How the anti-abortion movement perpetuates gendered violence

By Lindy Wittenberg

*** For clarification, this blog refers to people who were born with vaginas and a uterus and who are able to become pregnant as “pregnant folks,” “women,” and “people who can become pregnant.” We acknowledge that not all people with reproductive systems made up of a vagina or uterus are women, and not all women have a uterus or vagina.

For as long as history has been written, atrocities have been committed against people who can become pregnant. Instead of being viewed as human beings, women have been reduced to property, and denied many legal rights and autonomy. The combination of racism, transphobia, and misogyny has meant that history has been even crueler to BIPOC women and trans women, who, based on the theory of intersectionality, face the challenges of holding multiple oppressed identities..

Bodies have always been — and will continue to be — political. The laws written about bodies, and the way they have been subjected to violence based on class, race, sex, gender identity, and sexuality, is a testament to the cruelty of white supremacy, patriarchy, and capitalism. For centuries women have been brutally beaten or assaulted without any course of legal retaliation; women have been left out of important political spaces, denied careers in art and science, and denied a voice on the world stage. At the core of every stage of the spectrum, gender-based discrimination, whether committed consciously or subconsciously by society or the individual, is violence.

Violence continues to slice our world apart from tiny tears to gaping wounds, with women overwhelmingly the brutalized survivors or victims. One in three women in the world have experienced violence from strangers or a partner. 137 women are killed by family members every day across the world. In America, 1 in 6 women will be the victim of rape or an attempted rape; 90% of adult rape victims are women, and transgender women experience a higher number of assaults than cisgender women.

Ask any woman (cis or trans) about the violence they have experienced in their life and everyone will have a story. I have never met a single woman in my entire life who does not have a story of violence they can tell. Not a single one. In most cases, it is sexual violence, when they are denied autonomy over their own bodies. In others, it’s emotional or physical abuse based on their gender. Some are denied respect for their weight or how they look. And not one person is free of the small but incredibly significant sexism that denies them the full range of what it means to be human.

The beauty of modern-day science is that we can give people back their power. Science has the ability to (sometimes) determine the DNA of a perpetrator of violence; it has the ability to help people conceive children that they could not have without intervention. It has the ability to give people the bodies they were meant to live in through gender reassignment surgery, and it has the ability to allow people who can get pregnant, or who are, to end a pregnancy. And lastly, data has the ability to show that what we face now is an unreal problem of violence that needs to be addressed.

What is a problem is modern day thought and politics: when you fail to allow people control over their bodies, you deny them the largest part of themselves — the space they live in 24/7. Assuming that pregnant people can and should carry a pregnancy to term leaves out the scientific and emotional complexity of this experience. First, it denies all the horrible experiences that come with pregnancy, and it reinforces the idea that sacrifice (even giving up your entire body for months) is worth it. Factor in sexual violence, and it subjects someone to bodily violence whose body has had to sustain violence already.

Often, the anti-abortion movement will claim that abortion is a violent act that takes the life of a fetus. But what is even more violent is to leave an entire, real, feeling person out of the equation: the pregnant person. Whether a fetus is alive or not will always be a philosophical debate . But the pregnant person has been and ALWAYS will be alive during the carrying of the fetus (duh). This is concrete and provable — by facts, data, and emotional intelligence. And we can prove time and time again that denying people abortion and choice over their body leads to bad outcomes.

Sexism and white supremacy are built on brutal paradigms of gender categorization, which have led to immeasurable amounts of pain and violence. Anti-abortion laws and sentiment continue to perpetuate this violence. They regurgitate outdated claims that women who have choices and power over their bodies are evil; they value a fetus which cannot be empirically proven to have feelings over a pregnant person who clearly lives and feels; they deny medical care based on their philosophical conjectures.. And their ideology denies the complexity of abortion choices and the reasons why people decide to have abortions. Reducing complicated stories to adhere to simplistic ends is an act of violence (and a selfish one at that) — to say nothing about restrictive abortion laws that harm low-income and BIPOC pregnant folks (who experience more forms of violence than welloff white pregnant folks.

Sometimes, I think of all the genuinely wonderful things that the so called “pro-life” movement could actually do, or the many ways where both movements could work together — that is,if one was not so deeply drenched in subconscious and tactical acts of violence. Maybe pregnancy centers could adhere to a medically accurate model, and show people their full range of choices (while still helping pregnant folks who wish to carry their pregnancy to term) without spreading medically inaccurate information or scare tactics about abortion. Or we could both rally for important healthcare and policy decisions that improve the lives of women, children and families (which the reproductive freedom movement has been doing for decades). Both movements could come together in the fight for living wages (which is especially important considering that 40% of people who get abortions cite financial concerns as a major factor in their decision.

If we could come together with the common goal of autonomy, our movements would be unstoppable. We’d see abortion as a medical procedure while helping folks who do want to be pregnant or become parents by providing them with the resources they need. We’d fight violence with the political power both our movements have harnessed over decades. We’d see women and pregnant people’s stories as complex. But this will never happen — especially as long as racism, misogyny, and capitalism continue to dictate the world we live in. We will continue to fight the violence that the pro-life movement continues to perpetuate, without the other side of the aisle ever using their power to advocate for a safe, healthy world that supports people in deciding when, if, and with whom to start a family.

Until the day comes when our movements can work together for the common good, we’ll keep fighting another form of violence, the anti-abortion form, and they will fight us, unaware of how the violence they perpetuate harms all the future “babies” that they claim to give a damn about.

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