Abortion is a hot topic in American politics. At the protests outside the Supreme Court before the Obamacare ruling, most of the signs related to Roe v Wade and the pro-life/pro-choice debate rather than anything to do with the subject up for dicussion. Chants of “They kill babies” rang out time and time again. The position of a political candidate on abortion is considered an absolute litmus test on their wider views on feminism. Anyone who expresses doubts about abortion is painted as anti-woman, and attempting to turn the clock back hundreds of years on the advancement of women in the workplace and political life. In making feminism purely about being supportive of abortion rights, the pro-choice movement has betrayed the cause they claim to advocate for. Women’s rights and the political process of securing them extend far beyond the debate about abortion.
By focusing purely on abortion, a moral issue that many would argue has far less to do with women’s rights as fundamental beliefs about life, the feminist movement in America has undermined the cause of women’s rights in the United States and prevented progress in many other more pressing areas. America lags behind almost all other developed countries in terms of female political representation, earning parity between men and women, domestic violence, sexualisation of culture, maternity leave, women’s health vaccines and a whole host of other key areas of concern for women in American society. Those issues are the ones that continue to hamper female empowerment today, stopping young American women from living out the full extent of their potential.
Looking around at the interest groups, lobbyists and PACs that deal with women’s issues in the United States, you would hardly believe abortion were legal at all. Despite a majority of Americans supporting abortion being legal, women political action groups in the United States seem to spend almost all of their time focusing on guaranteeing the morally inexcusable late-term abortion laws rather than addressing the issues that really hold women back in society.
To those of us who consider ourselves feminist, but have moral objections to abortion, the result is frankly offensive. Believing that once a child that is being carried by its mother is viable it should not be aborted is not sexist or misogynist, but an expression of a morality that values individual life. Someone who opposes late-term abortion but speaks up on equal pay, positive discrimination for female political candidates and against permissive laws relating to domestic violence does considerably more for women’s rights in America than NARAL has done in a generation.
The myopic focus on abortion is particularly evident in the debate over the ‘Mexico City Policy’. This policy requires all clinics and medical institutions that gain US AID funding not to counsel women on abortion. The vitriolic attacks on this policy consumed the feminist movement for years. Certainly, it is legitimate to argue against the censorship of medical advice based on ideology, but to pretend that should be the number one issue regarding women’s rights internationally from the point of view of the US feminist community is ridiculous. What about the treatment of women across the Arab world? Listening to the pro-choice lobby you would think that giving Saudi women the right to an abortion is all one would need to enshrine equal protection and equal opportunity in that deeply sexist society.
Fundamentally, the pro-choice movement is arguing a moral falsehood. It is possible to be feminist and anti-abortion. Supporting the rights of unborn children is not inherently sexist, and only becomes anti-women’s rights when it is enshrined in overly aggressive legislation. Moreover, there are many much more pressing issues for women in the United States than almost arcane debates regarding Roe v Wade.
Today, a majority of Americans support abortion rights. The Supreme Court is safely within that consensus. What are the pro-choice lobby so terrified of? The threat of criminalising abortion has long since passed. Would it not be more positive for women in America if their major lobby groups did so too? Furthermore, by enshrining stronger protections for women in other areas, and thus having more successful, empowered women operating in society (including politics), would likely strengthen the forces of the pro-choice movement into the bargain.
Having a pro-choice litmus test for candidates is as silly as it is counter-productive. Women’s politics becomes reduced to a single issue, and once that answer is given satisfactorily there is no follow-up on the much more pressing issues that threaten the role of women in American society. Women are not single issue voters, and telling them they should be as NARAL and others do on a regular basis only demeans the great strides made in the cause of women’s rights since Seneca Falls.
Those who campaigned, fought and struggled to see the 19th Amendment enshrined into the American constitution would be horrified to see what the women’s rights movement in America has become. Ineffective, unimaginative, self-righteous and increasingly (and most disturbingly) irrelevant.
American women deserve better.