“We still may not agree on a woman’s right to choose, but surely we can agree it’s a good thing that teen pregnancies and abortions are nearing all-time lows, and that every woman should have access to the health care she needs.” – President Barack Obama
Last night the president used the “A” word — meaning abortion — in his State of the Union address. His message was, in typical Obama style, meant to appeal to everyone — conservatives, liberals, anti-choice, pro-choice. Judging by Twitter, many reproductive health, rights, and justice advocates cheered.
Some of the most famous advocates edited out what he said about abortion, and kept on running:
The problem is that what he said actually sucked.
By saying “surely we can agree it’s a good thing that … abortions are nearing all-time lows,” the president served up a wallop of abortion stigma. In essence he said it’s a good thing to have fewer abortions. This implies that those women who keep on having abortions anyway are doing something wrong. And that, my friends, is not good.
It’s a good thing every time a woman is able to safely end a pregnancy she wants or needs to end. Of course it’s a good thing every time a woman avoids an unintended pregnancy.
It’s a leap to say it’s a good thing when there are fewer abortions — that does not strictly mean that women are able to access the abortions they want or need, and that more women are avoiding unintended pregnancy.
It is possible to talk about the abortion rate dropping without stigmatizing abortion (which implies, in some ways, that maybe restrictions on abortions aren’t so bad). The way to do that is to present the facts without value judgement.
Good women have abortions, and bad women have abortions, and for that matter transgender men have abortions, and in all cases their abortions are neither good nor bad. They are simply the facts of their lives.
In any case we don’t all need to agree on a woman’ s personal life, and the frame that we should — that a woman’s life is up for the inspection and agreement of the group — is ridiculous and sexist in big, blinking lights.
So long as we expect the Democratic Party and their associated elected officials to provide leadership on reproductive issues, leadership on reproductive issues is going to sound like saying there is something wrong with abortion while at the same time calling for access to reproductive health care.
That’s a mixed message, and a losing one. We can do better.