Katha Pollitt On What The Pro-Abortion Rights Movement Gets Wrong About Choice

What The Pro-Abortion Rights Movement Gets Wrong About Choice

Political representation of abortion has little to do with the actual reality of ending an unintended pregnancy. In her new book Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights, journalist Katha Pollitt writes about the events, movements and cultural shifts that created this gulf in understanding -- and how we might begin to close it.

In a discussion with HuffPost Live on Oct. 15, Pollitt explained the impact of language on the abortion conversation -- particularly how the defensive stance pro-abortion rights activists have taken against opponents has consequences for how the public perceives abortion.

"The language that many pro-choicers have adopted contains a lot of stigma. For example, 'Safe, legal, and rare,' which Hillary Clinton famously said, and was a Democratic Party mantra for a long time, contains the idea that abortion is a bad thing, we want to have as little of it as possible," she said.

Qualifying abortion as "the most difficult decision a woman will ever make" may help abortion rights advocates to "forestall the 'women are lazy sluts who have abortions for convenience'" line from opponents, Pollitt said, but the somber tone of such defenses withholds the fact that abortion is often a positive choice for women's lives.

"I don't think that's the way women think about it. I think they're very practical. It's often not a difficult decision," Pollitt said. For example, a woman in college, of certain age, who is single or who simply doesn't have the interest or resources to have a baby should not be expected seriously consider having one if "a stray sperm happens to find its way to her egg."

What needs to change so that support for women's right to choose does not depend on why they choose? "We have to change [the rate of support] by talking about what abortion really is," Pollitt said.

While abortion rights find broader support in cases of rape, incest, or danger to the mother or child, Pollitt says an emphasis on these reasons for terminating a pregnancy imply others are unacceptable.

"It says 'You can have an abortion if you didn't have voluntary sex.. But if you're having an abortion because you had sex, you got pregnant, and you can't afford the baby, you don't have a father for the baby, you want to continue with your education or your career, then too bad for you," she said. "Well that's 90 percent of abortions."

Ultimately, treating abortion as a moral issue means ignoring many of the realities that factor into a woman's choice to end a pregnancy -- and the positive impact this decision can have on her life.

"The way we need to reframe abortion is to talk about it in the context of people's lives. Women want to have children when they are able to have a good situation, when they're ready and able to take care of a baby," Pollitt said. "Doesn't it everybody benefit, including children, when families are planned by the people who are supposed to be responsible for them?"

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