Short Takes: Provocations on Public Feminism, a new online-first feature of Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, offers brief comments from prominent feminists about a book that has shaped popular conversations about feminist issues.
Katha Pollit's Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights
A Broad Argument, Narrowly Targeted
Michelle Kinsey Bruns
With Pro, Katha Pollitt Gives the Abortion Rights Movement Its Modern Credo
The End of the Single-Issue Struggle
Unmuddling the Muddled Middle: Pollitt’s Passionate Call to Action
Let’s Talk about Sex, Not Abortion
Reproductive Justice 101
A Broad Argument, Narrowly Targeted
Michelle Kinsey Bruns
In late 2010, I attended a conference at Princeton meant to bring opposing parties in the abortion debate together to seek common ground via civil discussion. Like many attendees from both camps, I walked away doubtful that the goal had been achieved. Yet it was still a surprise to read a later-deleted blog post from Charles Camosy, an organizer on the anti-choice side, condemning pro-choice attendees for the allegedly bad-faith move of “insisting (without evidence, and in the face of many counter examples) that pro-lifers were not motivated by their stated goal (protection of vulnerable fetal life), but rather by their hatred of gay sex and a plan to ban contraception.” Camosy was referring to legal historian David Garrow’s argument that opposition to abortion is just one component of opposition to nonmarital, nonprocreative sex, held by “people who believe that sex for some purposes, sex in some contexts, is morally superior to sex for other purposes, in other contexts”—an assertion so unremarkable that it’s hard to imagine what evidence Camosy was holding out for.
Five years later, “gay sex” is well on its way to being neutralized in the culture wars, but any suggestion of hyperbole on the question of contraception is now laughable. We Chicken Littles of the pro-choice movement were right all along. Just ask any woman who works for Hobby Lobby.
Katha Pollitt’s Pro, published last fall, examines those attacks as part of a larger argument that opposition to abortion indeed originates in opposition to the sexual and social liberation of women. There may be little new here for a politically active, pro-choice reader, but rarely have the logical implications of anti-choicers’ stated beliefs and political goals been so thoroughly and thoughtfully dissected. In any case, Pollitt is not writing for the already-convinced. She targets the “muddled middle” for whom the mantra “safe, legal, and rare” is appealing in that it couples nominal support for women’s autonomy with distaste for the women who actually exercise it. It seems uncertain whether the “safe, legal, and rare” crowd is inclined to read 220 pages of close analysis of anti-choice pieties, but for them to do so would do the culture a world of good.
As a deep dive into what it would mean to elevate fertilized eggs to the legal and moral status of persons—and necessarily above that of women—and as an articulation of a vision for a “pro-life” politics that truly holds mothers and children in the glowing regard abortion opponents claim, Pro is both artful and timely. However, I can’t help but wish that an author with a broader perspective had tackled the job. The abortion fight embodies social threats that most directly affect the millennial generation, alongside women of color, low-income women, and childbearing-capable people who don’t identify as women at all. It does them a disservice to designate a Reagan-era messenger to deliver the argument that the rollback of reproductive politics to a pre-Pill status is an urgent, active threat, right now. If the conservative crusade to ban abortion is a way to hide an expansive agenda of enforced, regressive gender roles behind an embryo the size of a pea, shouldn’t the word “transgender” appear more than once in the book exposing the charade? Nearly every argument here is spot on, but the ones that aren’t present are the ones that would communicate that the fight for sexual and reproductive liberation has evolved and expanded greatly in recent decades.
The reason that fight means everything to the futures of those Americans who are perceived as less engaged in it may, in fact, be the same reason so few of them are in a position to devote years to an in-depth social study like Pollitt’s. The widening social divides of our century have put the necessary “room of one’s own” out of reach for many. Pro makes clear that abortion access is required for full participation in society by all people. The question is, will they recognize themselves in this book?
Pro makes clear that abortion access is required for full participation in society by all people. The question is, will they recognize themselves in this book?
Michelle Kinsey Bruns is a digital strategist and longtime feminist activist and organizer who has participated in abortion clinic defense actions in eight states. Her work merges online and offline strategy to organize, fundraise, and recruit volunteers to fight clinic harassment and other barriers to reproductive health services. She also serves as chair of the board of the NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia Foundation. Michelle is on Twitter as @ClinicEscort.
With Pro, Katha Pollitt Gives the Abortion Rights Movement Its Modern Credo
In 2014, abortion had a moment.
Not the procedure itself—those continued to decrease in number, hitting the lowest point since the Roe v. Wade legalized abortions nationwide in 1973. It was the word itself, “abortion”—not “choice,” not “reproductive freedom,” not “women’s rights”—that was said out loud, written down, pushed to the forefront of the cultural conversation by women prominent, private, and political alike. As notable as what they were saying was what they weren’t—specifically, that “abortion should be safe, legal, and rare.” Instead, women said, “I had an abortion.” They often added, “And I don’t regret it.”
There was Lucy Flores, whose abortion story first made headlines when she told it as a member of Nevada legislature and again when she ran for lieutenant governor last year. Flores had an abortion at sixteen, she said, and “I don’t regret it.” There was Wendy Davis, who gained political prominence for filibustering a restrictive Texas abortion law while wearing pink running shoes; during her campaign for governor of Texas, she wrote a memoir that included a story about the wanted pregnancy she terminated because of severe fetal complications. There was Elle magazine, a high-end women’s glossy, which ran an abortion issue featuring stories from Elle editor Laurie Abraham, Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards, and anonymous, not-famous average women, all of whom ended pregnancies. 2014 even gave us Obvious Child, a romantic comedy about abortion, where the decision is decidedly untragic and simply a part of life.
There were also more antiabortion restrictions passed between 2010 and 2014 than in the full three decades before. The Texas law that Davis filibustered passed anyway and could leave the state with fewer than ten abortion clinics; women in rural Texas may have to drive hundreds of miles for a legal procedure. The last remaining abortion clinic in Mississippi remains open only because of a court order.
It’s within that context—increasingly successful attacks on abortion rights, increasingly loud pro-choice voices owning the abortion issue and pushing back on the stigma that surrounds the procedure—that Katha Pollit’s Pro emerges as a kind of philosophical bedrock for the abortion storytellers. The book isn’t a defense of abortion rights or a rehashing of traditional pro-choice arguments; it’s the pro-choice movement on theoretical offense, a shot fired for the social goodness of abortion. Pollitt lays out a rigorous, coherent case in favor of abortion rights, digging into the standard antiabortion arguments to point out the logical inconsistencies and moral incoherence. She takes her dressing-down of antiabortion talking points from the halls of Congress to Upper West Side dinner parties to your Thanksgiving family gathering to the words of the Bible itself, and comes out not just with efficient pro-choice responses—although those are certainly there—but with a case for abortion rights as part of a wider worldview that understands those rights as necessary and indispensable for both women’s equality and maternal respect.
Abortion is normal, Pollitt concludes. It’s a good thing for women. Talking about it in hushed tones or as an inherent tragedy or a necessary evil stigmatizes the procedure, which makes it politically easier to restrict, which in turn means worse outcomes for women. It’s also a false narrative in a country where abortion is a common reproductive experience, and usually one that brings women immediate relief and the longer-term ability to thrive.
One wishes that Pro had been written a decade ago, but it seems unlikely that it would have resonated in an era when even pro-choice groups were shying away from saying the A-word, and when abortion was so absent in popular culture that a character the film Knocked Up, about an unintended pregnancy resulting from a one-night stand, references “smashmortion.” Today’s feminists, many of whom organize online and embrace personal storytelling as part of their politic, see that storytelling as a crucial tool for normalizing the female experience and for ending the stigmas that surround a slew of issues—mental health, physical disability, nontraditional family structures, kinky sex, sexually transmitted infections, sexual preference, and sexuality. Of course abortion, a procedure one in three American women will have in her life but that many never talk about, makes the list.
Storytelling and stigma-busting, though, don’t make a political movement or even a lucid, logical ideology. They are tools for advocates trying to construct a more feminist, fair society, but they aren’t an ethos. With Pro, Pollitt assesses the tools, calculates the end goal, and draws us a blueprint.
Storytelling and stigma-busting, though, don’t make a political movement or even a lucid, logical ideology.
Jill Filipovic is a journalist based in New York City. Formerly Cosmopolitan.com’s senior political writer, she is also an attorney and previously wrote a weekly column for the Guardian. Her work on law, politics, gender, and foreign affairs has appeared in Al Jazeera America, Vice, the Nation, Foreign Policy, Marie Claire, the Yale Journal of Law and Feminism, and other publications. A winner of the Society of Professional Journalists Sigma Delta Chi Award for online commentary and a Newswomen's Club of New York Front Page Award for her global health reporting, she was also a UN Foundation Fellow in Malawi and an International Reporting Project fellow in Brazil and India. She is currently working on a book about women and politics.
The End of the Single-Issue Struggle
Katha Pollitt states at the outset of Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights that she wants to speak to the “muddled middle,” the millions of Americans who, when polled, say they don’t want to ban abortion outright but they also don’t want it to be widely available. Upon reaching the last five pages of the book, the ones that got my heart pumping and answered many of the questions I’d scribbled in the margins throughout, I decided that she’s speaking to another audience as well. In Pro, Pollitt is writing to her peers, to other middle- and upper-class white progressives who have been committed to winning and protecting abortion rights for decades but who need fresh talking points and an introduction to the reproductive justice framework from a trusted, familiar source.
In her final chapter, titled “Reframing Motherhood,” Pollitt writes, “If the pro-choice movement’s only focus is on helping women not have unwanted children, instead of also on making a fairer, more just society, then reproductive rights can feel like reproductive deprivation” (213). I’d been craving this acknowledgement throughout the book, especially in the many moments when Pollitt argues that access to abortion and contraception are fundamentally about freeing women from male control and traditional domestic roles. She writes, “For a woman, reproductive rights are the key to every other freedom” (116), and that birth control and abortion “are what enable women to have at least a chance of shaping their lives” (117). This is true in part. And yet it also feels like an insufficient characterization of women’s lives at a moment when Sandra Bland has just died in police custody in Texas under mysterious circumstances, and when a Chicago police officer can walk free after fatally shooting Rekia Boyd in the head because she and her friends were talking too loudly for his taste. The right to live without fear of violence, the right to parent without fear that your child will meet some terrible fate—these are rights worth demanding as well. Feminists of color have been arguing this point for a long time.
Pollitt knows this, I think, and her book can be illuminating for those who support abortion rights but don’t quite see how the fight to preserve them connects to other social justice efforts. For these readers, Pro can help bridge the gap between familiar ground and a more expansive and inclusive territory. Pollitt covers that more familiar ground using her trademark seamless, witty prose and references, ranging from Ken Kesey mansplaining to Loretta Ross preaching truth. In the last chapter, she moves on to that broader vision, touching on a few innovative efforts—the 1 in 3 storytelling campaign to combat abortion stigma, the young women of color in New Mexico who led the charge to defeat a 20-week abortion ban in 2013—that offer a bit of hope to anyone deflated by the string of blows to abortion rights. It’s in these final pages that she encourages her readers to look toward the organizing that actually has a chance of turning the tide.
There is an Audre Lorde quote that’s having a resurgence and is circulating around the Internet, perhaps because it’s relevant to those who see themselves as connected to #BlackLivesMatter organizing. It reads, “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle, because we do not live single-issue lives.” Anyone who already believes this may read Pro with a bit of impatience, eager for the payoff Pollitt offers near the end. But for anyone still waking up to the truth of Lorde’s words, let’s hope Pro is a revelation.
The right to live without fear of violence, the right to parent without fear that your child will meet some terrible fate—these are rights worth demanding as well. Feminists of color have been arguing this point for a long time.
Dani McClain is a contributing writer with the Nation and a fellow at the Nation Institute. Her reporting and commentary on race, gender, policy, and politics have appeared in outlets including Slate, Talking Points Memo, Al Jazeera America, Colorlines, Ebony.com, and Guernica. She reported on education while on staff at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and covered breaking news for the Miami Herald’s metro desk. McClain served as a campaign strategist and media director at ColorOfChange, the nation's largest online black political organization, and challenged racially discriminatory drug laws as a communications staffer at the Drug Policy Alliance.
Unmuddling the Muddled Middle: Pollitt’s Passionate Call to Action
With Pro, Katha Pollitt has written an unflinching account of the current state of reproductive rights in the United States. It is a satisfying point-by-point analysis and takedown of the arguments at the core of the anti-choice movement. Taking us into the moral questions at the very heart of the debate about abortion, Pro is a polemic in the best way: clear-headed, strong-hearted, and uncompromising.
Pollitt doesn’t shy away from the points of debate between the pro- and anti-choice positions in contemporary politics, including, “What is a person?” and “Are women people?” She patiently takes us through the anti-choice argument and dismantles it, pointing out each logical fallacy and political inconsistency in the position that women, families, and the country itself are all better off without abortion access. The anti-choice movement isn’t actually interested protecting women, children, or families, she argues. Instead, their position is rooted in a regressive view of gender and sex that holds a singular, heteronormative ideal for how and when to make a family. Essentially, this fight isn’t about abortion; for most women, it’s about punishing women for having sex for any purpose other than procreation.
Of course, if one is trying get to the heart of how we got to where we are today, it is impossible to understand the anti-choice movement without naming and understanding the legacy of eugenics and population control perpetrated against so many women of color. In this context, and in the midst of this excellent work and an almost exhaustive assessment of how we got to our current predicament, a core element is missing from Pollitt’s book.
This history is ongoing. Take for example the women incarcerated in California prisons sterilized without their consent, up until just two years ago. Or the long history of eugenics perpetrated against Black and Brown women by state and public health institutions. This history, unaddressed and unacknowledged, or downplayed and sometimes even willfully erased, is a key factor in the pro-choice movement’s inability to fully engage women of color. Reckoning with that legacy is not merely important for accuracy, but as Pollitt notes and aims to address, there’s much movement building left to do. Without such a reckoning, the pro-choice movement will likely remain a place for white, middle-class women. Women of color, LGBTIQ folks, and all the rest of us whose reproduction has been historically coerced and targeted, will simply be out of luck if we expect this movement to value our history and lived experiences. These are high stakes.
Just as much as sexism (anchored in religion and culture) influenced the trajectory and machinations of the anti-choice movement, it’s impossible to account for that trajectory without a historical understanding of race in the United States. Applicable to the pro- and anti-choice movements alike is the impact of racism, rooted in colonialism, imperialism, and slavery. Pollitt’s inclusion of race is often quite literally parenthetical, making a point about women of color in parentheses (after having centered the point from the perspective of white women). A valuable exception is the chapter about reframing motherhood, in which Pollitt tracks the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” position that low-income women of color are in when it comes to choosing to parent. Her reframing of motherhood importantly incorporates and cites the reproductive justice analysis created by Black feminists and women of color.
There are many shining moments in Pro, not the least of which is Pollitt’s withering critique of the broader progressive Left and its unwillingness to stand strong on abortion rights (lauding the progressivism of the current pope, for example, while looking away on his stance on reproductive rights). We live in a country where our politicians, on all sides, bemoan the decline of “family values,” all the while spouting a woefully limited notion of family in which the lives of women are routinely and systemically undervalued. There is hypocrisy at the core of this trumped-up debate about family values, and in Pro, Katha Pollitt exposes it. This is a book to give your friends and family who might be in the loosely pro-choice or loosely anti-choice “muddled middle.” With Pro, Katha Pollitt unmuddles us.
Just as much as sexism ... influenced the trajectory and machinations of the anti-choice movement, it’s impossible to account for that trajectory without a historical understanding of race in the United States.
Eesha Pandit is a writer, activist, and consultant to antiviolence and reproductive justice organizations. She’s a regular contributor to Salon and the Crunk Feminist Collective. You can read her at Feministing, the Nation, RH Reality Check, Feministe, In These Times, and Bitch Magazine. Recently, Eesha has worked as executive director of Men Stopping Violence, women’s rights manager at Breakthrough, and director of advocacy at Raising Women’s Voices (RWV). She currently serves as copresident of the board of directors for the National Network of Abortion Funds. She has a BA from Mount Holyoke College and an MA from the University of Chicago. She’s on Twitter @EeshaP.
Let’s Talk about Sex, Not Abortion
I’ve often wondered if the pro-choice feminist movement would have been stronger and won more victories if we simply pro-claimed ourselves to be the “pro-sex” movement, against the “anti-sex” movement. If we had, I’m sure we would have had many more supporters of all genders, and we would have cleaved our opponents down the middle of their hypocrisy. We could have also more clearly revealed their implacable hostility to any framing that brought together the words “women” and “sexual pleasure.”
This would be extremely advantageous as we withstand the endless “war on women” waged by Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats. It would also contest the ravages of a neoliberal economic system that manipulates white supremacy to protect the wealth of the elites from the rest of us by delineating whose bodies and freedoms matter. We are facing a Luddite-like war on sexual freedom in which antimodernity forces are trying to push the rest of us back into the nineteenth century so that we are distracted from challenging the rapacious greed of the 1 percent in the twenty-first century.
Katha’s book offers a refreshing opportunity to visit this not so flippant pro-sex question again, because while feminists have made it much safer to have an abortion since the days of the dreaded coat hangers before Roe v. Wade, we have not made it safer to talk about abortion. In fact, it is possible that more abortion shaming is taking place now in the era of birth control than before, when women admittedly had fewer birth control options. Back then, women were accused of being moral failures if they chose a risky abortion; nowadays they are accused of both moral and intellectual failings (why didn’t she just use birth control, a condom, common sense, etc., if she just had to have sex?).
It is possible that respectability politics kept the feminist movement from loudly embracing the pro-sex possibilities of women’s empowerment through abortion and birth control. Fearful of being called licentious, selfish sluts, we sometimes fell into the conservative trap of speaking about abortion as the unfortunate dilemma of respectable women facing difficult choices. We hoped to keep abortion “safe, legal, and rare” to use the Clintons’ centrist Democratic framing. Somehow our respectability politics didn’t protect Sandra Fluke, who was slut-shamed by Rush Limbaugh.
Respectability politics also did not protect women from having every part of our private bodies up for public scrutiny and debate. More politicians think they should legislatively dictate what goes in and comes out of our vaginas than ever before. I am admittedly a crass person, but if you’re not helping me change my sanitary napkins every month, what are you doing down there without my permission? This proud slut says, “Back the fuck off!”
Katha’s book calls the question on why there is so much contempt for women, our freedoms, and our human rights. She correctly says that “self-determination, independence, and active decision-making” are lauded in white heterosexual men but for no one else in our society (32–33). She then gets to the point of the book: to reframe the way we think about abortion by characterizing it as a positive social good. It’s at that moment that I became somewhat bemused by her arguments. Is Katha herself seduced by the myth that the fight over abortion is really about abortion? She says no but then wades into a set of stale arguments about abortion, personhood, myths, and misogyny. I don’t agree that the muddled middle she is targeting needs more explanations about the antiabortion movement’s illogical inconsistencies, because we’ve tried that strategy many times before. Instead, they may need an inclusive, radical declaration from feminists of what we are fighting for instead of what we are against. We are fighting for the freedom and autonomy to express ourselves sexually—the same human right that men enjoy—and to do so with shame or blame.
I would have preferred that Katha actually offered a total reframing of the debate and started from a sex-positive platform, much like the reproductive justice movement does. In fighting for the right to not have children, to have children, and to parent the children we have in safe and healthy environments, the reproductive justice movement is unapologetically demanding sexual autonomy, economic and political power, and reproductive freedom for all people. As a radical approach to reproductive politics, the reproductive justice movement fearlessly claims that sexual pleasure is a human right. All individuals have inalienable rights to body sovereignty and the necessary social supports to realize these human rights.
In making these claims, the reproductive justice movement seamlessly links many intersectional issues, such as demands for universal child care, a living wage, freedom from violence by individuals or the state, and a health care system that that includes everyone. As writer Cynthia Greenlee once told me, “Reproductive justice is a promiscuous concept that will sleep with any idea promoting our human rights.” It is a concept available to Katha that she briefly explores near the end of the book, but she understates its power to transform the abortion debate from its frigidly frozen impasse.
So let’s be boldly and fiercely pro-sex! We need brilliance like Katha’s to offer ways to do this using her lively, engaging writing style to reach millions of readers. Let’s revive and revise our old feminist slogan and demand “Sexual pleasure without apology!” That’s a real reclaiming of abortion rights.
As a radical approach to reproductive politics, the reproductive justice movement fearlessly claims that sexual pleasure is a human right.
Loretta Ross has a 40+ year history in the feminist movement, working at the National Organization for Women, SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, and the National Black Women’s Health Project. She is the coauthor of Undivided Rights: Women of Color Organize for Reproductive Justice (Cambridge, MA: South End, 2004) and was one of the originators of reproductive justice theory in 1994. She was the codirector of the historic 2004 March for Women’s Lives with 1.15 million participants. She has received honorary doctorate degrees from Smith College and Arcadia University. She holds a BA from Agnes Scott College in Atlanta.
Reproductive Justice 101
If I needed to pull a book about abortion off a shelf and hand it to a young person who didn’t understand what legalization has done for women and what withdrawing legal status would definitely do to women, this is the book I’d reach for. Katha Pollitt has mapped out ways of thinking about the issues—abortion and religion, motherhood, personhood, fetuses, and other key topics—that this young person I’m trying to save needs to consider, particularly in light of the threatening legislative and judicial insanities we live amidst (more on the way) as well as the political cowardice. Pollitt’s thinking is clear, and her writing is friendly and interesting. In all these ways, this is a book that contemporary antiabortion politics has forced into existence right now.
But this young person I’m trying to save, I’d have to enroll her in Reproductive Justice 101 at the same time that I handed her Pro, or else she’d miss out on the revolution that’s restructuring reproductive politics in the United States and elsewhere. This revolution is, in fact, decentering abortion as the keystone issue, even while its adherents fight hard to maintain legal and accessible abortion. Reproductive justice says that in order for all women to live safe and dignified lives with meaningful possibilities and opportunities, all women must have the right to decide whether or not to get pregnant and stay pregnant. If they decide to stay pregnant, they must have the right to adequate information and services and personal safety while pregnant. Finally, and this is crucial: every woman must have the right to be the parent of her child and to have access to the resources she needs to raise that child in a safe, healthy, and life-enhancing environment. In short, reproductive justice claims that the right to be a mother is every bit as important as the right not to be a mother, at all, or as a result of any particular pregnancy.
The ideas that constitute the reproductive justice revolution, a movement founded and articulated by women of color activists and intellectuals, reflects the lived experiences of girls and women who know that legal abortion hasn’t been the whole ball of wax, and that without the other guarantees of reproductive dignity, millions of women are still punished and humiliated through their reproductive capacity, their motherhood, and their children. Pollitt is trying to help the muddled middle, the folks sorting through so many crazy ideas out there about abortion. But in making her case, she holds to the old idea that legal and accessible abortion is the grand solution for women’s dilemma, when in fact both history and contemporary life show that abortion is a necessary but hardly sufficient solution, especially for the millions of girls and women without middle-class resources, the ones still stigmatized as having no business being mothers.
Reproductive justice claims that the right to be a mother is every bit as important as the right not to be a mother, at all, or as a result of any particular pregnancy.
Rickie Solinger is a historian and a curator, author of Reproductive Politics: What Everyone Needs to Know (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013) and a number of other books regarding the politics of who gets to be a legitimate mother in the United States, who does not, and how the answers to these questions change over time. She is the senior editor of a new book series, Reproductive Justice: A New Vision for the 21st Century (University of California Press) and has organized exhibitions about reproductive politics, the politics of incarceration, and satellite subjects at over 150 college and university galleries since 1992.
What an honor it is to have these responses to Pro from women so deeply engaged in reproductive justice work. I’ve admired and read Loretta Ross and Rickie Solinger for decades. Their writing and activism have been invaluable to me, and I hope they inform the book. I also learned from younger activists and writers like the ones represented here. I would love to think that Pro is part of a new wave of framing abortion as a positive good for women and society and a normal part of women’s reproductive lives.
In Pro I spend a lot of time showing that opposition to abortion rights is inextricably entwined with opposition to women’s independence and sexual freedom. (It’s also inextricably entwined with the patriarchal religions that most aggressively define women as wives and mothers subordinate to men. Looking at you, Pope Francis!) It’s sad that the case still has to be made, but the newer woman-friendly anti-choice movement has managed to hoodwink a lot of people. I like Loretta’s idea that we need to take a firmly pro-sex position. Good luck with that in today’s United States, where we’ve managed to combine hedonism and puritanism in ways that too often come crashing down on women’s heads.
Eesha Pandit makes an important point about sterilization abuse and pressure on women of color not to reproduce. The case of abortion is a bit paradoxical, though. The main thrust of the anti-abortion movement is to prevent abortion (and access to effective contraception) for all women. To be sure, some anti-choicers have racist motivations—I discuss some who see banning abortion as part of a campaign to produce more middle-class white people. But for most anti-choicers, hostility to abortion outweighs every other consideration. That abortion restrictions mean more poor people and more people of color does not trouble them. Henry Hyde himself acknowledged that his amendment barring federal Medicaid funds for abortion would unfortunately affect only poor women, but, he said, those were the women he could get to. Anti-abortion sentiment is so strong that while some prisoners might find themselves involuntarily sterilized, as in California, others might find themselves forced to carry a pregnancy to term, as occurred in Alabama recently. What ties them together is not a reproductive or demographic goal but the denial of self-determination to women. Whether it’s that you must have a baby or you can’t have a baby, someone else gets to decide.
I was a little surprised by the criticism that the book lacked an intersectional perspective. I’ll have to think about that. Themes of class and race are interwoven throughout the book, but perhaps not with the familiar signposts and labels and catchphrases. What can I say? I didn’t want to write a book that felt like movement boilerplate. I wanted to broadly engage the major arguments which have traction in mainstream contemporary political discourse, and lay bare their underpinnings and contradictions in ways that felt fresh and engaging to me.
Finally, I have to say I bristle at Michelle Bruns’s characterization of me as a “Reagan-era messenger.” I’ve had most of my writing life well after Ronald Reagan left the White House, and most of my thinking life too. I guess ageism is the last acceptable prejudice. Fortunately, life has a way of correcting it.