The Myth of “Pro-Abortion”

Before you cast your vote, consult your own hearts and minds, not the politicians

We’ve gotten used to a president who tells lies so habitually, so routinely, that even the fact-checkers have grown blasé. We can become so numb, so exhausted by the everyday spectacle of lie after lie, that it’s easier to just go with the flow of believing the politicians, rather than consulting our own hearts or minds about what they tell us.

On abortion, for example.

You may have heard that some Democrats currently running for office are “pro-abortion.” In fact, that some are so “pro-abortion” that they are for it “right up to the moment of birth.”

Do you really believe that? Really?

First, let’s clear up this mistaken notion that anyone — no matter how “liberal” — is “pro-abortion.” The correct designation is “pro-choice,” which describes who should be making crucial decisions about women’s reproductive life — the woman herself — and does not advocate what those decisions should be.

To be pro-choice is definitely not to be “anti-life,” as some would have you believe. Indeed, most pro-choicers are dedicated to creating the conditions that would allow women and girls to have more control over when and by whom they get pregnant.

That would be a world in which abortions would be rare. And it would be a world which would be more consistently “pro-life” than imagined by those whose concerns about “life” seem to stop at the moment of birth, who don’t seem to care nearly as much about the health, education and welfare of the children we bring into the world.

To be pro-life and not to support affordable health care for all, for example, is a contradiction in terms.

Politicians who deploy these notions promote a deeply patronizing agenda, as they try to persuade women to ignore the wisdom of their own hearts and minds to trust a government still run largely by men who have never, and will never, experience pregnancy.

Those men would cringe at the thought of control over their reproductive lives being in the hands of the government, and — surprise! — have never enacted such laws.

In fact, our legal reverence for bodily integrity — for everyone except the pregnant woman, that is — is so exalted that, as the Supreme Court acknowledged over one hundred years ago:

“No right is held more sacred, or is more carefully guarded, by the common law, than the right of every individual to the possession and control of his own person, free from all restraint or interference of others, unless by a clear and unquestionable authority of law.”

Wait, you say — what about when another person’s life is at stake? Doesn’t the authority of law interfere under those circumstances?

Would it surprise you to know that judges have consistently refused to force individuals to submit without consent to medical procedures, even when another life hangs in the balance? It’s true. No one can be forced, for example, to donate bone marrow — or even to undergo a blood test to determine compatibility — for a dying relative (let alone a stranger.)

You might find such a refusal morally repugnant, of course. But the fact is that it is protected by law.

Yet our legal history is strewn with case after case in which judges have ordered pregnant women to submit to highly invasive procedures in the interests of the life and health of a developing fetus. And the record is particularly grim when it comes to poor women and women of color.

The fact is that we have one moral and legal code for men and their bodies, and another for pregnant women. And please note: This is true regardless of whether or not you consider the fetus a person. The relative in need of your bone marrow is a person — yet he or she has no right to demand that you allow your body to be used to sustain his or her life.

This double-standard is not just a violation of the pregnant woman’s rights to equal protection under the law, it also belies the fact that the overwhelming majority of women will suffer significant pain, risk, and curtailment of their freedom to do what their doctors advise is in the best interests of their fetuses. We make pregnant women feel like child abusers if they take so much as one daiquiri, even in the ninth month when the child is fully developed. Yet neither the father not the state nor private industry is held responsible for any of the harms they may be inflicting on developing fetuses (through smoking or reckless driving, for example.)

Yes, of course there are circumstances in which women do choose to terminate pregnancies. But whatever the politicians would have you believe, no woman is “pro-abortion.” Actually, the very term “pro-abortion” is an insult to women, particularly to women who have made the decision to terminate a pregnancy in emotional pain and with deep sorrow — yet necessity.

As for those politicians who describe their opponents as advocating abortion “right up to the moment of birth,” not only are they lies, they demonstrate callous indifference to the women who actually have been forced to undergo late-term abortions. Yes, they do happen, although rarely, and only under the most extreme circumstances — when it has been discovered, for example, that their infants have stopped breathing, or would be unable to live outside the womb.

Do you know anyone who has been through that? Or through a stillbirth? Or through the pain and grief of having a child die days or weeks after birth? I do. She has never stopped grieving for that child. Late-term abortions are no less emotionally and physically wrenching than a stillbirth. No one is “for” them.

It’s ironic that Republicans, who used to be so offended by government intrusions into people’s choices, would have become so dedicated to the government taking over the reproductive choices of women.

I guess it really has nothing to do with anti-big government, and more to do with a failure to regard women as fully responsible, ethical decision-makers. Every woman — regardless of political affiliation, whatever her personal ethics or religious scruples regarding abortion — should feel insulted by that.

So please, before you cast that vote: Ignore the political commercials and examine your own heart and mind.

Susan Bordo is a mother, teacher and author. She holds the Otis A. Singletary Chair in the Humanities at the University of Kentucky. Her most recent book is The Destruction of Hillary Clinton: Untangling the Political Forces, Media Culture, and Assault on Fact That Decided the 2016 Election.

Cultural historian, media critic, feminist scholar. Website:

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