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The Rhetoric of the Anti-Choice Movement and Why I Have a Problem With It

With the recent news of the Virginia House passing a personhood bill and a mandatory transvaginal ultrasound bill, I’ve found myself searching for anyone who supports these measures. In my search, I turned to pro-life blogs and news articles that discussed these issues or the issue of abortion in general. While reading, I was becoming increasingly frustrated with the misleading rhetoric that the authors built upon to make their points. So, I’ve decided to highlight some phrases that I’ve come across and explain exactly why I think they are so dangerously misleading.

“Pro-Life”: The very term used to describe a person who favors the illegalization of abortion in the U.S. is unfair and deceptive. This implies that anyone with a dissenting view is, of course, anti-life. The fact still remains that a fetus is not considered a living, breathing human being. Therefore, aborting it does not mean taking away its life. Furthermore, those who don’t call themselves “pro-life” certainly don’t advocate abortions for everyone. It’s not an all-or-nothing attitude. Pro-choice doesn’t mean pro-abortion; many pro-choice women have never and will never have one, themselves. They simply recognize that their decision is exactly that: a personal choice, and one that they don’t assume they can make for another person.



Contraception: Though I don’t take issue with the term “contraception,” I am continually shocked that the discussion of contraception revolves entirely around women, as in the video above. As an extension of reproductive rights, it is clearly a women’s issue. However, seeing as women cannot get pregnant by themselves, I fail to see how this is not also a pressing issue for men. Birth control is a two-way street, and male sexuality should be held to the same (ridiculous) standards that female sexuality is. The sad truth is that our society doesn’t hold men responsible for their sexual decisions, as it is a woman’s job to make sure she doesn’t get pregnant. This attitude leads to more issues, like men failing to take responsibility for the children they have fathered, or making glaringly sexist comments about…

Purity: Women’s virginity is discussed as a commodity that can be bartered and lobbied for or guarded like a prize. Organizations hold purity balls for young women, and bombard them with propaganda advocating for sexual purity until marriage. This type of discourse over a woman’s sexual decisions gives rise to a virgin-slut dichotomy where women are seen either as pure and chaste, or else whorish and worthless. However, the discussion of male sexual proclivity is scarce. Where are the campaigns to tell men to keep it in their pants? If all women kept their legs shut as often as the GOP suggests we do, I guarantee there would be a lot of frustrated men and a change of attitude.

Lifestyle Convenience: Last week I read a blog that explained a recent comment citing abortions as a “lifestyle convenience” because not all abortions that are performed in the U.S. are medically necessary for the woman’s health. This implies that, if a woman who is physically capable of giving birth decides that she does not want to, her decision is as blasé as would be her decision not to re-do her kitchen cabinets. I would argue that in cases of financial question, the decision to have an abortion is not a lifestyle convenience, but a lifestyle necessity. For many women, having another child is simply not financially possible. Raising a child is an incredible financial drain, and simply bringing a pregnancy to term is as well, especially if the woman is going to lose time at work because of her pregnancy. To imply that this decision, which will cost hundreds of dollars itself, is a matter of “convenience” is incredibly insulting. Additionally, women who decide to have abortions even if they are financially capable are not making a “lifestyle” decision; they are making a life decision. Having a child is a commitment that impacts every aspect of a person’s life, and implying that the decision not to do so is simply a matter of convenience and not a legitimate determination that you are not ready to be a parent is insulting.

Comparisons to the Holocaust/ genocide: Comparisons that I hear far too frequently from “pro-life” advocates liken abortion to terrible historic tragedies, such as genocide or the Holocaust. The issue I find in this is how terribly insulting it is to compare the abortion of a non-sentient fetus to the mass slaughter of living people. These large-scale human tragedies are so terrible because they did happen to the living: they happened to sentient people, and they happened because of the malice of those in power. Comparing something so terrible to abortion is exploitive, and delegitimizes the pain, suffering, and horror that comprised those events when likened to a legitimate medical procedure.

Though we still have far to go to have a large-scale civil discussion of abortion, I hope that using fair and accurate rhetoric will bring us closer to an appropriate national discourse.

3 Responses to “The Rhetoric of the Anti-Choice Movement and Why I Have a Problem With It”

  1. femistorian

    Thanks so much for writing this, femonfire! It’s so important to point out the emotionally manipulative and inaccurate language used in anti-choice rhetoric and you laid things out very clearly! Great post!

  2. Katie O.

    I totally agree with this post. I think part of the reason people stay out of “the abortion debate” (oooh, it’s so scary) is heated anti-choice rhetoric that relies on emotional manipulation and simply incorrect buzzwords. No one wants to be called a “baby killer”, and if you’re afraid of that you won’t ally yourself with pro-choice. Sure, it’s compelling to blast abortion as genocide or the “number one killer of African Americans” as a recent House GOP memo stated, but it’s not a fact and it really delegitimizes anti-choice arguments.

    Another thing that’s important to note, especially with comparisons to the Holocaust/genocide, is the violence of that rhetoric and the potential for violent action spurred by this language. If you REALLY think a doctor that performs abortions is like Hitler, then what are you going to do about it? Bill O’Reilly’s title for Dr. George Tiller “Tiller the Baby Killer” was inflammatory violent language that enough people heard and internalized that someone murdered Tiller (after someone else had already attempted to murder him and after his clinic was bombed). There’s really been a trend lately with the right employing violent language (Sarah Palin’s election crosshairs, for one) in debate, and not only is it ineffective (in terms of arguing your point, although I guess it’s effective if what you want is someone to commit murder), it’s dangerous.

    Also, if you have to distort the truth, flat out lie, and use misleading manipulative language in your argument, perhaps you don’t have a good point after all. If you can’t use the truth and honesty, you might need to rethink your position altogether.

  3. parklena

    I totally agree with Katie and femistorian. So many people do not actually know the actual definitions of the vernacular that the anti-choice movement uses. Your elaboration on contraception was illuminating. It’s true that contraception seems to be directed mainly towards women when it really is equal responsibility. It takes two to make a baby. So many men blame women for not “being on the pill” or that they were too “caught up in the moment” to think about a condom. However, women need to learn to speak up too. Some women do not think about speaking up to their lovers because they do not want ruin the moment by saying, “hey, remember to put on a condom.” Everyone needs to make sure to do all that they can to use protection and not end up accidentally pregnant (unless they want to, of course).

    Those comparisons to the Holocaust are also ridiculous. By using something so huge and horrific to describe abortion, they are minimizing the terrible experiences of the survivors. They suffered so much and to compare abortion to the torture that they went through is insulting to the Holocaust victims.

    Katie makes a good point as well in that distorting truth in order to gain support for your side is not really making a good position.


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