Home / General / The right not to be pregnant

The right not to be pregnant


This is a really brilliant essay:

It is critical to understand that the “pro-life” movement is much more than an anti-abortion cause: it is a pro-pregnancy crusade, pushing for pregnancies to be maintained at any cost. As of this writing, seven states have banned abortion without exemptions for rape and incest, previously a nonpartisan standard of decency. Conservative states are well into the process of winnowing down special dispensations for the “health of the mother”: some by changing the criteria for exemption to a probability of death; or, as Ohio and Tennessee’s new laws, prepared years ago and instituted in June, generously allow, “substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function.” Whether a pregnancy meets these indeterminate, immeasurable standards will be assessed by doctors at risk of civil and criminal charges for any suspected failure to sufficiently prioritize the fetus.

After years of right-wing insistence that women would never be criminally prosecuted for seeking abortions, legislation is now being introduced that would allow them to be charged directly. Though later amended, in May, a bill was advanced in the Louisiana statehouse that sought to make all abortion, at any stage, murder. In the thirty-eight states that have already established “fetal homicide” laws, those who obtain abortions can currently be charged with homicide and manslaughter. As the New York Times reported in early July, in certain states, women who abort may be eligible for the death penalty. One pastor told the Times that execution would indeed be a fair penalty for abortion, though he didn’t trust the state to deliver it.

Those who seek to criminalize abortion do so with the orientation of a simple, chilling vision: that those who can be pregnant should be, and will be conscripted into sustaining pregnancies regardless of their own desires. Pregnancy prevention tools have always been next in the line of fire. For over a decade, conservative lawmakers and “conscientiously objecting” pharmacists have, without proof, described these contraceptive tools, which prevent egg fertilization, as methods that instead block the implantation of embryos. This lie previously provided spotty cover for the fact that lawmakers or their bankrollers wished to bar contraception itself. In May, the Mississippi governor Tate Reeves, during a CNN interview in which he defended forced pregnancy for incest victims, refused to rule out a state ban on contraceptives. This is at root a desire for state control over all aspects of pregnancies: when they happen, whether they happen, and how they progress—a fundamentally fascist aim.

Though plastered in sentimental language about the sanctity of life, the heart of the anti-abortion coalition is revealed in full by its insistence that a pregnant person’s integrity, including their health, is tangential at best and a frivolous, unjust obstacle to a fetus at worst. This conceit is crucial for legitimizing the aims of the natalist state. It is monstrous to refuse a “child” life, they say, and objections based on the tremendous burdens, sacrifices, and risks that this potential life poses to a living human being are ignored and denied, with pregnancy described as no more than a brief inconvenience. The Supreme Court justice Amy Coney Barrett exhibited this view in December when she theorized from the bench that abortion’s legal necessity may be negated by the existence of nonpunitive adoption opportunities, blithely describing denial of a later-term abortion as “the state requiring the woman to go fifteen, sixteen weeks more.” Under this characterization, for a woman to resist her pregnancy is to be grotesquely selfish, perhaps murderous.

One thing that isn’t said enough about Roe is that for all of the criticism Blackmun’s opinion has received — some justified, much of it not — it pales into comparison from this revealing stupidity from Byron White’s dissent in Roe‘s companion case:

At the heart of the controversy in these cases are those recurring pregnancies that pose no danger whatsoever to the life or health of the mother but are, nevertheless, unwanted for any one or more of a variety of reasons — convenience, family planning, economics, dislike of children, the embarrassment of illegitimacy, etc. The common claim before us is that, for any one of such reasons, or for no reason at all, and without asserting or claiming any threat to life or health, any woman is entitled to an abortion at her request if she is able to find a medical advisor willing to undertake the procedure.


The Court apparently values the convenience of the pregnant mother more than the continued existence and development of the life or potential life that she carries. Whether or not I might agree with that marshaling of values, I can in no event join the Court’s judgment because I find no constitutional warrant for imposing such an order of priorities on the people and legislatures of the States.

This blithe, misogynist dismissal of the liberty issues at stake is remarkable, and it’s not a coincidence that it’s made by someone who knows he would never have to bear the burdens. There is no such thing as a pregnancy that poses “no danger whatsoever to the life or health of the mother,” and as Shane’s essay argues so forcefully to describe this as a matter of “convenience” is supremely ignorant of the realities of pregnancy as well as childbirth and child rearing. This is completely unserious nonsense, and its mentality is also evident throughout Alito’s opinion in Dobbs (most obviously in its assertion that women have no material reliance interest in their reproductive freedom.) It’s what the anti-abortion movement in America has always been.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google+
  • Linkedin
  • Pinterest
It is main inner container footer text