Every Reason for an Abortion Is a Good Reason


While spouting a series of lies, Bill O’Reilly whined recently on Fox News that women in Texas are providing what he considers insufficient reasons for getting an abortion. The exchange between him and Fox’s official fake feminist Kirsten Powers went like this:

Powers shot back: “The current status quo in Texas that these people are fighting for, who are fighting the bill, is to be able to abort your baby up until the third trimester.”

“Yeah!” O’Reilly jabbed. “For any reason! Women’s health! ‘Hey! Look I sprained my hand!’”

“Yeah,” Powers said. “For any reason. For any reason. Yeah.”

To hear O’Reilly and Powers talk, one would think that in order to get a safe, legal abortion under the standards set out by Roe v Wade, one has to go in and provide a “reason” that you “deserve” this abortion, and some kind of authority figure determines if it’s good enough before you get an abortion—their only concern is that women are supposedly not giving good enough reasons. Obviously, these two pundits know better and are just being dishonest with the viewers, but that they are engaging in this rhetoric in the first place speaks to a serious problem in how abortion is discussed in this country.

Abortion is often framed as a mercy bestowed upon a woman who has committed the “crime” of having had sex. Mercy is something that someone else grants you, however, and not something you can simply decide for yourself that you deserve. That’s what people are stabbing at when they say they don’t want women to use abortion “as birth control.” The fear is that a woman might get an abortion without feeling remorseful or may, gasp, even feel like she’s entitled to it without having to apologize or grovel. Basically, people are uneasy with leaving the decision of whether or not an abortion is deserved to the woman seeking it herself. What a lot of people in the gray area between pro- and anti-choice want is for women to have to justify themselves in order to get abortions, even if it’s something as simple as making women feel ashamed of themselves for what they supposedly did wrong.

The problem with that, beyond the inherent sexism of it, is that there’s no real legal way to make women justify themselves, besides maybe making them sign a piece of paper that says, “I’m sorry I was a naughty girl who had sex. Can I please have my abortion now?” Roe v Wade sets things like time limits and Planned Parenthood v Casey says that there can be no “undue burden” to access, but the court decisions that shape abortion law don’t speak to “good” vs. “bad” reasons to have abortions, and for good reason. Abortion is medical treatment. It goes against basic medical ethics to require a patient to argue their moral worth before they are permitted access to health care they require.

The confusion between how ordinary people talk about abortion in terms of deserving-ness and how the law handles abortion, as a matter of rights, is why so much polling data on abortion is bunk. Gallup is notoriously bad on this front, showing that somehow half of Americans call themselves “pro-life” but a majority still want abortion to be legal. In other words, a lot of Americans call themselves “pro-life” but disagree with the “pro-life,” i.e. anti-choice movement about abortion access. I believe that speaks to a longing a lot of people have for women to be able to access abortion, but only if they provide a good reason for it. Of course, there’s no legal way to determine the difference between a good and a bad reason, to separate the “good girls” who just “made a mistake” from those deemed unrepentant sluts.

That is the legal reality, but the anti-choice movement knows that they gain ground when they can appeal to the mushy middle’s desire to make abortion available, but only if you somehow have proved yourself worthy of mercy for your supposed sins. Restrictions like waiting periods and mandatory ultrasound shaming rituals are sold to the public as ways to make the woman seeking abortion “earn” it by inducing shame—forcing her to feel bad about what she supposedly did, basically a time out in the corner for the naughty girls. In reality, they instead attack access, adding time and expense to the abortion. Instead of separating the good girls from the sluts, they are more likely to separate those who are privileged enough to be able to afford both the expense and the time off and those who can’t.

This is also why anti-choicers like to talk  about women “regretting” abortion. The underlying narrative, aimed at the mushy middle: Abortion is clearly too easy to get. Women are impetuously rushing into it, only to realize later that they were bad girls who didn’t pay enough for their sins. We need to make it harder to get, so that only the truly deserving, those who feel remorse, can get it. The idea is to shift focus to reasons and to get people thinking about those who have “good” ones vs. those who supposedly do not.

Unfortunately, I fear that pro-choicers may be making this problem worse by our rhetoric. Every time anti-choicers try to restrict abortion, we trot out women who’ve had abortions to put a face on the situation. It’s a good idea, but as Jessica Grose of XX Factor writes, the women in these stories almost always feel the need to justify their abortions, to explain that they are deserving—which in turn implies that others are not.

First-person abortion stories in major publications are almost always about “appropriate” abortions. Shrouded in mournful tones, regretting the baby that couldn’t be, reflecting on that upsetting choice. But this is such a narrow way of looking at an experience that a third of women in America have. Most people who get abortions aren’t teenagers or terminating unviable babies. Six in 10 women who get abortions are already mothers, and 3 in 10 women have two or more children. The abortion rate is highest among women in their 20s. And there is a range of emotions that women feel when they’re getting what is essentially a medical procedure. Some feel relief, some feel nothing, others even feel joy.

Pro-choicers definitely don’t mean it this way! Most of us believe that women are entitled to abortions if they want them, and you don’t need to have to provide your reasons for the rest of us to judge. But it’s inescapable: If you trot out your sob story to convince people you deserved your abortion, you end up implying, even if accidentally, that some women don’t deserve theirs. When both pro- and anti-choice people are forever debating what is and isn’t an acceptable reason to have an abortion, it shouldn’t be surprising that the people in the middle think that’s what this debate is about.

Because of this, I have to sign off on Grose’s suggestion: Tell your abortion stories, but don’t try to justify yourself! We need to get the message out that, as with every other medical intervention out there, pre-viability abortions don’t need to be earned. You don’t need to be a “good girl” who is full of remorse. The woman who slept with 30 guys and accidentally got pregnant because she foolishly took her chances without a condom deserves her abortion just as much as the loving mother of two who has discovered a fetal defect incompatible with life. We believe this to be true, and we can only start convincing the public that it’s true if we start talking about this belief more straightforwardly.

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  • fiona64

    Excellent essay. Thank you for sharing these thoughts; it’s definitely given me something to consider when dealing with the anti-choicers.

  • Lynnsey

    This was essentially the argument I was having about hormonal contraceptives a while back. Everybody was hollering about all the other reasons people use it (which are certainly important, don’t get me wrong) and completely ignoring the fact that preventing pregnancy, a potentially serious and even deadly medical condition, is a perfectly good reason to use hormonal birth control.

    I hope that at some point we can treat sex like a normal thing that most healthy adults do instead of a naughty thing you ought not do unless you want babies. Then maybe we can take a more pragmatic approach to public health policy.

  • Cyanmoon1

    Thank you for writing the essay I’ve had in my head for ages. I live in Ireland, where abortion is unobtainable unless the woman’s life is at risk, and sometimes not even then (as in the case of Savita Halappanavar). I had an abortion in Liverpool several years ago, and since then I’ve been sought out on numerous occasions to talk about my experience with people who are writing theses/articles, producing radio programmes and making documentaries. It’s really, really hard to get Irish women to tell their stories even if they are given the option to use a pseudonym. I have been more than willing to tell my story (albeit anonymously), as I think it’s important for women to know that they are not alone, and for the general public to see that abortion happens to real people.
    However.
    I have realised, over time, that by putting my story out there I cannot prevent readers/listeners/viewers from judging whether my reasons were ‘good enough.’ In relating my personal experience it has never been my intention to try and convince people that I ‘deserved’ an abortion because, look, horrible circumstances which were totally not plain old slutty sex for fun. The truth is that the only person who needs to be satisfied with my reasons for having an abortion is me; this is equally true for any woman anywhere who ever had or will have an abortion.

    I have come to feel very conflicted about whether sharing my story does more harm than good, and it’s validating to read this piece and see I’m not the only one to have mixed feelings.

  • RethinkThePink

    Amanda. Oh my lord. THIS. Yes.

    • Tamara Jessup

      I’m Mormon, and must respectfully disagree with your co-worker. Although the church recognizes only heterosexual marriage, as we regard our Heavenly Father a as our exemplar and believe He enjoys such a union, it requires members to practice total abstinence before marriage and total fidelity afterwards and discourages those who feel same-sex attraction from marrying a member of the opposite sex in hopes of changing their sexual orientation. Those who wish to change their sexual orientation are encouraged to seek qualified professional help; otherwise, they are expected to practice abstinence – in other words, to be celibate. The church encourages members to love and accept one another, not pass judgments we’re unqualified to make. It also teaches that same-sex attraction is sinful only if acted upon, as behavior IS a choice, so every effort should be made to love the person as well as hate the sin. It certainly doesn’t teach self-loathing; rather, it encourages self-control and self-mastery. Where your co-worker got the idea that his marriage would be invalid if same-sex marriage were legalized I have no idea. Given that he apparently embarked on marriage with utterly unrealistic expectations, my guess is that it might be wishful thinking. I hope I’ve cleared up some confusion.

      • Arekushieru

        So, you think people who act on their heterosexuality are making a choice and should therefore be condemned as sinful? If something is sinful only if it is ACTED upon, after all, then being homosexual or heterosexual is not a sin, but acting on either inclination, SHOULD be considered a sin. There is no logic, there.

        Additionally, the bible does NOT prescribe against homosexuality but INFIDELITY. Talk to a theologian some time, rather than a priest/reverend/minister/etc… who is invested in upholding the status quo.

        Oh, btw, you are TALKING to a Christian.

  • John H

    Because of this, I have to sign off on Grose’s suggestion: Tell your abortion stories, but don’t try to justify yourself!

    Agreed! This is largely the point of the framing-shift* to bodily autonomy, no?

    *Well, it always was simply a matter of bodily autonomy, but it’s only
    in the past couple years I’ve seen the mainstream “pro-choice” groups
    picking it up as a talking point. Perhaps this is becasue the bodily
    autonomy argument does, in fact, imply unrestricted access for any
    reason, with which a lot of the people in the ‘middle’ are
    uncomfortable?

    • Valde

      And that is because a lot of people mistakenly believe that ‘unresrtricted access’ means casual abortion at 30 weeks. And that just doesn’t reflect reality.

      Unrestricted access simply means that abortions should be between a woman and her doctor.

      • Arekushieru

        I agree, but only if, by the definition of reflected reality, you mean that women simply don’t CHOOSE to ‘casually’ abort at 30 weeks, rather than that women are PREVENTED from choosing to abort at 30 weeks for the same reasons they may give for an abortion that they would have had prior to 30 wks.

        • Valde

          yes, because they assume that if given the choice, women will just up and commit infanticide at the drop of a hat

          and that women love last minute abortions

  • Ella Warnock

    The “pro-life” movement is very invested in trying to MAKE women feel guilty about having had an abortion, attempting to force feelings of shame where none actually exist. The ones we see all over the internet, bemoaning their “lost” children, are most likely simply low-hanging fruit who are easily swayed by other people’s opinions of them. Even if a woman is somewhat ambivalent about her abortion, it isn’t necessary for her to spend the rest of her life in sackcloth and ashes.

    • fiona64

      And many of them are dining out on being said low-hanging fruit. “Oh, poor me. I got to have my choice, but now I don’t want other people to have the same right. Please, LieSiteNews, publish my ‘story,’ and pay me to talk to other people about they shouldn’t have the same rights as me.” Feh.

      • Valde

        I was listening to an RH podcast on the subject, and apparently low income women who have 1 or more abortions are often the very people to say that abortion is immoral and should be illegal.

        The woman behind the study blamed abortion stigma for this attitude. These women had been made to feel so guilty for their abortions, that, in order to salvage some pride, they were, at least outwardly, strongly anti-abortion.

        • fiona64

          Sadly enough, that makes sense. Oddly, it reminds me of a gay man of my acquaintance who is married to a woman. Both are LDS. He makes no secret of being gay, and talks about how he “managed to develop a sexual attraction” to his wife … as though it were some arduous task (which, admittedly, it probably was since he prefers men). His upbringing told him that being gay was shameful and horrid, and that Heavenly Father would only approve of him if he was “cured” and married a woman. He was quite ardent in his support of California’s Proposition 8, and opined that if Prop 8 failed, his marriage to a woman would be invalid (never mind the lack of logic … that was his position. If gay men were allowed to marry each other, he couldn’t be married to a woman. Whatever.). Anyway, the point was that he was told from the pulpit, in Sunday school, etc., that who he was, was something of which to be ashamed — and he bought into it hook, line and sinker.

          It really is sad how much brainwashing some people are willing to accept.

      • Arekushieru

        I think that has more to do with the guilt women are made to suffer, along with stalking, harassment, threats, etc, that people like Abby Johnson received while they were working for Planned Parenthood. I totally ABHOR the position Abby has decided to take, but I can see how, after the months of threats and behaviour that she endured, she would take that LOW road, and deny that it was ever made because of money or the behaviour exhibited against her. However, her road puts her in a MORE privileged than her Pro-Choice counterparts. Which is why I abhor her decision so much.

  • jim

    True of false. Scientifically speaking, is abortion the killing of an individual human life? The whole pro-abortion movement rides on the refusal to talk about a scientific fact. This article is written specifically to deny this fact.
    If I take another’s life, society tends to want me to have a reason or excuse for it. This is especially true if that life is my own young.

    • fiona64

      False. A fetus is not a person, it is a potential person — and rights are only afforded to persons. A tumor is also “individual human life,” but I don’t see you arguing that women should be forced to gestate *those.*

      • MommaBeanBlessed

        I didn’t know that tumors, if left alone to grow, become humans! Wow. Thanks for sharing.

        • fiona64

          The argument was that a fetus was “individual human life.” A tumor is also “individual human life.” A fetus, despite the absurd crowings of the anti-choice, is not a person. It is a *potential* person, and one that has a parasitic relationship with an *actual* person. That person, the pregnant woman, is the only one with rights — and I’m fine with that. When you afford rights to a fetus, you abrogate the rights of the woman. That is enslavement.

          Really, I do wish that the anti-choice could be forced to take Biology 101.

        • Valde

          The fetus is not ‘left alone’.

          It will only grow if it uses the woman’s body. Feeds off of it. Builds itself using nutrients from the woman’s bones and body.

          If simply ‘left alone’ a fetus would die. No, a woman is an integral part of the process, and I can’t help but notice that you erase her from the equation.

      • Arekushieru

        I disagree. Rights are not afforded to fetuses not because they are not persons, but because they are infringing on a woman’s bodily autonomy.

    • HeilMary1

      Whatever you think of fetuses, ALL abortions are self-defense. If you support gun ownership as a self-defense constitutional right, then abortion is medically equal.

      • jim

        I guess the difference between existing and attempting a crime is lost to you, huh? Gestation and assault are completely different, of course.
        Something tells me you were not celebrating the Zimmerman verdict. I know I wasn’t.

        • fiona64

          Gestation and assault are completely different, of course.

          Forced gestation absolutely constitutes an assault.

          For the record, I wasn’t celebrating the Zimmerman verdict, either.

          • bigovernmentsocialconservative

            “Forced gestation absolutely constitutes an assault.”

            This is where as a 100% pro-choicer, I thank Todd Akin for his enormous service towards abortion rights.

            To be more specific, fiona,

            Forced gestation is legitimate rape.

          • fiona64

            I wholeheartedly concur with your assessment.

        • Valde

          As long as the fetus is inside the woman, without her consent, it is infringing on her rights.

        • Ella Warnock

          What the hell does Zimmerman have to do with a woman’s right to choose? Oh, that’s right, nothing.

        • Arekushieru

          We weren’t celebrating the verdict precisely BECAUSE we are Pro-Choice. His intent to simply DEFEND himself was NOT proven in court. DERP.

    • Lynnsey

      It’s irrelevant, really, whether or not a fertilized egg is a “person” as you loons claim. It’s about whether a woman is and, as such, has the right to control what happens to her body.

      Let’s look at an analogous situation. The state can’t legally compel me to give an organ to my four year old. He meets all the same criteria that the “pro-lifers” set up…he’s a person (but, you know, an actual, already-living one), he’s here because I had the naughty sex, he’ll die without the use of my body to sustain him. In this case I would, barring some underlying medical condition that would preclude the donation, do it and many people would feel that I had a duty to do so, but that doesn’t mean that I can be forced to simply because I conceived him and he would die without it.

      There’s a reason that the different variations of the classic thought experiment where you must choose between saving whatever number of zygotes/embryos/fetuses versus an actual living child or baby are classics. It’s because there IS a difference between a fertilized egg and a living, breathing, already-born person and most rational people know that instinctively.

    • bigovernmentsocialconservative

      “is abortion the killing of an individual human life?”

      Abortion is justified,necessary force to remove a fetus that is in violation of the pregnant woman’s undeniable Equal Individual Rights.

      If you claim the fetus is a “person”, then the fetus should act like a “person” and exit the body of the pregnant woman on her demand, at least some of the time.

      Fetuses do not behave in that manner. They do not behave like people.

      Regardless of whether you agree/not to STOP falsely labeling fetuses as “people”, it’s undeniable that the failure of the fetus to leave the body of the pregnant woman on-demand justifies NECESSARY force to evict it.

    • Arekushieru

      Abortion is not killing or, to be more definitive, the cause of death. If someone dies because I cut the rope to which they were attached on the side of a mountain, the cause of death is NOT listed as the cutting of the rope, but the impact that caused the lack of brain function. Therefore, the CAUSE OF DEATH, for a fetus that is aborted would be its incompatibility with life upon separation from the uterus.

      Otherwise, you’re just blaming a woman for an accident of biology. After all, there is no existing corollary that men could be held to as an equal standard, now, is there? Sexism exists. And, anything that contributes to that sexism, implies someone (meaning the one who does not benefit) is at fault.

      A fetus is NOT an individual. If it WERE, its parts could NOT be DIVIDED further into its component parts WITHOUT remaining a whole member of the same species.

      Let me ask you this. Does the law require a victim who is being raped to provide a reason before killing his/her rapist? No, it does not. Ever ask why? (I think it would behoove you to do so, next time, before spouting off about something you OBVIOUSLY know nothing about.) The reason being that criminalization requires an inquiry as to INTENT (meaning the expected OUTCOME on the part of the perpetrator) , not simply to a deed preceded by a motive. As in criminal rape vs NON-criminal rape. After all: Criminal rape occurs when the perpetrator is convicted after an inquiry as to INTENT. Non-criminal rape occurs when the perpetrator is ACQUITTED (as in when one had been found to enter a prior fugue state) after an inquiry as to INTENT.

      But the person was still RAPED. Which is why it makes it DOUBLY confusing as to why you want to convict someone by deed, and motive, rather than intent as the law is actually REQUIRED to do.

      Seriously, not only, as fiona64 said, should anti-choicers be required to take Biology 101 but, ALSO, LAW101.

      • Valde

        Therefore, the CAUSE OF DEATH, for a fetus that is aborted would be its
        incompatibility with life upon separation from the uterus.

        I explained this to a forced birther and he told me that only the RESULT matters, not the intent.

        I then explained to him the ‘principle of double effect’ and how his own pro-life RCC will perform a hysterectomy on a pregnant woman and not consider that to be ‘murder’ because they did not directly kill the fetus.

        Suffice to say, he never replied.

  • Amanda Kazarian

    What bothers me is how hard it is to find a doctor that will sterilize women. If society as a whole hates abortion so much, then why is it so hard to eliminate that from ever being a possibility? Guess what, deadly cancer genes and mood disorders can be passed down and a lot of people with those kind of issues dont want to do that. Or what about women who just plain dont want kids? Why is it so hard for people to respect that choice?

    • fiona64

      The minute women opt out of the breeding game, their choices become public property. “But WHY don’t you want kids? You’ll change your mind when you’re a little older” and variations thereof are constant. No one asks women who choose to have kids (and it is a choice) “But WHY did you have kids?”

      • Amanda Kazarian

        But what I find interesting is the way pro-life people say “women who want to have sex without getting pregnant should be sterilized” on this website. Are they just unaware of how hard it is to obtain that procedure? I’m pretty sure more women would opt for that solution if it were more readily available.

        • Valde

          yes, they are ignorant

          after all, they don’t even seem to realize that birth control fails – they believe that all pregnancies are a result of unmarried couples have un-protected sex

      • cjvg

        However they do ask how many more you are going to have and criticize the answer they get regardless if it is one, seven, none, or not your business!

        Opting in or opting out makes no difference, a large part of society feels that they should have a say in your choices regardless of what they are, and are very verbal about making that clear.

        Strangely enough (or maybe not) none of these people ever asked my husband a single thing, or offered any of their opinions about what
        reproductive choices he was going to make!

        And don’t even get me started on the complete strangers that feel they have the right to feel you up if you are pregnant.

        This does seem to be some strange American predilection since I have not really encountered this phenomena with northern Europeans.
        However it could very well be that this is normal for southern Europe, but I have not been there while pregnant.

    • Arekushieru

      Or, to look at it from a different perspective, and a program I was just watching on a local TV station, it could prevent boys (yes, these would be the precious males Pro-’Lifers’ want so BADLY to preserve) from developing Duchennes Muscular Dystrophy. A cousin of mine has a son who was diagnosed with this condition. DERP.

  • grayrain

    I think in the end, a lot of this just has to do with the concept of paternity. It’s why there’s a difference in the “acception” of male vs. female promiscuity – for males its generally viewed as a ‘desirable’ trait, to try and get around as much as possible (which is, actually, not that desirable for the gene pool). For females, you will get all sorts of negative connotations and names associated with you if you do the same. From my standpoint, it’s a creation from the male side of society – stigmatize female sexuality so that they most likely won’t share their DNA with other males. So, the concept of shame begins to paint everything about female sexuality – “You don’t deserve the abortion since you slept around”. Many women also start to believe it eventually as well.

    However, just to play devil’s advocate (to help with future arguments), someone who isn’t for abortion can always argue for the developing life itself, the argument being that we should never stop life in any stage of its development. On some level, it’s an understandable viewpoint. A lot of people naturally feel empathetic to any form of life, whether its a developing fetus, an insect, a pet, etc. For these people, you’re dealing with their compassion and feelings, and many of them are caught in the middle. On one hand, they feel bad for women not being able to control what their bodies do, but on the other, the also feel bad for a possible human in the making.

    I think that’s the real issue that should be confronted here. There are a lot of folks against abortion who just feel naturally empathetic for the possible life. There’s nothing wrong with that. However, the rebuttal to that, IMO, is that it’s not an entirely realistic viewpoint – we first off don’t value all life, we’re only concerned with human beings in the infant/innocent stage. If we really did value life, we’d actually question bringing anyone into this world in the first place.

    There’s also no telling on what a future child will do in the long run either. If it ends up killing many other human beings, did our choice to bring it into this world actually place value on life in the long run? I think people against abortion have this notion that mindlessly pumping life into the world is a good thing, and that disallowing a woman from having the choice of their DNA continue on in the world is a bad one. Philosophically, you’re always killing something whether you let it be born or not – you suffer and die if you’re alive to begin with.

    Another argument to take is that abortion is the substitute for a mechanism that isn’t present in the female anatomy. The politician who said that women had natural defenses against bearing children after rape – he actually justified abortion in reality. If women actually *did* have a natural way to terminate the development process, then would he be complaining? How would we be viewing women who naturally stopped pregnancies, whether they were raped or had consensual sex?

    TBH, in reality, the reproduction system that we’ve evolved with isn’t a very good one. Not only does it place a ridiculous level of onus on one partner, it’s also extremely susceptible to things like rape and everything else.