Saletan responds: Lady Parts
To a degree—he links my post where I talk about the flaws in his conception of contraception education and even names his post after a commenter using the corny term “lady parts”, so I’m happy to know he’s reading not only blog criticisms, but also comment criticisms. He’s, for better of for worse, a major voice on this issue and it would be nice if he spoke more positively about women and spent less time concerning himself with Sperm Magic. But he only addresses why the topic interests him, the implication being that some of us find it weird that a man cares so much. Honestly, I don’t find it odd that a man cares so much—the issue is interesting, and historically, men have been right there with women when it comes to fighting for reproductive rights. When I go after Saletan for his masculine point of view, I’m referring to his belief in Sperm Magic and how it causes him to shove women aside in favor of analyzing, over and over, how much value we give to fetal life depending on how many cells there are. I know he’s pro-choice and I know that he doesn’t think abortion is murder, but he buys into the patriarchal framing of abortion as immoral to a degree, and that’s what bothers me.
Bluntly put, I think the amount you think a fetus (especially in the first term) is a person is inversely proportional to how much you value women’s work. I also think unease with abortion is related to a sense that sexual women are irresponsible hussies, and my continued exposure to pro-lifers tends to confirm this.
What bothers me is that Saletan really wants to believe that anti-choicers mean well, and that their belief in fetal life is unrelated to their attitudes about women’s value. The video he points to in his link is a comical version of how fruitless treating anti-choicers as well-meaning is. Saletan talks about contraception as “common ground”—but contraception lets sluts get away with fucking, and so Ken Blackwell acts like Saletan’s mere mention of the birth control pill is like selling everyone’s daughter into prostitution. I suppose his hope is based on the belief that there’s all these people who think they’re pro-life, but they don’t really think about contraception much, and that we can reach out to them.
Maybe. But I tend to think even with the mushies, the axis on which they base their opinion is not “life”, but female sexuality. Mushy middle types will say they support abortion, but not if it’s used for birth control. Or that they’re against abortion except when it comes to rape or the mother’s life being in danger. And that shows exactly what axis this is on—abortion should be restricted on the basis of how closely you fit the opinion-holder’s view of a good woman. Even clinic blocking asswipes fall into this trap, as any abortion provider will tell you about the pro-lifers who show up to get abortions, and feel they aren’t sluts and shouldn’t have to sit with the sluts in the office.
The more Saletan dwells of the supposed moral ambiguities of fetal life—and therefore the more he ignores the realities of women—the more he gives cover to the very people he claims to oppose. And in his response, he does it again:
This may sound strange, but I don’t consider myself a real abortion foe. I have friends and sparring partners who think abortions should be illegal or at least heavily restricted. To me, that’s the chief dividing line in the debate. I don’t feel comfortable crossing that line. I don’t think a regime of abortion restrictions enacted in the name of life would make this world a better place. I think it would cause a mess—hypocrisy, deceit, interrogations, amateur home surgery, moral crudity backed by the force of law—as ugly as any war fought in the name of peace.
Too bad women are so stubborn or else Saletan could just be anti-choice and get it over with—that’s what this passage says to me. I think abortion should be legal because women are full human beings and deserve the right to self-determination and bodily autonomy. Full stop. Every time I read Saletan shaming and hand-wringing, I cringe, because a percentage of his audience have had abortions, and they are getting shamed, and for what? Having sex? Making a mistake? Being human? They’re told they’re irresponsible by men that will never have to muster up the courage to a) admit that you’re probably pregnant b) go through the test c) schedule the appointment, which requires admitting more about your sex habits than you usually do and d) walking into the clinic, often past vicious misogynists screaming names at you. True, you do it because you have to, but it still takes the sort of courage that I think might be hard to imagine if you don’t live as a woman and have to suffer the cloud of disapproval that hangs over you for being sexual for reasons other than longing for motherhood.
That’s the fundamental disagreement here. Abortion should be legal because women deserve to be treated like citizens, not because women are defiant and won’t obey the laws put on our bodies. I don’t even have the words to explain this in more detail, honestly. Even if making abortion illegal “worked” in the sense of reducing the abortion rate, it would be wrong, because illegal abortion is a way of defining women as second class citizens. Illegal abortion wasn’t so much about reducing the abortion rate in the past, and it wouldn’t be about that now—it was about reducing women’s status, creating a legal double standard where women who had sex had to resort to criminality, whereas men who had sex were able to be law-abiding citizens. Saletan’s assumption that contraception is the logical counterpoint to abortion doesn’t have much historical precedent, for the reason that abortion bans are about women’s rights and not about “life”. There’s a reason that contraception was legalized right before abortion—because it was illegal, too, and for the same reasons. Which have nothing to do with “life”.