Commentary Abortion

‘Abortion Is Like Slavery’ and Other Offensive Anti-Choice Analogies

Amanda Marcotte

Why do anti-choicers rely so heavily on bad, offensive analogies that compare reproductive rights to slavery, the Holocaust, and drug addiction? In no small part, it's because without these inaccurate and offensive analogies, their actual arguments are exposed as weak and petty.

Just when you think anti-choice protesters have run out of ways to be as morally bankrupt as they are self-righteous and judgmental, they will surprise you. Anti-choicers in Albuquerque, New Mexico have taken to protesting the Holocaust museum there, furious that the museum disagrees with the anti-choice claim that women who say no to pregnancy are the moral equivalent of people who rounded up two-thirds of the Jewish population of Europe and killed them in cold blood. It’s particularly mind-bending in this case, because their ire is focused on a nearby clinic that does abortions after 28 weeks for women whose only other choice is usually giving birth to babies that will be in terrible pain or die shortly after birth—or both—meaning that they’re equating the Holocaust not just with women who commit the “sin” of having sex without wanting to get pregnant, but women who wanted to have a baby, but couldn’t. At a certain point, you start to wonder if they’re not just thinking you’re a Nazi by being born female.

But sadly, this kind of offensive and poorly reasoned analogy is just par for the course for anti-choicers, who are faced with the tough dilemma of trying to get other people to be as angry as they are that women continue to make their sexual and reproductive choices for themselves. The list of things anti-choicers claim abortion and contraception are like but are most definitely not like is long indeed. Here are just a few of the more offensive analogies.

Contraceptionand non-procreative sex in generalis like an addictive drug. A classic in the “offensive analogies” genre, the American Life League (ALL) put out a video comparing the desire to have sex with drug addiction. Yes, right down to the way that the drug addict had no craving for the drug prior to using it. ALL really does seem to think that if we didn’t teach safer sex, young people would have no desire to dabble in that sex stuff.

Beyond just the offensiveness of equating normal human desire for sex with a serious medical condition that affects real people, the analogy doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. It’s not like having a drug addiction suddenly becomes healthy once you get married and start having kids, but even anti-choicers—at least officially, anyway—claim to believe that sex is healthy in the marriage and kids context.

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Abortion is like slavery. This one managed to work its way all the way up to a presidential debate, but that doesn’t make it one iota less racist or offensive. As with the Holocaust analogy, all this really does is make it clear how little regard for the lives of Jews and Black people anti-choicers have. When someone like Mike Huckabee goes on and on about how abortion is like slavery, all I can hear is that they believe that this weird-looking mindless embryo the size of a kidney bean means more to them than the full human beings who lived and suffered—and died—for centuries under American slavery. Considering how nearly all anti-choicers claim they don’t want to throw women in jail for abortion, it follows that they’re implying that enslaving other human beings is not a punishable offense. It’s also offensive because it’s trotted out in no small part to subtly hint to anti-choice followers that, like slavery, abortion is something worth fighting a war over—a claim that helps justify violence against providers.

And, as usual, if you give the analogy a moment’s thought, it makes no kind of sense. Slavery was an institution of forcing people into lifelong service without pay. The embryos in question aren’t being forced to work or having their liberty stripped of them. Also, the slave-owning states of the past are far more likely to be the abortion-restricting ones of now, making the bad faith of this analogy even more obvious.

Legal abortion is like assault. In a desperate bid to make it seem like they’re protecting the women whose rights they’re actually attacking, anti-choicers will often describe abortion like it’s an assault on a woman’s body. Indeed, they claim over and over that it’s like rape, because there’s no level of offensiveness to which they won’t stoop. Women who get abortions are painted as unwilling participants who just magically showed up in a doctor’s office and were frog-marched through the process. Abortion is often described in gruesome detail to make it sound as painful and violent as possible—as if childbirth were a gentle, bloodless breeze whistling through your hair or something. For actual victims of rape and assault, hearing your ordeal compared to a willingly sought out medical procedure is beyond deplorable and offensive.

It’s also dumb. Both because abortion is safer than childbirth, and first trimester abortions are over pretty quickly, whereas even the easiest childbirth is a whole lot of work and exhaustion. But where this analogy really breaks down is over the issue of consent. Assault and rape are situations where someone else forcibly inflicts themselves on your body and takes your control away. Abortion is the opposite for women who choose it—an opportunity to gain control over your body and its processes. It’s abortion bans that are about taking away a woman’s control over her body. Indeed, the same logic—that women exist to be used by other people and not for their own purposes—underpins both rape apologetics and abortion bans. No wonder so many anti-choicers tend to take a cavalier attitude when it comes to actual rape.

Bad analogies are tempting, particularly for those who have bad arguments: It’s a way to bolster your sense of self-righteousness and distract from the problems with your point of view. Bad, offensive analogies proliferate on the anti-choice side because their actual arguments are pretty weak and just thin cover for their hostility towards women’s growing power. But that doesn’t make them excusable. The opposite, really—if you can’t make your argument without leaning on offensive analogies, it’s time to pack it in and go home.

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