Game Change: Why Pro-Choicers Should Stop Dwelling on the Exceptions and Start Making the Rules

This week, the heart wrenching story of a pregnant 10-year-old, seemingly raped by her stepfather, has made international headlines, including here at Feministing. As CNN reports, the girl “has become the latest lightning rod in the country’s heated abortion debate.” In Mexico, the girl’s home country, abortion is legal in the capital city, but prohibited or significantly restricted in most states.
This is not the first time the case of a young victim of incest has drawn international media attention for its implications in the national and global abortion debate; in fact, we posted about a year ago on similar case in Brazil in which a nine-year-old Brazilian girl who was raped and impregnated by her stepfather was ultimately able to access an abortion (though was later excommunicated by the Roman Catholic Church for doing so).
As they did in that instance, advocates have once again seized on this young girl’s case, hailing her as a “perfect victim” whose story should be used to illustrate the dangerous consequences of limiting women’s access to safe abortion. One blogger wrote on Feminists for Choice that this story “goes to show the devastating consequences that legal restrictions on late-term abortions can have on the lives of women around the world.” Another blogger on RHRealityCheck writes that the girl’s case “might make the anti-choice forces rethink their beliefs about forced pregnancy”.
It’s true that these cases provide very clear cut examples of the need for ensuring access to safe abortion for all. But so does every other case in which a woman seeks a safe abortion and is unable to access one. And as Miriam noted yesterday, for every young girl in this situation that gets media attention, there are hundreds others who also can’t access the abortions they need. Because despite their propensity for international media attention, cases such as those of the ten-year-old in Mexico and the nine-year-old in Brazil make up only a small percentage of the cases involving women seeking abortion.
Employing heartbreaking stories of rape and incest as “clear-cut” to demonstrate the need for safe abortion does a disservice to the world’s women by necessarily portraying their desire to access safe abortion under other circumstances as “less than perfect.”
The stories of these nine and ten year old girls–the violence inflicted upon them, the access to services they were then denied, the failure to secure their rights–should certainly enrage us, as members of a movement that aims to promote and protect women’s health and rights. But they should also remind us of the need to continue our work to advocate for social justice and abortion access in Mexico for ALL women, not just so-called “perfect victims”. The pro-choice movement can’t progress its agenda by dwelling on exceptions- it’s got to start making the rules, like establishing access to safe abortion as a human right for EVERY woman and girl.
Back in November, a post on Akimbo highlighted the first Mexican abortion fund, MARIA, which is designed to support women in traveling from the states in Mexico where abortion is criminalized to Mexico City, where abortion is legal in the first trimester. Visit their website for more information about the fight for abortion rights in Mexico and how you can get involved.
Crossposted.

Brooklyn, NY

Lori Adelman is Executive Director of Partnerships at Feministing, where she enjoys creating and curating content on gender, race, class, technology, and the media. Lori is also an advocacy and communications professional specializing in sexual and reproductive rights and health, and currently works in the Global Division of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. A graduate of Harvard University, she lives in Brooklyn.

Lori Adelman is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Partnerships.

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  • Rubbersoul4163

    Excellent piece; I could not agree more! This well meaning but ultimately unsatisfying focus on the “good” cases for abortion really smacks of the age old idea of the “deserving” and the “undeserving” (categorization usually reserved for those who get welfare). To try and reach out to anti-choicers by arguing that we need abortion because of these extreme cases of rape and incest only helps fuel the anti choice efforts to stigmatize the vast majority of women who need abortions because of consensual sex that resulted in an unwanted pregnancy.
    The whole point of being pro choice is to believe that a woman can CHOSE when to terminate a pregnancy, whether it was the result of horrific incestuous rape, or a one night stand with a broken condom. It is not our job to decide who has a worthy abortion case and who does not. We need to stop parsing the way a baby was conceived, and instead start parsing the myriad ways that women are denied access to reproductive health.

  • Jack

    I think that people dwell on exceptions as a way of dismantling and reacting to the rhetoric of conservatives. When we try to have any discussion against someone who claims that abortion is wrong even in the case of rape or incest, there’s no argument we can make that will fit into their heads. When, however, we can point to solid, actual examples of victims of this kind of injustice, it becomes clear that they are trying to argue that the rights of a cluster of cells are more important than the rights of a little girl.
    I think the real problem is that, in cases like that of the pregnant ten-year-old girl, it’s a completely different debate. We find it easy to equate abortion rights for a child to abortion rights for an adult because we believe that abortion is a fundamental right, that no woman’s body should be co-opted by the government even to serve as life support for another (potential) person. The pro-choice argument is, “The circumstances of her pregnancy are different, her health and life concerns are different, but just like me, she deserves abortion access.” But to conservatives, it’s a different matter altogether. Even to those who support abortion in certain specific cases, the argument is, “Abortion access is vital for this person because she’s too young/too small/a rape victim/an incest victim.” In other words, the pro-choice argument is that she should have the right to an abortion because of who she is. The pro-life argument, assuming they’re on our side for this particular issue, is that she (and only she) should have the right to an abortion because of what she is.
    This is why we need to stop using this argument. Because we take it as a given that women should have the right to abortion access, and they don’t, and thus the argument falls flat. The real debate is why women have the right to abortions.

  • ladyraine.wordpress.com

    I don’t understand how there can be any argument as to “choice”.
    When an *already born* grown adult man or woman is on life support….are they alive? Yes. But does the family have the right to “pull the plug” since they are not actually alive (ie: cannot live without the aid of machines)? Yes, they do.
    Thus, pregnancy should be treated the same (and it has been since they make late-term abortions much harder to get and/or illegal altogether).
    A fetus BELONGS to the woman. It is a part of her body. It is an extension of her organs, her breathing, her food intake, her uterus/womb, and everything else.
    Not to be crass….but the fetus *until able to live on it’s own* is a parasite on a host.
    A person on life support is considered “disabled” or a parasite in the same way (they cannot live, breathe, eat, and think the way a normal person does and therefore it is up to the the family to decide if their life should continue or not.
    I don’t understand why abortion is thought of as any differently.
    Where does it end, then? If women cannot chose what happens INSIDE of their own uterus because someday it MIGHT be human?
    So then, if sperm is “thrown away” and “wasted” has a man committed the murder of a potential life? No, that would be silly.
    It’s a matter of men and religious nuts not understanding simple science, human rights, and the fact that women are not required to have babies and are quite generous in having them AT ALL in a society where we are given all the responsibility to have them, carry them, raise them, and even bear the financial burden, too!
    These are people who think they have a “right” to force women to give them children, carry their “seed”, or govern a woman as if she’s a child.
    Unless you are paying AND raising them…it’s none of your business *men* and women? I don’t want to hear anyone call themselves “Pro-Life” until a single Pro-Lifer starts to actually adopt babies and give a shit about what happens to all those mothers and babies dying from street abortions and babies in dumpsters, orphans in the system, and welfare children.
    I cannot stand the “Anti-Choice” crowd pretending to care about a baby’s life.
    No, they care about yelling obscenities at women going into *legal clinics*, acting like terrorists, and then going home and NOT giving a shit about the millions of unwanted children and babies with nobody to care for them.
    *And I dare anyone to ask a Pro-Lifer how many of the “less desirable” adopted children they have….most will say “none”*
    That alone, deflates their entire argument.

  • uberhausfrau

    i was going to write something similar, but you nailed it completely.

  • Jack

    When an *already born* grown adult man or woman is on life support….are they alive? Yes. But does the family have the right to “pull the plug” since they are not actually alive (ie: cannot live without the aid of machines)? Yes, they do.
    No, they don’t. Or at the very least, they shouldn’t. If the person in question is brain dead and has no hope of recovery, then yes, the family can decide to pull the plug. If, however, the person isn’t brain-dead, then only they should have the choice as to whether or not they should die. Your argument only serves to help the pro-life side: a fetus can’t choose whether or not it wants to be aborted, ergo someone has to speak up for it. I’m not saying that they’re right, I’m saying that this is what they believe.
    The problem is that your own analogy turns a woman into nothing more than an ambulatory life-support system. You’re arguing that a woman should have the right to pull the plug. I’m arguing that there is no plug to pull. The “disabled parasite” on life support, as you put it, is a person. No one is going to argue whether or not this is the case. A fetus is not. The debate shouldn’t be that a woman should have a right to get rid of the “parasite” in her abdomen. The debate should be that, even if you think that the fetus has rights, they should not supersede the rights of the mother. A potential person should not override an actual person.
    It’s a matter of men and religious nuts not understanding simple science, human rights, and the fact that women are not required to have babies and are quite generous in having them AT ALL in a society where we are given all the responsibility to have them, carry them, raise them, and even bear the financial burden, too!
    Bullshit. Men and women support abortion in roughly equal numbers and you do your argument a severe disservice by suggesting otherwise. And even if it were true, it’s a ridiculously sexist stance to take: men wants to control women’s bodies, but women are just misled by religion?
    No, they care about yelling obscenities at women going into *legal clinics*, acting like terrorists, and then going home and NOT giving a shit about the millions of unwanted children and babies with nobody to care for them.
    I would argue that most people who identify as pro-life do not harass people, do not bomb clinics, do not murder abortion providers. It’s easier to think of them that way, because that makes them a real enemy. Clearly everyone who disagrees with you must be a monster. Fully half the country spends the entire day protesting Planned Parenthood and plotting ways to kill the doctors inside. Then they probably go home and beat their chests and crow that they have successfully maintained the patriarchy for another day!
    That’s not how it works. The average day of most pro-life people goes like this: they skip breakfast, rush to work, chat with co-workers about the girl in accounting and whether or not she made up with her boyfriend, have a thoroughly unhealthy lunch, pretend to work for a few hours, go home, make dinner, watch that Tivo’d episode of House while playing FarmVille on their laptop, then go to bed. Then, once every two years, there’ll be a pro-choice candidate running against a pro-life candidate, and they’ll pick the one that you don’t. That’s the entirety of the difference. They don’t sit around all day thinking of new ways to be evil.
    This is why I maintain that there needs to be a legitimate discussion. Why we can’t just dismiss everyone who disagrees with us as being “anti-choice.” Why the discussion isn’t how do I make these people shut up about my right to an abortion, but is instead how do I show these people why I have the right to an abortion? Because at the end of the day, we’re not fighting against these people. We’re fighting for them. They just don’t realize it.

  • ladyraine.wordpress.com

    I understand the points you are making, but the reason I didn’t mention the more obvious things like “why are we putting a fetus’s life above a flesh and blood woman”?
    Because everyone with rational sense should already see it that way, but as we know there are many people who don’t care that the “woman is already alive”. They just care that the “fetus” is “dead”.
    And obviously not all pro-lifers are nutjobs and bombers….but I also don’t see any huge uprisings of “pro-lifers” out there adopting all those older, emotionally traumatized orphans that aren’t the “cute, cuddly babies”.
    How often to those pro-lifers fight to offer more aid to women who are pregnant? How often do they promote being a Foster-Parent to wayward teens? How often are their homes willed with the unwanted children?
    Almost never. THAT is the part about their argument that angers me the most. They do not have a right call themselves “pro-life” because they are not. They are just “anti-choice”.
    I’m sorry you think my views are offensive, but a few of them you misconstrued and thought I “only meant men” and “only meant women” which was not was I was implying at all.
    And I also did not mean that pro-life men are somehow more “evil” than pro-life women. The comments about it being religious was directed toward both genders (and I’m aware that there are just as many men that support abortion than there are who don’t).
    Maybe I mistyped what I meant, but I reread it and it didn’t read to ME the way it apparently read to YOU.
    I am aware that men are for “woman’s right to choose” also. I’m aware many have fought for that right. I don’t dismiss those men.
    I was referring to the men who just think that women shouldn’t “have the power” to make a decision like that (and there are MANY of those men) and often not even based on an actual “pro-life” stance. Just that they think the reproductive market is unfair because of it.
    I was simply offering a different viewpoint on the reasons why abortion-choice should be obvious to most people. Nothing more and nothing less.

  • Jack

    I’m sorry you think my views are offensive, but a few of them you misconstrued and thought I “only meant men” and “only meant women” which was not was I was implying at all.
    I thought you only meant men because you only typed men. When you wrote that, quote, “It’s a matter of men and religious nuts…” that suggested to me that you felt that men were the only people who were not “religious nuts” that were against abortion. Which I inferred to mean that either A) men are the only ones mean spirited enough to oppose abortion on non-religious grounds, or B) no woman would ever oppose abortion if she wasn’t in some way being manipulated by the church. Apparently I misread your intentions, and I apologize.
    I maintain, however, that most people who oppose abortion are just that: people. People with flawed ideas on fetal rights or women’s rights or what a fetus even is, but people nonetheless, most of whom aren’t religious nutjobs or even misogynistic. That said, I can see why a sensible person would see them that way, and I’m sorry if I insinuated otherwise.