Commentary Abortion

No, Obamacare’s Use of the Phrase ‘Unborn Child’ Is Not Hypocrisy

Amanda Marcotte

Anti-choicers are trying to accuse liberals of hypocrisy because the health insurance exchanges let people know "unborn children" are included in coverage. But the only hypocrites here are people who claim to support life but are trying to demonize attempts to get pregnant women health coverage.

The attempt to manufacture an abortion controversy over the Affordable Care Act in Connecticut offers yet another disquieting peek into how anti-choicers view the world. As reported by Molly Redden at Mother Jones, Simcha Reuven of the conservative group Family Institute of Connecticut Action noticed that the health insurance exchange in her state asks applicants if they are pregnant when they sign up. If you mouse over the option to find out why, the website helpfully explains “unborn children” are counted as members of the household for insurance purposes, adding, “Medicaid also has rules to help pregnant women.” This is basic accounting stuff. Since you only sign up for insurance once a year, it’s easier to count the baby that will pop up during the year as a member of the household upon enrollment rather than make people go through a bunch more paperwork when the baby actually comes. The rules also allow women who are still deciding whether to go forward with a pregnancy to make that decision, by letting her know better where she stands financially if she has a baby.

If you oppose abortion because you believe the loss of embryonic life is a tragedy that should be averted, then the only reasonable reaction to this discovery would be to clap your hands in delight. “How wonderful,” the mythical lover of embryos would say reading this. “Thank goodness the state of Connecticut is working hard to make sure that pregnant women have health insurance. That will make it so much easier for women who want to have a baby to choose to go forward with their pregnancy. We should advertise these new benefits and help women far and wide understand that it’s easier than ever for expectant mothers to get health insurance.”

As anyone who follows actual anti-choicers can guess, however, they did not have this reaction. On the contrary, the anti-choice movement has decided, by and large, to oppose Obamacare with all its might, even though getting more women on health insurance will prevent abortions both on the contraception side and because women will be in a better position to choose to give birth. That’s why Reuven’s reaction to this discovery that pregnant women have expanded access to health care was to go on the “gotcha” warpath, denouncing Obamacare and whining that it is “hypocrisy” to use the term “unborn children.” Why hypocrisy? Because President Obama and other supporters of this legislation are generally pro-choice and because “Obamacare healthcare exchanges can offer coverage for abortion on demand.” (Which is a fancy way of implying that there’s government-funded abortion, when in fact nothing has changed. Insurance companies are free to offer abortion coverage to paying customers whether customers access them through the exchanges or not. States that ban abortion coverage from the exchanges are, in violation of conservative support for free markets, disallowing private companies from covering legal procedures for people who are paying for them with their own money.) Reuven did not notice the irony of accusing a mindless government exchange of “hypocrisy” while she herself was engaging in the more clear-cut hypocrisy of benefiting from the Affordable Care Act while denouncing it.

Meanwhile, LifeNews.com seems to think the purpose of declaring a soon-to-be-born child as a family member for insurance purposes is only being done so you can abort the pregnancy, which doesn’t make a lick of sense, since presumably your abortion coverage is offered even if you aren’t currently pregnant. (That’s why it’s called insurance. It’s about future possibilities.) Lila Rose, always a reliable purveyor of nonsense, said it was “an #abortion-funding health insurance scheme counting the unborn as people,” falsely implying that insurance companies did not offer abortion coverage prior to the health insurance exchanges. (Actually, the Guttmacher Institute found that most insurance plans covered abortion when the group surveyed companies in 2002.) In an entirely predictable fashion, instead of celebrating that the number of abortions will likely go down, anti-choicers resented and abused pregnant women and people who actually try to help them. Because anti-choice is about misogyny, not “life.”

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This situation also demonstrates a couple of concepts that seem to evade conservatives over and over again: 1) the concept of consent, and 2) the fact that the meaning of words depends on the context. These are concepts that we expect the average 5-year-old to understand, and yet here are grown anti-choicers, unable to wrap their minds around it.

The concept of consent is simple: People should be able to control their bodies and determine what they are used for. The reason that pro-choicers can help women who want to give birth while also supporting women who want to terminate is because we believe women are autonomous human beings who have the right to say yes or no when they want to when it comes to their own bodies. So it’s entirely consistent to support women in their choices, even if they make different ones.

Starting in elementary school, we have to do assignments in which we figure out what word to plug into a sentence based on context, and yet this whole bout of manufactured outrage shows conservatives never got the message context matters. The reason we refer to an embryo or fetus as an “unborn child” when the woman intends to keep it while not doing so if she’s aborting is simple: It’s only going to be born and be a child if she chooses to go through with it. It’s an understanding that things like time and space actually matter, that the world is not a static place, and that one word used in one circumstance is appropriate while not so much in another circumstance. If I plant the seed of Juglans regia in the ground and tell people, “That’s where my walnut tree is growing,” that is perfectly normal. If I ate a walnut and pointed at my tummy and said the same thing, you’d think I’m barking mad. But, by anti-choice logic, that’s what you’re supposed to do in order to avoid the label “hypocrite,” another concept that clearly eludes them as well.

Commentary Abortion

Language Matters: Why I Don’t Fear Being Called ‘Pro-Abortion’

Maureen Shaw

Words can and do hurt, especially when they cast people who seek or provide abortion care as immoral or murderers. But pro-choice activists can embrace unapologetic language that represents hope, self-determination, and bodily autonomy.

Recently, an anti-choice website profiled me, repeatedly describing me as “pro-abortion.” I understood immediately that this was meant to be an insult and a negative character judgment. But instead of taking offense or feeling bullied, I smiled—even as the vitriol poured into my Twitter mentions.

I haven’t always been able to smile at anti-choice trolls. They attack your ideology, personality, and even your family. It’s threatening and can feel very unsafe, and with good reason; just ask any clinic escort, pro-choice journalist, or abortion provider who has been targeted by anti-choice zealots or organizations. Online harassment and bullying is deliberate and meant to incite fear; it’s also a stepping stone to physical violence and intimidation.

The first time I was on the receiving end of such hatred, it made me sick to my stomach and I was tempted to abandon social media altogether. But removing my pro-choice voice from the conversation felt like handing trolls a victory. So with a few tweaks to my public profiles (like erasing my location and no longer posting photos of my children), I’ve decidedly moved beyond that fear and refuse to shrink in the face of online harassment (Twitter’s mute function certainly helps too).

These experiences taught me two very important lessons: first, about cowardice (it’s so easy to spew hatred from the anonymity of the internet) and second, about the importance of language. Most of us here in the United States have heard the saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” While this is certainly true in the most literal of interpretations, we know words can hurt when they come in the form of threats against abortion providers or calling women who have abortions “murderers.”

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Indeed, the way we talk about abortion is critical, from how we describe our adversaries to legislative bill titles and abortion procedures themselves. When anti-choice lawmakers and activists wield language that is inflammatory, misleading, or demonizing, the public’s perceptions of abortion are compromised. The ensuing negativity, in turn, helps transform commonplace medical procedures into “morally repugnant offenses”—to use the language of ethics, which the anti-choice movement so often co-opts—that abortion opponents want to heavily restrict (at best) or outlaw (at worst).

The so-called pro-life constituency understands this all too well and has done a brilliant job of manipulating language to guide the national discourse on abortion. Even the “pro-life” moniker is a calculated—not to mention hypocritical—move. After all, if a person is not “pro-life,” they’re implicitly anti-family and anti-child. This automatically puts pro-choice activists and allies in a needlessly defensive position and posits anti-choice ideology as favorable.

This perceived favorability runs deep and has very real implications for pregnant people. For example, politicians and activists alike jumped at the chance to essentially redefine dilation and extraction (a surgical procedure used in later abortions) as “partial birth abortion” (and sometimes, “dismemberment abortion”). It’s an obvious misnomer and a dangerous conflation, as one cannot be born and aborted; that would be murder, not abortion. As a result, the procedure was banned without a health exception, courtesy of the 2003 federal Partial Birth Abortion Act. And there’s no ignoring the current onslaught of anti-choice legislation with catchy names like the “Women’s Public Health and Safety Act,” the “Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act,” and the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.”

Let’s be honest: These bills are not about protecting women’s health or safety. Their sole purpose is to demean women by prioritizing unviable fetuses over women’s very real health-care needs. And they’re successful in part due to their phrasing: The words “child,” “survivor,” and “protection” all evoke positive imagery, while simultaneously (and not so subtly) vilifying the person who no longer wishes to be pregnant.

To be fair, anti-choicers aren’t the only ones with a working knowledge of the power of language. The pro-choice community has made serious efforts in recent years to reclaim the word “abortion” and paint it as a positive (or at the very least, common) experience. Just look at 1 in 3 Campaign’s Abortion Speakout, the #ShoutYourAbortion social media campaign, and websites that curate positive abortion stories, and you’ll see a plethora of women embracing this shared reality. And it’s not just grassroots activists who have thrown down the proverbial gauntlet: Developers recently created a Google extension to change all “pro-life” mentions to “anti-choice.” Take that, anti-choice interwebs!

There have been efforts to move away from the terms “pro-choice” and “pro-life” altogether, because those simple labels don’t reflect a truly intersectional approach that goes beyond the traditional narrative around reproductive rights. I continue to identify as pro-choice because the term works for me. I believe it accurately expresses my support of the full spectrum of choice—parenting, pregnancy, adoption, and abortion—though I also understand and support activists’ rejection of the label.

As a pro-choice activist, I am heartened by these efforts and the ground gained. For so long, we’ve been on the defensive, from fighting stereotypes that pro-choicers can’t be parents to furiously trying to keep clinics open nationwide (and it doesn’t help that the mainstream media often fails to responsibly or fairly report on abortion). It’s been like trying to climb a steep hill covered in oil slicks.

But no longer. Thanks to the campaigns I’ve mentioned and others like them, pro-choicers everywhere—myself included—can more easily reclaim the power of language to shatter stigma surrounding abortion.

While I don’t pretend to have a new dictionary for those of us who work to support abortion rights, there are simple ways to leverage the words already in our lexicon to achieve success on this front. For starters, we can refuse to use the term “pro-life” in exchange for a more accurate description of the movement fighting to end access to a basic health service: “anti-choice.” We can also explicitly describe abortion as mainstream health care more consistently; doing so helps dispel the myth that abortion is rare, immoral, and a marginalized component of women’s health. And finally, we shouldn’t be afraid to embrace being called “pro-abortion.”

Why? Because “abortion” is by no means a dirty word—or thing, for that matter. I will happily embrace being called “pro-abortion.” Admittedly, the term is problematic when it’s used to suggest that all pregnancies should end in abortion or used to simplify reproductive justice and human rights issues. For me, pro-abortion means hope, self-determination, and bodily autonomy. And I’m most definitely in favor of all of those things.

I’d like to think the tables will turn in the very near future: that our courts nationwide will follow the Supreme Court’s lead and affirm the right to abortion without political interference, and that people will no longer be shamed for seeking abortion care. Until then, it’s paramount that each and every individual of the pro-choice community continues to demand progress. And what better way than with powerfully pro-choice and pro-abortion words? They’re the building blocks of our movement, after all.

Culture & Conversation Media

‘I Could Have Written This Myself’: Jessica Valenti’s Memoir Is Painfully Relatable

Feminista Jones

Jessica Valenti's latest, Sex Object, is a book that many women will read and think, at least 20 different times, “I could have written this myself.”

When I was 11 years old, a much older man followed me as I walked home from school. He made comments about my body in suggestive ways that made it very clear he wanted to do more than simply say, “Hello.”

It was the first time I recall feeling like a sexual object, though I did not quite understand what it meant at such a tender age. I did know that the way that man spoke to me was wrong, very wrong. I knew that I felt dirty, ashamed, and uncomfortable, so much so that I wanted to cover myself up before ever going back outside again.

Nearly every day since then, I have been acutely aware of at least one man on the street or in other spaces who has felt bold enough to engage me as his possession, if only for a few seconds. Never quite a human being, never quite an emotional being whose day can be ruined by licentious whispers or random grabs, I was simply an object, likely one of many those men would pass by throughout the day.

My reading of Jessica Valenti’s newest book, Sex Object, took me back to so many of these encounters, some more painfully vulgar than others.

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Valentico-founder of the popular blog Feministing and author of several feminist tomes confronting rape culture and championing sex-positivityoffers a series of anecdotes in Sex Object on the life experiences that have made her acutely aware of her status as a sexually objectified being.

I immediately connected with her narrative as though I had dictated my life story to her. Not only do she and Itwo highly visible, outspoken feminist women assumed by some to exist at theoretical oddshave so much in common in this regard, but these stories echo the realities of many other women who feel silenced by fear and shame.

Through my work as an advocate for victims of street harassment, I’ve witnessed other women speak out and share their stories of being made to feel like sex objects. Like me, they can certainly connect to the feeling of being repeatedly objectified just by virtue of being women (or girls in many instances). That there are so many of us who can relate to the pain, the anxiety, or even the occasional numbness, is how I am reminded of the importance of the work that I and others do as feminists to make the world safer for women, particularly the work of rejecting the notion that we should feel shame or fear for we are all connected by the universality of the experience.

The feminist movement, particularly in America, has ebbed and flowed in its waves over the last century. With each new wave comes a set of key issues those of us who openly identify as feminists focus more of our energy on. Whether we feel compelled to challenge a new outlandishly oppressive legislation proposed to further limit women’s rights and the rights of other marginalized groups; we rally to protest and demand justice in a series of heinous acts of violence against women, trans women of color in particular; or perhaps we are motivated by reports from leading advocacy groups that suggest women’s equal access to resources, legal protections, and bodily autonomy remains tenuous at besteach generation of feminists rises to the challenge of continuing the fights of those before us.

I appreciated Valenti’s discussion of victimology and how it has factored into some of the splits within the feminist movement. There are those feminists who reject the victim label according to the long-standing practice of denying victimhood based simply on womanhood. There are also those who, like Valenti, understand that “despite the well-worn myth that feminists are obsessed with victimhood, feminism today feels like an unstoppable force of female agency and independence.”

No stranger to criticism from within factions of the feminist movement, Valenti also touches briefly on the challenges of a decentralized movement while acknowledging the value in approaching these issues with an intersectional lens. In the book, she readily acknowledges her privileges as a white feminist woman and notes the efforts of those living at the intersections of gender, race, and sexuality to push the movement forward. At times, she seems to be writing on eggshells, and I gather it might be due to the backlash she has received over some controversial statements or pushback via her Twitter feed. Sex Object is personal, yes, but Valenti’s choice to note the nuances of modern feminism (given her own contributions as a respected thought leader) is admirable.

One could argue that the exposure of conflicts, particularly via social media like Twitter or Facebook, weaken the movement and its broader intentions. But I offer that healthy disagreement has strengthened us allveteran feminists and newcomers alikeas we have been given opportunities to engage each other in ways that our foremothers were unable to.

Followers and subscribers are learning as we share our experiences, as Valenti has done here, and the critical need to respect these unique lived experiences cannot be understated. While some have all but completely bowed out from engaging in what can be an unnecessarily vicious behaviors associated with “call-out culture,” other feminists like me, who are regarded as representatives of particular factions, remain willing to listen, share, learn, and unlearn. And what we who willingly engage in such public discourse have discovered in the middle of all of this is that we do share these common experiences with being objectified as women, regardless of race, class, ethnicity, orientation, or gender identity and presentation, and not always on the street. Many of us encounter this type of harassment in other areas of our life as well, such as at the office or even in our own homes. “The individual experiences are easy enough to name, but their cumulative impact feels slippery,” Valenti notes in her introduction.

One of the most important takeaways from the book is that there is no such thing as a perfect or ideal feminist: We are each humanly flawed and have a lot of learning and unlearning to do. “It’s okay if we don’t want to be inspirational,” she writes. If I had a church fan at that moment, I would have waved it in strong agreement.

The current wave of feminism inspires us to openly acknowledge that our experiences as sex objects have had lingering effects on our mental health, such as disrupting our ability to form healthy intimate partnerships. I appreciated how Valenti opened up about her own process of navigating various intimate encounters and partnerships through this lens. For example, she writes about her own anxiety and how her post-traumatic stress disorder affected her relationship with her husband. Though Valenti and I come from vastly different backgrounds, we connect heremy relationships have been largely negatively affected by the sexual traumas I’ve endured in my own life.

Like Valenti, I sought therapy to deal with my experiences. I’m a social worker by profession and recognized that I needed to engage someone with professional skills to help me address the lingering trauma. Valenti opens up about the therapy sessions she’s had, both alone and with her husband, and how they helped her better understand her responses to certain triggers. It is important, for those who are able to do so, to seek support and not live with fear or shame associated with the negative mental health side effects resulting from sex harassment.

To be a woman in this world is to be aware that, in at least some way, your body is supposed to exist for the consumption and control of men. “It’s not a matter of if something bad happens, but when and how bad,” she writes.

But Sex Object reminds us that we can be vocal about generational sexual trauma and abuse of girls and women because these experiences are common—too common, really. And however feminism manifests in our lives, whether we identify as sex-positive feminists, Black feminists, or womanists, embracing this liberation movement aids us in doing the incredibly difficult work of rejecting the burden of shame.

We can speak more freely about our abortions, as Valenti did in what becomes her signature frank, straight-no-chaser narrative style. Her straightforward, often explicit descriptions of her experiences leave the reader with an understanding that abortion is matter-of-fact and should not be as taboo an issue as it continues to be.

If one takes anything away from Sex Object, it should be the empowering liberation that comes when speaking the truth about one’s experiences as a woman, good and bad, amazing and horrifying, even if only to oneself.

Read this book not as a sex-positive feminist manifesto, but as a personal, therapeutic memoir. I get the sense that writing this book was way more important to Valenti’s own personal growth as a woman, mother, partner, and feminist than it was serving as a feminist guidebook for navigating female sexual objectification. Sex Object is raw; it is relatable and blatant in its (occasionally triggering) honesty. It is a book that many women will read and think, at least 20 different times, “I could have written this myself.”