nearly 100%.  To be "pro-life" and not see the connections is to be in a constant state of denial.

  • paul-bradford

    Yes, anti-choice ideology is fundamentally sexist. I didn’t know this when I was a pro-lifer, though, and I do not believe hatred of women is an intentional part of the belief system of most people in that movement. 




    I’m thinking you could do better than you’ve done at understanding where "these people" are coming from.  As a start, I would suggest that you could try imagining that not everyone on the Pro-Life side thinks exactly the same way.


    There are basically three strategies for protecting the unborn:

    1) You can try restricting access to abortion to those women who are carrying an unwanted pregnancy.

    2) You can offer support to women who elect to carry their children to term.

    3) You can work to protect women from unwanted pregnancy in the first place.


    I’m Pro-Life but I’m not a big fan of Strategy #1.  There are a lot of reasons to be skeptical of that strategy but the one that matters most to me is the fact that legal restrictions to abortion don’t stop women from aborting their children.  How do I know this?  I know this because I’m a stats nerd and I love pouring over demographic data from the census department.


    If criminalizing abortion meant that women were compelled to carry their children to term even if they didn’t want to it would follow that decriminalization would substantially lower the birth rate as all those children who were previously born against their mothers’ wishes would now be aborted.  Is that what happened in the ‘seventies when abortion became legal?  It was not.  Abortion restrictions previous to Roe stymied maybe 5% of women who would have gotten abortions if abortion had been legal, — maybe 10%, maybe none.


    Strategy #1 is a waste of time and it’s difficult-to-impossible to implement.  That’s why, since the early ‘eighties Strategy #2 has been used.  How has it worked?


    In 1981 there were nearly twice as many abortions (among unmarried women) as births [the birth rate was 28.9 and the abortion rate was 53.9]– now there are far more births than abortions [44.8 to 33.3].  There is a lot more support for unmarried mothers than there was a generation ago — additionally the stigma of ‘illegitimacy’ is not nearly what it once was.  Strategy #2 has been a big success and I think there will be more successes in the future. 


    Now we’re ready to implement strategy #3.  What’s the best way?  Emphasize abstinence??  Offer accurate birth control information??  I suggest a third way: provide men with a disincentive to impregnate women they’re not married to.  Would that restrict ‘choice’?  I think it would, a little bit — but  I think it would be worth it. 


    Paul Bradford

    Pro-Life Catholics for Choice

  • paul-bradford

    The correlation between being anti-choice and being anti-premarital sex, and pro-wifely submission is nearly 100%. 




    Hey!  Since you like to call me ‘anti-choice’ let’s talk about being anti-premarital sex.  As I pointed out elsewhere, I’m in a nerdy demographic stats mood I’ll toss you two numbers — 9.3 and 92.2.  What’s that?  That’s the rate of unmarried pregnancies in 1946 and 1991.  The rate between 1946 and 1991 was rising gradually and steadily.  Now, why do you suppose that rate went up an entire order of magnitude?  I’ll tell you what I think.  I think there was AT LEAST ten times as much premarital sex in 1991 as there was in 1946.


    Here’s another number: 76.7 — that’s the most recent pregnancy rate for unmarried women.  OH … MY … GOD!  The rate has been declining gradually and steadily since 1991.  Why do you suppose it’s been going down?  I’ll tell you what I think.  I think there’s less premarital sex now than there was a few years ago.  The "wifely submission" set has got young women convinced that it’s to their advantage to say no.   


    Paul Bradford

    Pro-Life Catholics for Choice

  • invalid-0

    Josh, I came to my adamant pro-choice view later on, after an early life in the mushy middle.

    Once, I parroted the plaintive whine: “Why didn’t she just use birth control?”

    Beloved #3 son arrived 11 months after beloved #2 son, diaphragm be damned.

    Once, I sat in snotty judgment of pregnant women who did not minutely and slavishly devote themselves to their pregnancies…and then two consecutive stillbirths taught me just how full of shit I was.

    Once, I believed that women were responsible for the sexuality of men…luckily this rubbish bit the dust looong before #1 son hit puberty.

    I could go on. My point is that there was a time when I internalized the misogyny of our culture. Josh, when you say you do not believe that “hatred of women is an intentional part of the belief system of most people in that movement,” I get it. The “hatred” may not be intentional, but it is certainly inherent. The vast majority of pro-life/mushy middle folks may not recognize their own misogyny…but misogyny it is.

    Finally, will someone please tell me how to properly do paragraph html on RH? I’m embarrassed.

  • colleen

    "The "wifely submission" set has got young women convinced that it’s to their advantage to say no."


    How sad and revealing that out of a multitude of possibilities, you would come to this conclusion. Particularly after i was just reading about all those Priests in Philadelphia. Now that’s an example of someone’s sex life that is your business. Would you like a linK?


    Perhaps (when they are able) young women are increasingly saying ‘no’ to the wifely submission set. 


  • invalid-0

    Or maybe they’re using birth control.

  • invalid-0

    wonderful article. good to hear from someone who knows both sides of the argument. what u wrote seemed very sincere.

  • jodi-jacobson

    Reliable data collected by respected research institutions shows that there was just as much pre-marital sex in 1946 as there is now.

    The only difference is that a) girls were sent “away” to have their babies and did not report them as such out of shame, b) women who got pregnant out of wedlock were more likely to get married to the guy who impregnated them, irrespective of whether that is who they would otherwise have married; c) abortions were illegal and clandestine and data on these were not collected so you can’t say what the real rates of unintended pregnancy outside of marriage might have been based on births.

    Sorry… are wrong-o.


  • invalid-0

    Yes, anti-choice ideology is fundamentally sexist. I didn’t know this when I was a pro-lifer, though, and I do not believe hatred of women is an intentional part of the belief system of most people in that movement. It’s easy to paint pro-lifers with one simplistic stroke as misogynist bigots … But I do not believe the average pro-life person is coming from a place of hate. Most of these people believe they are doing good, compassionate, life-saving work.

    The words “misogyny” and “hatred” are a bit tricky here, because they are strong words and there are all sorts of connotations associated with them.

    Hatred, for example, can refer to the feeling that many Palestinians have for the state and people of Israel. I trust you read the news; you have an idea of the strength and virulence of that feeling. But that’s not what pro-lifers feel for women—obviously—and that’s not what pro-choicers are getting at when the accusation is leveled.

    It’s something much more subtle. It has more to do with pro-lifers having a very strong, narrow idea of what role women should play in society—how they should act, what they should do, what they should aspire to become—and getting angry when women don’t stay in that box. The hatred and misogyny come out in how pro-lifers actively denigrate and work against women who do not make the choices that they believe are the appropriate ones. The hatred and misogyny is in the belief that women ought to stick to the script that they have been given. Because in doing so, they are not valuing women as human beings with free will, but as… servants to society, basically.

    It’s a little difficult to describe the idea, I’m afraid; the above paragraph is trying to be a 30,000-foot bird’s-eye view of feminism. If you study feminism, or racism for that matter, you’ll see that oppression can take forms more subtle than disenfranchisement, or Kristallnacht, or Archie Bunker. Sometimes, it’s a forest, made up of seemingly innocuous-looking trees.

    I do agree that we need to understand the other side’s thinking better to more effectively advance our cause. Heck, pro-life groups know this; they’ve co-opted the language of “protecting women” and “informed consent” with some success.

  • amanda-marcotte

    I find your statistics unlikely, and would like to see the source.  Reliable statistics put the number at 95% of Americans having sex "before" marriage (what about people who have sex and never marry?), but also point out that most people did even in the 50s.  Which means that it’s incredibly unlikely the rate on non-marital sex shot up 10 times in 8 years between 1946 and 1954.


    What’s the 76.7%?  Are you suggesting that 76.7% of single women in a given year get pregnant?   That strikes me as not only unlikely, but close to impossible.


    It’s true that kids in the 90s have sex at slightly—very slightly—older ages on average than in the 80s.  This  has no bearing on your wish to get women married young, unless you want them all married off by 14 or 15, which I doubt you do.  The truth is that even with the slightly—slightly—older ages of sexual initiation (which actually had more to do with the prevalence of comprehensive sex ed in the 90s, and nothing to do with abstinence-only), there’s probably more premarital sex than ever, for the simple reason that women continue to delay marriage until their mid-to-late 20s, on average.  That means about an average of 10 years between sexual initiation and marriage—that’s a lot of years for immoral bonking.


    Except I don’t think it’s immoral.  And that’s why there’s a genuine value difference here.  I think it’s deeply moral that women choose self-care and self-regard over the patriarchal obligation to marry before you’re fully formed.  There’s mountains of evidence to show that the later you marry, the less likely you are to divorce, and we’re all for a lower divorce rate, right?  The reason that more solid marriages are made later in life is obvious—after having bounced around, probably slept around a little,  you know what you want in a mate and what you don’t.  Experience is something we consider valuable in every walk of life except in that which has the most direct impact on your happiness—who you share your life and bed with.  When it comes to that, we’re supposed to assume it’s better to be a naive babe in the woods?  


    Single motherhood has risen, but that almost certainly has more to do with women’s increased independence than anything else.  Women are empowered to keep their babies instead of give them up for adoption.  And they overwhelmingly make that choice.  Taking that away from women, at this point, would probably just dramatically increase the abortion rate.

  • amanda-marcotte

    I think you did a good job of explaining it.  One way I like to explain it is that women are objectified as more than sex objects.  We’re also housework objects, stay-at-home objects, womb objects, motherhood objects.  In all cases, it’s about projecting social desires onto us and turning us into machines.  My refrigerator is *for* cooling off my food, and sexists view women as *for* sex, housework, and reproduction. 


    You could argue that I don’t hate my refrigerator.  And I don’t, as long as it’s doing the task it was created for.  But if it deviates from the script and stops cooling, I get angry.  If, for some reason, I believed it did so by choice, I’d probably go bananas.  This problem, I think, explains a lot from anti-choice ideology to domestic violence.

  • invalid-0

    did you ever have conversations with the tens of thousands of women abortion has hurt?
    you do not seem to mention them at all

  • aspen-baker

    Thank you for such a thoughtful, personal and compelling article Josh.  You have offered pro-life people respect and dignity for their beliefs, something we all deserve.  You demonstrate how to fundamentally disagree with people without the need to name-call, finger-point, belittle or dehumanize those you may consider your opponnets.  This is a breath of fresh air and something we can all continue to learn from, and hopefully, practice.


    I couldn’t agree with you more on this:


    "As we move forward with a pro-choice administration let’s work
    to reframe the issue so we do not continue swinging back and forth between
    administrations that focus on the rights of the unborn or the rights
    of women. We need to connect abortion to people’s daily lives and
    create a conversation that is relatable instead of rehashing abstract
    political arguments."


    I hope you keep writing. 

  • invalid-0


    Not all women are “hurt” after abortions. Women feel a viariety of emotions, sadness, relief, loss and/or happiness. One can not say that all women are happy or sad after an abortion, they may feel both or just one of these emotions.

  • aspen-baker

    You bring up an important point. Not every woman’s experience with abortion is positive, many have felt hurt, and some women regret their decision and wished they had kept their baby.  Listening to their stories, as well as every other woman’s unique experience with abortion, is one of the most important things we can do to transform this conflict.  Promoting the emotional well-being of every woman who has an abortion, and creating a cultural climate that supports and respects each of them, as well as their loved ones, is paramount. It is also, I believe, something we can all get behind, across the political spectrum.

  • invalid-0

    Women who have had negative experiences with abortion should be acknowledged, and their feelings respected. They are not any less (nor more) of a woman, or good mother, or human being for what they have gone through.

    This is also why those favoring safe, legal abortion and reproductive health describe themselves as pro-choice, and not pro-abortion. We would rather a woman can avoid the need for an abortion (as we would hope anyone could avoid the need for any kind of invasive surgery), and back that up with efforts to make contraception universally available.

    A discussion of some womens’ negative abortion experiences, however, becomes intellectually dishonest when it is used as a pretext for denying all women the right to abortion. Not only are they not a valid argument for legal prohibition (anymore than some kids’ negative high-school experiences are an argument for banning high schools), such an approach completely disregards the majority of women who have abortions and are perfectly fine with it, and buys into the whole patriarch-ish notion that women can’t decide these difficult matters on their own, whether or not they end up regretting it.

  • gloria-feldt

    I too applaud Josh for speaking up so thoughtfully. And I agree with Aspen that we can disagree without dehumanizing.

    But it is facile to think that just because pro-choice people are willing to stay on the high ground, and we almost always are, the other side will too. And it is being oblivious to the deep-seated misogyny in our culture when we allow it to be glossed over with platitudes about how we should all get along. Yes, ideally, we should. But speaking truth to power–in this case, the power of deeply ingrained sexism–is an even higher cultural value.

    Often an injustice is so pervasive that we can’t see it, just as many people in the American South I grew up in thought they loved African Americans yet simultaneously abetted segregation. People can mean well and still be flacking discriminatory cultural norms. 


    Gloria Feldt

  • harry834

    By Ms Marcotte:

    "Experience is something we consider valuable in every walk of life
    except in that which has the most direct impact on your happiness—who
    you share your life and bed with.  When it comes to that, we’re
    supposed to assume it’s better to be a naive babe in the woods?"

    pasted here 

    Thank you, Amanda. Your words have been an influence behind mine.

  • invalid-0

    I know both sides as well, and I disagree with his overarching premise. Does that mean my point is just as valid as his?

  • paul-bradford

    First of all, it was Amanda who drew the conclusion that


    1. Pro-Life

    2. Anti-premarital sex

    3. Wifely submission


    were all cut from the same cloth.  I used the term ‘wifely submission’ instead of ‘anti-premarital sex’ simply because she insisted it was the same thing.


    If I had simply said that the reason I think that premarital sex has gone down about 20% in the past 15 years is that young people in the current generation are more influenced than their older sisters and brothers were by the ‘no sex outside of marriage’ message would you have characterized my conclusion as "sad and revealing"?


    What explanation do you have for the fact that the pregnancy rate for unmarried women has gone down? 


    Paul Bradford

    Pro-Life Catholics for Choice

  • paul-bradford

    Birth Control.  OK, that’s a possibility.  


    But do you think that unmarried couples are using birth control 20% more effectively than they did in the ‘nineties? 


    I think that’s unlikely.  You, on the other hand, may believe all the effort that the government made between 1994 and 2006 (when Republicans dominated) to educate young people about birth control had a big impact.  If it did, you’re right and I’m wrong.


    Paul Bradford

    Pro-Life Catholics for Choice

  • paul-bradford

    First of all, no matter how much shame a woman might feel about an ‘illegitimate’ birth she can’t keep a child from getting a birth certificate so the statistics for birth rates are pretty reliable.  


    Second, statistics for marriages are also pretty reliable and there were 1.6 million weddings in 1946; if more than 50% were hastily arranged affairs where the bride was pregnant your explanation would make sense.  Do you think it’s possible that the majority of brides were pregnant in 1946?


    Finally, I’m ready to agree that there were unreported abortions in 1946 — but do you really think there were 900,000 unreported abortions given to less than 11,000,000 unmarried young women.  That’s a staggering rate!  The most abortions given to unmarried women since Roe was in 1988 when 26,000,000 unmarried young women had 1,300,000 abortions.  For your explanation to be true, the illegal abortion rate in 1946 would have been about twice the highest legal abortion rate since 1973.  Do you really believe that’s possible?


    The ‘respected research institution’ I rely on for data is the U.S. Census Bureau.  You can get stats here:  Do you have a link to the institution that shows there was as much pre-marital sex in 1946 as there is now?


    My guess is that you’re finding it hard to believe that sex rates go up and down just like the stock market.  We all want to believe that our decision to have (or not have) sex is personal and unrelated to social pressures.  The truth is that even this most personal of decisions is actually a manifestation of societal trends.  The trend from 1946 until 1992 was upward — since then it’s been coming down. 


    Paul Bradford (the ‘Wrong-O’ guy)

    Pro-Life Catholics for Choice

  • paul-bradford

    OK, let’s deal with these things one at a time.  Thank you for the link to the Guttmacher report indicating that 95% of respondents had sex before marriage.  I don’t dispute that.  My contention is that there is an exact correlation between the amount of sex unmarried women have and the number of those women who become pregnant.  Fewer unmarried women are getting pregnant today than got pregnant in 1992 — I assert that that indicates that the average unmarried woman is having less sex today than the unmarried woman of 1992 had.


    Pregnancy rates (like birth rates) are computed as number of pregnancies per 1,000 women of childbearing age.  A pregnancy rate of 76.7 would indicate that 7.67% of women got pregnant.  I believe that’s right.


    I never indicated a wish to get women married young.  I think that would be a terrible idea.  The more advanced, educated and prosperous a society is the later (on average) its women get married.  The best way to encourage women to delay marriage is to provide good educational opportunities.  We’ve been doing that in the USA and our women delay marriage more than they did in the past.


    I’m not a fan of abstinence-only sex ed.  I don’t think it makes sense to keep people ignorant (as if that were possible in the 21st Century).  People should understand all they can about their options — I think that after they know their options they should opt to avoid sex outside of marriage.  It should be a choice, it shouldn’t be a matter of them simply not knowing any better.


    I agree with you that there is often a long period of time between sexual initiation and marriage.  Is the ‘bonking’ that goes on then immoral??  I don’t think that statistics can indicate that one way or another.  Statistics do indicate that there’s about 20% less pregnancy now than there was 15-20 years ago.  That could be because the Republicans who were in charge during that time did such a good job of encouraging young people to use effective birth control — or it could be that unmarried people are using birth control about as effectively now as they did then.  They’re just having less sex.  Which explanation do you think is more likely?


    I don’t detect a ‘genuine value difference’.  We are in agreement that the moral imperative is that women choose self-care over an ‘obligation’ to marry early.  I simply think that the less sex unmarried people have the better it is for everyone.


    I wouldn’t suggest that women give up their babies for adoption except in unusual circumstances.  If a lot of women feel compelled to give up their babies I would suspect that society has failed them.



    As usual you’ve made a lot of false assumptions about what I believe.  Making a mature and reliable determination about a life partner has more to do with life experience than sex experience.  You don’t need to have a lot of sex while you’re unmarried in order to figure out who would make a good marriage partner — it does (and we agree about this) help to be twenty-five rather than seventeen. 



    Paul Bradford

    Pro-Life Catholics for Choice

  • josh-truitt

    ahunt, I was very moved reading just the briefest of details about how your beliefs changed as a result of your experiences. Thank you for your bravery and willingness to share your story.


    PS: I’m still learning my way around RH Reality Check too, or I would try to be of more help with formatting issues.

  • josh-truitt

    Paul, you have expressed a desire to have your pro-life stance differentiated from that of other pro-lifers. You want to be recognized as an individual with a unique set of beliefs and ideas about the world. I have a lot of respect for that desire, as well as understanding given that I used to be pro-life as well. In fact one of my primary goals in writing this piece was to encourage people in the pro-choice and reproductive justice movements to approach people in the pro-life movements as caring, thoughtful individuals, not stereotyped opponents.

    What I am asking for from you is the same thing for the unique stories and experiences of women who have had abortions. You focus a lot on statistics and broad social trends. These are important, but can also serve to mask the fact that this debate is, at the end of the day, about real people’s lives. I want to approach your views with openness and respect. All I ask (and I am not making an assumption about what you do in your everyday life – if this is already your practice good, and thank you) is that you are also open and respectful to the experiences of women who may or have had abortions.

    I am curious about this "third way." Are you speaking about sexuality education aimed at men? Because that is vitally important, but need not be coercive. Further education should increase the ability to make informed choices.

  • josh-truitt

    Thank you all for your thoughtful comments.

    An understanding of the sexism and misogyny that informs pro-life belief systems is vital. The connections between being pro-life and wanting to limit all the life experiences of any person who is not a straight man identified male at birth are clear and very real. As organizers it is vitally important that we understand this and that a knowledge of intersecting systems of oppression informs all our work.

    But, when it comes to speaking with people in the pro-life movement, accusations of sexism go nowhere. Simply calling someone a misogynist kills the potential for communication and change.

    Most people do not want to hold a bigoted world view, but we all have our own biases and prejudices. Sharing stories and experiences that humanize issues we often treat in a general way opens up a space for thought and reevaluation. Think about how you came to political consciousness around an issue that most directly impacts a group of which you are not a member. It is not through being called a racist or a sexist or a homophobe that we understand our racism or our sexism or our homophobia. Understanding the lived experience of being targeted by bigotry must come before understanding the larger structure of oppression.

    Change happens from the bottom up, not the top down. We must first start with sharing lived experience and build from there. This is not about glossing over systems of oppression; it is about revealing how they impact real people. We understand misogyny when we understand how women experience it. Simply knowing systemic hatred exists without understanding how it plays out in people’s lives keeps it theoretical and impersonal, making it easier to unknowingly hold an oppressive belief system.

  • invalid-0

    I think you make a very good point. While many on the pro-choice/feminist side are well-acquainted with the nature and breadth of societal sexism and misogyny, these are not ideas that can be conveyed in the type of high-temperature debate that abortion usually engenders. One of the most insidious traits of these systems is their very invisibility; they are woven so deeply into our culture that most people are unaware of them, and when these are pointed out, many people feel perfectly justified in denying that they exist, and repudiating them as a basis for their motives. It’s very easy for people to close themselves off from this sort of analysis—and they naturally do so when they are called out for sexism/misogyny.

    Human-level stories do strike me as a better means of getting the idea across. This site occasionally sees pro-life posters with the apparent conceit that they can win the abortion debate with an eloquent-enough argument. You know the type—they pull off enough word-fu to equate the destruction of a zygote with cold-blooded murder, never minding that such a conclusion is absurd in the real world. All the shouting about personhood, about murder, about God and morality, is completely divorced from the reality of the thirteen-year old female victim of incest who is terrified that she will have to carry her pregnancy to term, or the mother of three in her forties who will die needlessly due to an ectopic pregnancy, or the hard-on-her-luck teenager who is not yet ready to have a baby.

    The fiercest anti-abortion advocates will see cases like this, and stick to their guns. Those less invested, however—I hope—will see the brimstone and pithy quotes as the parlour game that they are, and extend basic human empathy to the women in these difficult circumstances.

    And ultimately, perhaps decades from now, the right to an abortion will remain enshrined in law not because of proffered empathy, but because of the fundamental right of women to control their own bodies.

  • invalid-0

    Josh, I’m guessing that the radical change of environment you refer to that caused you to change your mind about abortion was college, probably financed at least in part by the same family you are now looking down your nose at. Don’t write your family off. You obviously disagree on this but they love you more than any random professor or employer will. Regardless of their political views parents generally feel obligated to instruct their children in their own value system, just as they do in their own religion if they practice one. You may reject it but please don’t be in such a hurry to reject them.

  • invalid-0

    I don’t think Josh is writing off her family.

  • paul-bradford



    I will relieve you of the need to make assumptions about what I do in my everyday life and tell you plainly that I work as a mental health clinician for people with severe and persistent mental illness.  If there’s a Pro-Life concern that I face on a daily basis it isn’t abortion but suicide.  I have often been in a situation where I was working hard to preserve the life of someone who was actively attempting to end it.  I know from first hand experience what it means to struggle to uphold life when the person most responsible for that life is working at cross purposes.  Issues of autonomy and choice conflict directly with the issue of survival itself.  I’ve discovered, and it’s been a discovery that has informed my understanding of many things, that you can’t do an effective job of supporting life if you don’t simultaneously respect privacy and autonomy; but I’ve also discovered that you can be unblinkingly (and persuasively) Pro-Life while acknowledging the right to choice on the part of the person who is at odds with the Pro-Life position. 


    Even though my work doesn’t cause me to confront abortion issues on an everyday basis, I do — from time to time — find myself in the situation of serving a young woman with an unintended pregnancy.  Since I work on a team, and since the other members of my team don’t all feel the same way I do, I have had to think a great deal about how to be an effective voice for life while dealing with a unique story and experience of a flesh-and-blood woman who I actually know and who is considering an abortion.


    I have come to the conclusion that it’s a waste of time to try to coerce or cajole a woman into carrying her pregnancy to term.  The only thing that can actually be helpful is to take it upon myself to assure the woman that, should she elect to keep her baby, she would be provided as much emotional and practical support as she needs.  I would consider myself to have failed if one of my clients aborted because she didn’t think she had a realistic option to do otherwise.  In this matter I find myself in the same position as I am when I am coping with a suicide crisis — I’m working and hoping and praying for life while the person responsible for that life may determine to move in the opposite direction.


    I have experienced a sense of grief when someone I’ve worked with has elected to suicide, and I’ve experienced a sense of grief when someone I’ve worked with has elected to abort.  But in all those situations I’ve been compelled to resign myself to two facts: 1) human beings can’t exist without autonomy and 2) our decisions are greatly effected by the support we’re offered by other human beings.


    You notice that I care a lot about demographic statistics and I do. Social trends have an enormous effect on individual decisions.  How we regard our fellow human beings is powerfully influenced by how the people around us regard those human beings.  When it comes to the issue of respect for our unborn children I’m convinced that if you begin respecting the life of your child when s/he is conceived you’ve waited far too long.  People who really respect the lives of their unborn children make certain decisions and sacrifices on behalf of their children even before those children are conceived — this includes making sacrifices in the sexual arena.


    I don’t believe it’s possible to eradicate abortion by passing laws against it.  I believe that in order to eradicate abortion you have to work to build a culture of life — which effects a lot of decisions, not just the decisions regarding whether or not to bring a baby to term. 


    Paul Bradford

    Pro-Life Catholics for Choice