Celebrating Fewer Abortions Is Not The Path To Reproductive Justice

“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:

Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 10.15.57 PM

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.

7 thoughts on “Celebrating Fewer Abortions Is Not The Path To Reproductive Justice

  1. I am pro choice and I am fortunate enough to live in a country where it is generally easy and free to access healthcare and abortion services. I’m not sure that Obama can say the same for America or that he is coming from this point of view but in my local area I would find it concerning if unplanned pregnancies and abortiions dramatically increased.
    People are always going to have sex without wanting a pregnancy to follow but surely in an ideal world that sex will be mostly protected and using condoms. We can access condoms for free and we are educated about STDs and pregnancy, And yet reports of young girls having 5 or more abortions before their 20th birthdays suggest to me that there are many who don’t approach sex from a sensible point of view. If everyone used condoms when they weren’t in a relationship the number of abortions would naturally drop dramatically.

  2. Martha

    Obama’s statement was crafted to appeal to all and was, of course, not ideal. But simply because of how carefully it was said, I don’t think it conveys that having an abortion is “bad” – rather he’s saying it is a “good” that the abortion rate is decreasing.

    I think this is one of the areas where we need to realize, as feminists, that not every woman is making the ‘choice’ to have an abortion free from economic and social pressures. And that if we make progress toward a more equal, fair and just society we would expect and be happy that the abortion rate would decline.

    In our country too many women don’t have healthcare (and good access to bc), can lose their jobs for being pregnant, can’t afford childcare, don’t fall into a safety net that will keep food on their table. And on a cultural flip side, too many women rightfully fear that having children will hinder career growth and limit their future. This isn’t saying that a woman who has an abortion is failing, or ‘bad’, but that having an abortion is one of many choices women make – and like all choices – it is made in the context of a broken system.

  3. I haven’t trusted any Democrat or Republican since the fall of 2009, especially on women’s issues. The idea that any person, regardless of sex or gender, has a right to their own body is not radical. It should be typical, and expected. Whooping for joy because it appears that maybe a problem has lessened from the perspective of living in the White House is entirely meaningless for everyone…except those who actually live in the White House.

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