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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  • nazza

    Again, privilege, male or otherwise, comes in many forms, but as a society, we seem unable to want to have a discussion about it. We can talk about racism or classism, but privilege still seems to be limited to academic or niche settings.

  • Suzanne

    This issue is personal to me, as it is for Cannon – although I suppose we represent different sides of the coin. When I was a fetus, my mother was strongly urged to have an abortion. She had medical problems that made it certain, to her doctor, that she would have a miscarraige anyway – and by continuing her pregnancy, her life was in danger. My mother emphatically refused. I was born, obviously, and born quite healthfully. My mom got pregnant once more several years later, and had a miscarraige.

    My mom has said to me on a couple of occasions, “Aren’t you glad I didn’t have an abortion? If I did, you wouldn’t exist.” This is true. But it’s also true that I wouldn’t exist if she and my dad had used a condom on the night I was concieved. Despite knowing the precarious conditions under which I was born, I’ve never translated my personal experience into anti-choice feelings. Ever.

    There’s a part of me that feels, with some sympathy, that there’s a hidden explanation underlying sentiments like those expressed in Cannon’s video. Perhaps this all relates to a basic human fear of nonexistence – the same drive that leads us to desire an afterlife. I’m comfortable with the idea of nonexistence, because, as I explained to my mother, if she’d had an abortion then I would never know it and never be able to complain about it. I’m comfortable with that at the same time that I’m grateful to her for everything she’s done for me, including enduring a difficult (and dangerous) pregnancy.

  • chelsa

    Chloe, you nailed it.

    It just pisses me off when people go off on an “Well, how crappy would it be if your mother had aborted you?”

    Frankly, I AM adopted. I’m so happy my bio-mom made the decision to carry me to term. But that being said, now as a fully-functioning human adult, looking back there’s no way I would have supported forcing her to make that sacrifice. I would understand if she hadn’t (you know, except for the whole ‘I wouldn’t exist’ part, which means if she’d had an abortion, it wouldn’t have mattered how I felt anyway).

    There are so many potential opportunities to create a new human life. And there are almost as many ways that that potential is aborted before it ever develops into a human being. This guy might as well have written a song called “Dear mom, thanks for not having a miscarriage (or a spontaneous abortion)” or “Dear mom, thanks for not getting Plan B after that condom broke” or “Dear mom, thanks for missing your pill that Saturday, otherwise I would be DEAD” or “Dear mom, thanks for not getting preeclampsia and not having to get an abortion to save your own life”

    I get it, the woman made a huge sacrifice. So did my Bio-mom. But those were their decisions, and just because I make a different one, doesn’t mean I’m a bad person.

    /end preaching to the choir

    • Kimberly

      This is probably a silly question, but what exactly is preeclampsia? I can tell it’s a medical condition of some sort, but what exactly happens to people who have it? What does it do to the body?

  • Lisa

    What I find ironic, as I do with most pro-life rhetoric, is that they frame continuing a pregnancy as a choice. He asked the question “Can I (fetus) live?” and not said “I deserve to live” which really was the message of the video. He is using pro-choice language to frame it as a choice instead of something he wants to force on every woman. Since you know, every potential life has the right to potentially live someday. Its also framed in a way to say “if you made the wrong choice, I wouldn’t be hear and you would be a murderer.” Such a wonderful message to tell your mother. “Aren’t you glad I’m hear otherwise you would be a murderer for killing me. Can you imagine all the guilt and pain you would have?” However, that isn’t as catchy for a song…

  • Emily

    The woman’s life doesn’t matter, according to anti-choicers, because her life and potential for greatness ended when she got pregnant. Behind all that rhetoric that mothers are strong and babies are wonderful is the idea that becoming a mother keeps a woman from doing many of the things she wants and needs to do with her life. And since anti-choicers are hell bent on ruining women’s lives, the more terrible her circumstances are when she becomes pregnant, the better.

    • Jaclyn W

      Emily, I don’t follow your argument that “anti-choicers” have the idea that becoming a mother keeps women from doing the things they want. Where do you get that? If anything, from reading Chloe’s article, it’s the other way around. Example: “if a woman has dreams that would be impossible to achieve if she has a baby…she’s [perceived as] weak.” This is the mantra that I hear most often from pro-choicers: that we NEED abortion so that women won’t be held back from achieving their goals. Which implies that it is motherhood and babies that keep women from doing this. The pro-life side, rather, argues that you can both achieve your goals while being a mother. Or choosing adoption. And isn’t that what feminism has always argued for?

      Chloe’s argument, which is the basis of the pro-choice movement, is that motherhood or pregnancy reduces women to uneducated, doomed-to-the-kitchen, mindless breeders with no other purpose or goal in life. And this is ridiculous. How can the same group that says you can work, have children, and do everything that men do, also say that pregnancy is a dream-killer and motherhood destroys all hopes of ever making something of your life?

      I had two children in grad school and am writing my Ph.D dissertation. It’s not easy, but nowhere near impossible.

      • Anna

        Hi Jaclyn. I have never ever once heard from a single feminist that women need to have abortions. It’s that women should have the CHOICE of whether they want to or not. That’s the key thing. There’s no agenda set against motherhood. In fact, it’s feminists themselves who fight for mother’s rights! I’m sorry to hear that you believe the pro-choice side demands abortion. Because that’s just woefully wrong wrong wrong.

        • Jaclyn W

          Ann, thanks for the reply. I didn’t mean to say that individuals need abortion; I meant that the feminist movement argues that “we” (as a society, country, whatever) need to have abortion as a choice. And of course that is what it demands. It is right at the top of the feminist banner. Are there any feminist contributers or bloggers on this site who are pro-life?

          • downatthedinghy

            Jaclyn, I think we *do* need to have abortion as a choice. Without it, we’re still forcing women to be pregnant, which is at the heart of the issue. No one deserves to be forced to stay pregnant (or not have an alternative, like becoming not pregnant) simply because they couldn’t stop the accident of conception.

            Can women “do it all”? Sure, some of them, but they certainly aren’t obligated to do it. Women are not servants to their biology.

          • Lisa

            We need abortion as a choice. We also need adoption and parenting as choices. Not all women want to become mothers. Not all women will choose being a mother if they become pregnant. No woman should be forced into motherhood. That is cruel and unusual punishment for both her and her child. Women can fulfill their dreams when they have children, just like women without children can fulfill their dreams. Who says motherhood is a path all women will choose? That is the whole point of the pro-choice movement, letting women decide what is best for their lives. Whether that is becoming a mother or not.

          • MKE

            “I meant that the feminist movement argues that “we” (as a society, country, whatever) need to have abortion as a choice.”

            But that’s not what you said at all. You said, “…the basis of the pro-choice movement, is that motherhood or pregnancy reduces women to uneducated, doomed-to-the-kitchen, mindless breeders with no other purpose or goal in life.” Advocates for abortion rights are called pro-choice because they believe the choice, or option, of abortion must be available to women; they are not trying to make keeping a baby illegal. To say that support for the option of abortion is an insult to a woman’s intelligence is absolutely absurd.

      • Emily

        Do you know the reasons women have abortions? The number one reason women have abortions is because remaining pregnant and/or having a child would prevent them from getting an education and/or keeping their job. Anti-choicers, whether implicitly or explicitly, want women to be uneducated and unemployed, by making the choice to not be pregnant illegal.

        • Kimberly

          I agree. And anti-choice people say that women who have abortions for these reasons are selfish? Looking out for the kids you’ve already got doesn’t seem very selfish to me.

          I especially agree with Lisa’s above comment. To quote Margaret Sanger, “No woman can call herself free if she can’t decide whether she will or will not be a mother.”

  • Katie

    I find this discussion somewhat strange. We only have the opinions and thoughts that we do because someone cared enough about us to instill them. We were given the opportunity to lead lives where we can be educated and fully developed human beings. For many women who find themselves to be pregnant, that will not be the case for that child. It sounds weird to say, but I would not have wanted to be carried to term if my mother was not in a position to raise me with enough love and care that a child deserves. Adoption can be a solution, but orphanages are also not an ideal place to spend the first months/years of ones life. Especially with adoption regulations as strict as they are. It is difficult to determine what a ‘good parent’ looks like, so to speak.

    I am absolutely pro-choice and think it is 100% up to the woman to decide what to do either way, but life and quality of life are two very different things.

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  • Jenny

    You know what this song kinda reminds me of? And it might be in bad taste but…
    “Eeeevery sperm is sacred!
    Every sperm is good!
    If a sperm get’s wasted,
    God gets quite irate!”

    And I completely concur with chelsa’s comment:
    “This guy might as well have written a song called “Dear mom, thanks for not having a miscarriage (or a spontaneous abortion)” or “Dear mom, thanks for not getting Plan B after that condom broke” or “Dear mom, thanks for missing your pill that Saturday, otherwise I would be DEAD” or “Dear mom, thanks for not getting preeclampsia and not having to get an abortion to save your own life”

    or ‘thanks mom for not making him wear a condom that one night, otherwise I wouldn’t exist!’

  • Mark J

    One of the sad things is that around 50% of the babies pro-lifers want to make sure are born will be female. Apparently they will then be forgotten when it comes time for them to make such choices. You know, when they reach their potential that’s all important. They just won’t be smart enough to make their own decisions. They’re more important in the womb.

    And as far as I know, Nick Cannon will never become pregnant. And if he could have, I wonder where his “career” would be now.

    • Kimberly

      “One of the sad things is that around 50% of the babies pro-lifers want to make sure are born will be female.”

      I’d read about something like this before while looking up pro-choice arguments one time. I came across one that gave anti-choice arguments, and one of the reasons it gave was that the majority of aborted fetuses are female. And then it asked, “So which is the greater instance of sexism?” or something like that. But these were probably forced abortions, without the mother’s consent, like what they (used to?) do in places like China. I doubt that the writer of those arguments took those situations into account.

  • Hailey

    -Trigger warning-

    I was born in 1989. My mother was date raped in 1987 and became pregnant. She had an abortion a few weeks in and told me (when I started becoming more and more involved with volunteering as a counselor at my local rape crisis hotline) that while she will ALWAYS be pro-choice, she decided that she would never again have an abortion. A little while later, she became pregnant with me; my father (who has not been in my life) pushed for my abortion but she said she knew she wanted me. This is why Nick Cannon’s argument intrigues me, because the reason I “can live” is essentially, that my mother chose abortion before me.

  • Ansa Edim

    This is sickening and sad and manipulative.