Can I live? And other questions that reveal how anti-woman anti-choicers can be

Last Friday night, I was sitting at home in front of my computer like the cool social butterfly that I am, and suddenly, my Twitter feed exploded with pro-choice mirth and mockery. The source of the outburst was that someone in the feminist and/or comedy communities had posted a link to the Nick Cannon song “Can I Live?” The song, which is not particularly new, but is too special not to watch, is about his mother’s decision not to abort a pregnancy in the late 1970s, and Cannon’s gratitude because were it not for that decision, he wouldn’t be here today. You can read the lyrics here.

In the video, an adult Cannon, glowing gold like a spirit of some kind, follows his mother into the clinic and watches as she fills out the paperwork necessary to have an abortion. As he does so, he raps about his wish for her to change her mind, from the perspective of the fetus inside her. The chorus goes:

I’ll always be a part of you
Trust your soul, know it’s always true
If I could talk I’d say to you
“Can I live? Can I live?”

Adult-with-the-voice-of-a-fetus Cannon’s argument is that not only would his mother be killing someone were she to get an abortion, but she’d be killing him, Nick Cannon, the “Oprah-bound” “star” of Drumline. Drumline, guys.

Look, it’s clear that Cannon takes this issue seriously. As he says in the introduction, this is personal. And he’s glad, understandably, that his mother chose not to have an abortion.  For him, now that he’s endowed with the capacity for thought, and understanding of choices and consequences, that is to say, now that he’s a functional person, it was indeed the “right decision.” Hopefully, it was the right one for her too.

If this were just a rap to thank his mother for the sacrifices she made for him, it would be really sweet. And I understand that the knowledge that your mother very nearly aborted the pregnancy from which you resulted might color your view of abortion, but Cannon’s not just thanking his mother here. He’s calling on women, all women, who find themselves in a similar situation, to make the same decision she did. There is no other possible way to interpret the message “if your baby could speak, it would beg you not to have an abortion.”

Cannon insists that this isn’t about “passing judgment” or “making any decisions” (how gracious of him, to suggest that he’s not in the position to either judge women’s choices or make them on their behalf). But that’s so clearly disingenuous. This video isn’t just about “telling the story of his life,” it’s about encouraging other women to make the same decision his mother did. It’s about telling people that no matter what sacrifices it requires of her, a seventeen-year-old woman who gets pregnant should keep the pregnancy, even if she has to drop out of high school, go to night school and depend on government welfare programs. Even if she has dreams other than the ones in which she sees her baby (“you see me in your sleep, so you can’t kill your dreams”? Really, Nick?). And what’s his reasoning? Because that baby might end up being a C-grade celebrity who will thank you for your strength and sacrifice years later, in the form of a poorly-written rap with a barely-concealed political agenda!

It’s quite clever, really, to focus on what the baby might become, on what the world might have missed out on if someone’s life had never come to pass, whether that person is Nick Cannon or Tim Tebow or you, the person watching this video. It’s clever because it forces us to acknowledge that even if we don’t believe a fetus is a person, it undeniably has the potential to become one. That might feel like a victory for anti-abortion forces, but in fact, it reveals a crucial weakness in the approach of those who argue for restrictions on abortion.

The focus on the baby’s potential life lays bare exactly where pro-life priorities lie, and it’s not with women. Women don’t matter here. Babies, fetuses and the potential they represent are all that matters. What women want, what women need, none of those things are important compared to the potential future life of the fetus. And if a woman has goals that would be impossible to achieve if she had a baby, or if she doesn’t want to make the enormous sacrifices that might be required of her, she’s weak. The admirable women are the ones who are “strong” enough to “make the right decision” even if it’s completely against their interests.

The focus on what the baby might grow up to be reveals just how anti-woman the anti-choice stance really is, despite the lauding of women like Cannon’s mother as strong and admirable. Because, as Cannon’s video demonstrates beyond a shadow of a doubt, we’re meant to care more about the potential for the fetus’ life than the woman’s. We’re expected to care more about a being that merely possesses the potential to become a fully-fledged person with thoughts, hopes, dreams and accomplishments, than we do about the woman who has already fulfilled that potential.

So just remember, ladies, even though it’s your body and your life, it’s not about you. You don’t matter. What matters is that the next generation of human life not be denied the glory, the greatness and the genius that will be Drumline 2.

New York, NY

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia. She joined the Feministing team in 2009. Her writing about politics and popular culture has been published in The Atlantic, The Guardian, New York magazine, Reuters, The LA Times and many other outlets in the US, Australia, UK, and France. She makes regular appearances on radio and television in the US and Australia. She has an AB in Sociology from Princeton University and a PhD in Arts and Media from the University of New South Wales. Her academic work focuses on Hollywood romantic comedies; her doctoral thesis was about how the genre depicts gender, sex, and power, and grew out of a series she wrote for Feministing, the Feministing Rom Com Review. Chloe is a Senior Facilitator at The OpEd Project and a Senior Advisor to The Harry Potter Alliance. You can read more of her writing at

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia.

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