“Yes! I’ve had an abortion and I’m glad I did. I am a happy person as a result.”

That is the message that Amelia Bonow, aged 30, has trumpeted on Twitter at #ShoutYourAbortion the past couple of weeks. Reacting to the assault on Planned Parenthood, Bonow is encouraging other women to tell about their own positive abortion experiences. The idea is to get away from the idea that a woman’s decision for an abortion is something to be defensive, much less apologetic, about.

Brava Bonow. She wants women to get out of the “defensive crouch” about abortion that Katha Pollitt has decried. It is understandable that many women who’ve had abortions want to keep that decision to themselves: it is a private decision and one that is still widely stigmatized. No one is obliged to be a martyr.  But it’s great to see women who feel comfortable enough to openly proclaim that abortion is a positive good and that they have been its beneficiaries. It’s important, I think, because even a lot of people who support choice exhibit some ambivalence about abortion: they view it as morally problematic. It isn’t. It needs to be said again and again: there is nothing morally wrong with abortion. That is not to say that an abortion decision is easy. The possibility of becoming a parent is a wonderful opportunity.   To forego that opportunity is a major life choice; such a decision may well be a difficult one. But that is not the same as saying that it presents a moral issue. It’s simply (or, perhaps, not so simply!) a decision about choosing the kind of life you want to live at a given time in your life.

As I have argued repeatedly, it’s the “pro-lifers” whose morality is screwed up. They would attribute rights to an inert, non-conscious being—starting with the microscopic blob of protoplasm that is a day-old fertilized egg—and claim that those “rights” trump the right of a woman to control her body for nine months and to live the life she chooses thereafter. That is morally perverse.

But there are lots  of people who fervently adhere to the twisted morality that they call “pro-life.” In some cases, they hate abortion vociferously enough to swamp Bonow with death threats. She has felt compelled to temporarily leave her home as a result. Ostensibly, the anti-abortion zealots are motivated by outrage at what they believe is murder. I won’t re-hash the arguments for why that belief doesn’t make sense. But I think it’s worth asking: what leads people to believe that?   The anti-abortion movement isn’t monolithic, and different people surely have different mixtures of motivations, but in general I think the anti-abortion persuasion springs from one or more of several motivations that “pro-lifers” themselves may not be entirely conscious of.

  • Prudishness—The United States remains a relatively prudish society compared to other western countries. Yes, sex is everywhere—TV, movies and popular fiction take for granted that relatively casual sex is normal and acceptable.   Teenagers hook up with an ease that I didn’t even dream about when I was that age. Still, there are a lot of people who are uncomfortable with 21st Century sexual freedom.   For such people, abortion represents the height—or rather the nadir—of libertine decadence. In this view, if you’re going to have sex, at the very least you ought to “take responsibility” for the consequences.   Which is not altogether different from saying that you ought to accept your punishment.
  • Sexism—The right to abortion helps ensure that women who want to pursue non-traditional life styles can do so.   Many people believe that the right place for a woman is home with the kids. It’s natural that such men and women feel threatened by abortion’s affirmation of women’s freedom.
  • Religious conviction—Catholics and many other Christians believe that the act of conception creates a soul.   Abortion therefore puts an end to something sacred—it negates the work of God.  Anti-abortionists seldom make this argument explicitly because they understand that in a society that prizes religious freedom, an explicitly religious argument for their cause is unacceptable.   But I think that it underlies much anti-abortion sentiment.
  • Partisan polarization–The abortion controversy is a contributing factor but also to some degree an artifact of the bitter partisanship that has come to characterize our time.  If you are a Republican who hates Barack Obama (and a great many Republicans do truly hate Obama) then you must also hate abortion, since the anti-abortion cause is part of your cause.

Maybe this is all pretty obvious, and I’m probably missing something in any case, but I think that defenders of women’s right to choose should be willing to say (even to shout) that their adversaries’ claim to be advocating for “life” should not be taken at face value.  It’s not just about protecting fetuses.





  1. Bill Anscher October 5, 2015 at 1:46 pm

    This is about a topic you wrote about several weeks ago but with Bernie Sanders seemingly doing well, ultimately do you believe his candidacy helps or hurts the Dems chance of winning the Presidency (and the Congress) in 2016. I fear another 1972 election and at this time that would be devastating.

    • tonygreco October 6, 2015 at 12:20 am


      I don’t believe that Sanders has a serious chance of getting the nomination, but I’m glad to see him demonstrating that an aggressively progressive posture is popular. So I think that his candidacy is playing a positive role, both in exerting leftward pressure on whoever becomes the Dem nominee (still at this point most likely Hillary) and, less clearly but hopefully, in building a movement that can be a continuing force for progressive policies and candidates. I’ll probably be blogging about this at some point in the near future.


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