The Empowerment of Abortion Restrictions: Freedom is Slavery?

Yesterday, I found myself in the bizarre situation of debating abortion (and by extension, the importance of contraception) with someone who’s never had sex. I, uh, have? Without attempting to state a per se rule, it seems like people making decisions about others’ reproductive rights should speak from a place of experience — the more the better — when more often than not, as here, those who do seek to restrict reproductive rights have studiously avoided all relevant life experiences. Take Christine O’Donnell.


I digress. The argument, building on Congresswoman Jean Schmidt (R-OH)’s remarks of earlier this week, was that banning abortion is, in fact, the feminist position. Referencing early suffragettes like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Alice Paul:

The original feminists were, indeed, against abortion. These women believed that there was power in motherhood and in choosing life. Alice Paul,the author of the original Equal Rights Amendment, said it best: Abortion isthe exploitation of women.

Although it surely has the tactical appeal of turning the pro-choice movement’s rhetoric against it, aside from that, this argument is so flimsy that I’m shocked Congresswoman Schmidt even managed to build a fairly long speech out of it. An individual women may freely believe that terminating her pregnancy would debase her, sure. The essence of feminism, after all, is support for a woman’s right to make individual and independent moral decisions. But, consistent with a belief system premised on individual choice, individual moral judgments cannot be generalized to the systemic level.

Similarly, despite feminism’s focus on integrating women into the professional world, a woman who chooses to stay at home and take care of the kids is making a feminist choice because she is making a choice. Feminism is about options, not outcome. “Choosing life” is a feminist act if it is a choice. But no one woman can take her own choice, force it on the rest of her sex, and call it freedom.

Moreover, I’m unaware of any case where removing the individual’s right to make a choice results in more freedom. This seems axiomatically false. Am I missing something?


  1. MarshallDog · ·

    This reminds me of a article from a couple years ago (it’s been archived so I can’t link it) claiming that Thomas Jefferson was a creationist, therefore this country should believe is creationism. Of course, having died decades before Darwin released his seminal work, it’s not like he had much of a choice.

  2. Aristotle didn’t buy that Periodic Table of Elements hackery; why should we?!

  3. To raise a hypothetical: If abortion for social reasons was made illegal, wouldn’t women still have plenty of reproductive choice? One could argue that they might even be a bit more wise in the choices they DO make.

  4. Plenty but less, sure.

  5. I see no problem with limiting choice so long as choice is still present. We do that with any number of personal freedoms all the time.

  6. I think it would be irresponsible to outlaw abortions that have nothing to do with rape, incest, or medical complications when there is inadequate sex ed and lack of access to contraception.

    1. I’m happy to allow those three exceptions (which equal around 1% of all total abortions).

      And are there really lots of people who want to have safe sex but can’t get access to birth control? And when they can’t, do they just throw their hands up and say, “Well that sucks but I’ve still got to have sex,”?

  7. Birth control isn’t perfect. And to the above, that’s not how fundamental rights work.

    1. ‘Fundamental right’ – is that a legal term?

  8. Bigtime!

    1. But isn’t it permissable to restrict fundamental rights so long as it is apllied equally?

  9. Nope! Only if the restriction is not an “undue burden” on its exercise; or, in the alternative, if it’s narrowly tailored to a necessary end.

    1. So restrictions on who can marry based on blood relation or age are illegal?

  10. Marriage has never been held to be a fundamental right, except in dicta. Loving implied as much, but decided the case on equal protection grounds. Fundamental rights (like abortion) are decided under the due process clause.

    Interestingly, Justice Ginsburg thinks that’s wrong. Given a free hand, she’d overrule Roe to the extent that it grounds abortion in due process, but sustain (and repair) the right on equal protection grounds.

  11. This makes no sense to me. Either abortion is murder and it should be banned, or it’s not and then you could keep your damn nose out of everyone else’s business.

    This attitude that “Oh, well a woman can have an abortion if she really deserves it, because she’s was raped and a virgin or something” is, frankly, paternalistic.

    Mike is all but coming out and saying that his opposition to abortion is because it punishes women for having sex.

    1. I don’t consider it a punishment. I consider it ‘accepting responsibility for the outcome of ones actions’. And I also don’t believe in mitigating that outcome with murder.

  12. I consider it ‘accepting responsibility for the outcome of ones actions’.

    And how generous of you to decide for someone else exactly what the outcome of those actions will be.

    Murder is illegal, full stop, regardless of the actions that got you there. But the fact that you consider it a fitting “outcome” to a woman’s “actions” suggests there another motivation going on here.

    1. I don’t believe someone should murder to avoid bankruptcy either. Society decides that actions have consequence all the time.

      1. Going by your name Mike I assume that these consequences are ones you will not have to face in the identical situation, but you will have women face. Paternalistic is the nicest word for it.

        1. I could think of hundreds of examples of laws that are based on dealing with an issue that will only face a minority of Americans. It’s ridiculous to suggest that you can’t advocate for a law that doesn’t affect oneself.

          Additionally, if a woman is unable to have an abortion for social reasons then the long-term ramifications are mininmal. That’s what adoption is for.

          1. Long-term ramifications regarding her immediate health? I think there are often quite a few long-term ramifications for unwanted pregnancies, adopted or not, for the parent, the child, and the society that, while not reasons alone to permit abortion, are at least worth acknowledging.

            Are we simplifying such a complex option because it makes it that much easier to ban it?

            1. If health becomes an issue, I think I already provided for allowing an abortion. Since less than 1% of the abortions in the US involve the health of the mother I am going to assume this is a rare need.

              As for long-term ramifications to society, that is society’s burden to deal with and if most abortions were otlawed I would hope that society would make adoption a more attractive and easier choice for potential parents and also do more to care for those children who go un-adopted.

              For the parent who carries the baby for 9 months and then gives it up – is the emotional stress any worse than dealing with an abortion years later? Many Liberals like to mention that abortion is a tough choice that comes with a lifetime of second-guessing and guilt. In that respect how is adoption worse?

  13. “For the parent who carries the baby for 9 months and then gives it up – is the emotional stress any worse than dealing with an abortion years later?”

    Again, how generous of you to take such a weighty decision off the shoulders of someone that’s just a woman.

    Women are moral actors in their own right and understand what having an abortion means. They’re actually allowed to make decisions these days.

    1. And so is society – if they correctly decide that abortions of convienance cross a moral line then a decision will be made that trumps individual preference.

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