The war on reproductive rights in the United States has become riveting for the rest of the world as we debate issues many other countries have settled long ago. People capable of bearing children in the US, especially cis women, are the targets of hateful legislation aimed at depriving them of autonomy and personhood, and this isn’t just about the ability to control their own fertility. It’s also about a larger culture of positioning women as second-class citizens to be kept out of full participation in society, and it’s brilliantly and carefully constructed. Let no one say that conservatives don’t know how to deftly manipulate narratives.
One area in which they’re particularly excelling is by exploiting extremists within their own movement to create a culture in which the suppression of reproductive rights appears almost moderate by contrast. Foetus fundamentalists are precisely what the right wants, as they accomplish two goals simultaneously, creating a one-two punch against those who have the mistaken and ridiculous belief that people should be able to exercise control over their own bodies.
For fellow extremists and anti-choice radicals, they represent the pinnacle of activism. Most are fighting for foetal personhood and vigorously argue that a foetus — no matter the age and stage of development — should be treated as morally and medically equivalent to an actual human being who is alive outside the uterus. These ‘advocates’ are the sponsors of foetal personhood laws, and they skip directly to ‘go’ in the anti-choice world: They want to force pregnant people to carry those pregnancies to term, damn the consequences, and they have no interest in half measures. That makes them highly appealing to people who share those views.
Conversely, for radicals who share these views but have a more realistic understanding of how to implement restrictions on choice, they make a fantastic foil. When presented with term limits on abortion, requirements that abortion clinics be treated as ambulatory surgical centres, and more, critics of the anti-choice movement can be tricked into thinking that these people are almost moderate. Unlike their frothing compatriots who want to insist that fetuses are more important than the people who carry them, they’re still resisting autonomy and the right to choose, but at least they’re offering a moderate path, but it’s one that is intended to slowly ramp up over time.
Pro-choice advocates certainly don’t support or want to work with these people, but they represent a target demographic to reach. It’s difficult to have a reasonable conversation with someone who’s holding up an abortion is murder sign and insisting that pregnant people are little more than incubators for ‘the unborn.’ The kind of language used by extremists is extremely offputting, as is their fixation on abortion as something that needs to be unilaterally eradicated; trying to convert them to a more empathetic situation is akin to trying to pull a dog from a bone.
Moderates, though, can seem more accessible. They offer an opportunity at reaching people and perhaps shifting their views more toward the centre or even to the left — perhaps, for example, it’s possible to make them reconsider 20 week bans in light of the fact that very few abortions take place after that point. Maybe they can be pressured to make exceptions for rape and the life of the pregnant person, a popular compromise among conservatives that want to pander to their base without totally alienating potential voters.
All of these things are a smokescreen, though. ‘Moderates’ on the issue of reproductive rights aren’t really moderate, they’re just hiding behind fundamentalists and presenting themselves as the better of two bad choices. They share all the same goals, including the restriction of rights for pregnant people, the elevation of the fetus as the most sacred thing in society, and, usually, the refusal to provide benefits and social support to these fetuses once they’re born — evidently, infants and children who are actually alive and living outside the uterus are no longer relevant, and it’s not necessary to be ‘pro-life’ on their account.
Many advocates for reproductive rights see through these ruses, rightly identifying incremental abortion access restrictions as the advance strategy of a more complicated push for total eradication of abortion in the United States. Others, however, fall into the trap of attempting to debate ‘centrists’ on these issues, in the belief that they can bring people over to the belief that pregnant people deserve to have control over their own bodies. It’s a brilliant scheme to deflect from the reality of what these conservatives are doing, creating a climate in which it’s nearly impossible to identify them as the people they really are. They’re not attempting to moderate a charged political debate — they’re just masquerading within it and hoping no one notices.
The only way to defend reproductive rights is to demand full rights with no caveats and restrictions. That means, yes, the much-cited spectre of ‘abortion on demand and without apology,’ because, yes, people do deserve the right to access private medical procedures when they want them and they don’t need to apologise for them. A person with a medical concern or issue from unwanted pregnancy to loose tooth has the right to receive expeditious treatment without shaming or penalty. That includes not just those managing unwanted pregnancies, but also those devastated by complications with wanted pregnancies, or those struggling with decisions about pregnancy and abortion. It’s a choice, and we can’t protect it by playing nice with alleged moderates.
Image: Quoi de plus beau qu’une femme enceinte?, Muus Creation, Flickr