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Abortion and feminism, Pt. II

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Since this is a little long to be included in comments, a couple of quick points about the possibility of a pro-life feminism. The first thing to say is that the question is unanswerable; in some sense, it’s up to Hugo Schwyzer to define his political stance, and if he defines himself as a feminist then he is. We can have a discussion about whether a pro-life stance is consistent with feminism as one would define it. I’ve always liked the broad definition proposed by Christine DiStefano: to paraphrase, a feminist is someone who believes 1)that women are face systematic disadvantages, and 2)it is politically desirable and necessary to correct this. I’m sure that to Schwyzer, it is possible to be pro-life under this definition. To me, it depends:

1)It is, I think, clearly possible to believe in the abstract that a fetus is a human life, and that therefore abortion should be legally prohibited. Virtually no feminist supports infanticide, so obviously it’s permissible to ban abortion if you start from this ethical premise. At least as I see it, while I do not share it the underlying premise itself does not contradict feminist principles in any way.

2)On the other hand, I don’t think it’s possible to be a feminist and defend abortion laws as they are actually practiced in the United States. Abortion laws are, categorically, never enforced in a way that would be consistent with protecting fetal life. As Alas, A Blog points out, abortion laws do not significantly reduce abortion rates, and are are inevitably enforced in ways that are grossly discriminatory. And by this I don’t mean that abortion laws are inequitable in the sense that the application of any law in conditions short of uptopia are inequitable. I mean that affluent white women have fairly easy access to safe, sterile abortions on the grey market and have a de facto exemption from the law, and poor women and most women of color are forced to get dangerous and sometimes fatal abortions on the black market. (For a wealth of evidence to support these claims, see Mark Graber’s terrific bookRethinking Abortion.) Since the odds of an abortion law that was consistently enforced against affluent white women are absolutely nil, the defensibility of abortion laws in the abstract is (to me) essentially irrelevant. And I certainly don’t see how the abortion regimes that might actually exist can be consistent with feminism (or, for that matter, with left politics.)

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