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Exceptions, Schmescheptions: Why We Need to Stop Reversing the Right’s Rhetoric on Abortion and Write our Own

August 20, 2012 by in Blog


The great Republican party bus has yet to pull into Tampa but progressives and lady-part owners everywhere are already bracing themselves for the fallout from this brotastic, beachside blowout of free market masturbation, embryo rights, and hurricane force winds. The party platform wouldn’t be official until Monday but drafts indicate the GOP is holding strongly and stubbornly to its “human life” constitutional amendment, a provision that brandishes the 14th Amendment and “the sanctity of human life” to prohibit abortions in all cases, no exceptions. This promise of an airtight banning of abortion is hardly a new development for the right’s cadre of self-righteous Fetus Warriors. The provision has appeared in every Republican platform since the heady Reagan days of 1980. John McCain called unsuccessfully for the inclusion in the platform of explicit exceptions for rape, incest, and the life of the mother in 2000 but caved to the party’s more fervent embryo lovers during his own 2008 run. The plank is only newsworthy now, the ninth time it has been featured in the Republican campaign program, because loudmouth Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin let the woman-hating cat out of the big bag of moral dudgeon last weekend.

Akin, of course, claimed that, in his professional opinion as a misogynist, women could not get pregnant from “legitimate rapes.” If the Republican party feigned outrage and called for Akin to exit the race it’s not because they found his remarks horrifying but rather because he voiced them too explicitly and exposed the callous mental gymnastics of the ‘pro-life’ movement. As much as Romney and Ryan would like the public to believe it, Akin’s views on rape were not the spouting off of a dotty old man or the outburst of fringe group radical. The fuzzy science of spastic tubes and uterus fire doors undergirds a broad conservative movement to foreclose any exception argument by erasing those problematic cases of rape, incest, and health. By denying the existence of rape pregnancies and judging rapes on an invented scale of legitimacy, ‘pro-life’ forces deny the need for any exceptions and crush out any moral qualms about forced birth of a rapist’s child. They entrench themselves into a moral high ground of precious life and cuddly babies and pushed pro-choice groups to take the defensive and plead for extreme case exceptions. It’s a remarkably successful tactic, one that has entrenched itself into the very language of abortion (the terms pro-life pro-choice are nearly intractable; I used them here for clarity) and forced abortion advocates to couch their defenses in a language of worst case scenarios and exceptions.

How do abortion supporters counter an opponent that has rhetorically placed itself on the winning side of life versus death? We stop speaking with that opponent’s vocabulary. We stop holding up cases of rape, incest, and injury to the mother or child as our strongest defenses of abortion. We speak in a new language, one that isn’t informed by or a reversal of right-wing rhetoric.

We squirm when Lady Gaga counters homophobic groups by reversing their rhetoric, shouting down the right’s claims that homosexuality is a choice with avowals that it’s biological and pre-determined. Such essentialized logic lumps homosexuality into a realm of birth defects and other genetic abnormalities and, by medicalizing sexual preferences, bolsters the assertion that they can be “cured.” Similarly, by touting dire scenarios of rape and incest, exceptions originally crafted by the pro-life movement to assuage their consciences, we undermine our fundamental position—abortions should be available to everyone, full stop. . Using these scenarios as our default arguments and the tipping point of our outrage organizes abortions into false hierarchies of legitimacy and ultimately frames the procedure as something less valid and more reprehensible if it’s not saving lives or sparing rape survivors more pain. By focusing on these supposedly morally acceptable extremes and these exceptions we play directly into conservative talking points the immorality of abortion and the sinfulness of sexually active women.

We also need to stop bracketing discussions of abortion with disclaimers about how, although it’s not ideal, although it’s terrible and should never be used as birth control, it must be a personal choice. In configuring abortion as a last resort or a painful decision, we operate within the conservative rhetoric; we shame and we moralize about medical procedures along with our opponents. Some women are absolutely devastated by the decision they have to make; others are simply overjoyed they were able to make that decision in the first place. By presenting abortion as an inevitably harrowing decision we demean the experiences of women who had no hesitation, who didn’t feel an ounce of maternal affection for the cluster of cells growing in their uterus. Moreover, in parroting the notion that abortions are automatically emotionally treacherous, we echo right wing rhetoric that in South Dakota recently underpinned an absurd law requiring doctors to inform women seeking abortions that they will be at increased risk for “suicide ideation and suicide,” despite all scientific evidence to the contrary. We must discuss abortion as nothing more or less than a medical procedure, one with risks and recovery periods but with not necessarily with anymore emotional and moral baggage than a hip replacement.

We must stop being ashamed of abortions. We must stop frantically assuring the public that no, we don’t have abortions for kicks and giggles and no, we don’t use them as birth control, not like those silly sluts. By responding to those allegations, even by negating them, we endorse ring wing anxieties about ‘loose women’ and ‘willy-nilly baby killing.’ Yes, no woman should use abortion as birth control, but because simply it’s an often physically taxing medical procedure and there are easier methods of preventing births, not because it’s morally reprehensible or shameful. And we need to stop prefacing our defense of abortion with assurances that while we personally would never have one, it’s totally fine for other women. Every woman is entitled to her own choices but she shouldn’t cast shade on those of others, especially the ones she professes to support.

We shouldn’t be shocked the Republican Party is opposing all abortions, no exceptions allowed. And while we can be outraged and we can be indignant, we can’t let the defense of these exceptions distract us from the basic injustice of the GOP platform: its prohibition of any abortion. We should be protesting and voting and yelling as loud as we can, but not in defense of these narrow exceptions. After all, we don’t want exceptions either; we don’t want the occasional exemptions in Romney/Ryan’s Republic of Gilead. We want universal abortion access, whether the pregnancy is a result of a rape or a broken condom or a drunken mistake. We probably can’t reclaim the “life” slog but we can start speaking in a new language, one that doesn’t quail from abortion, one that frames it as nothing more than an surgical procedure, one that doesn’t just reverse or react to the garbage the anti-abortion right spews. Let’s start now, no excuses and no exceptions.

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