“Abortion is Healthcare”: A Misogynistic Non-Argument

Did you know that if you repeat the same phrase over and over on social media, it will suddenly manifest as an articulate syllogism? You may need to use capitalization or the universal “hands clapping” emoji which converts your unfounded 👏 assertions 👏 into 👏 sound 👏 arguments that are sure to convince even the most stubborn political opponent! Sometimes called the “Beetlejuice” transformation, this new persuasion tool has streamlined civil dialogues into surface-level slogans guaranteed to get you likes from your followers faster than you can say “unproductive monologue!”

So, let’s address one of the most common slogans repeated by the pro-choice lobby: “Abortion is healthcare.” There isn’t a shred of actual argumentation going on in this statement, but I am going to respond to it anyway because pro-life advocates should do better than simply shouting back, “Abortion is NOT healthcare!” We need to explain why this misogynistic rhetoric is unhelpful to the larger discussion about abortion legality, ethics, and access.

Proponents of legal abortion access will be incredibly unhappy that I am claiming the statement “abortion is healthcare” is sexist, but, rest assured, I do not say this flippantly. I am going to defend that claim in a moment through a feminist framework. (Finally, a chance to apply my minor in Women’s Studies Gender and Health!)

In this article, I explain why defending legal abortion access with this statement plays into a male hegemonic narrative that has harmed women’s health for decades and should be abandoned by anyone who believes that female reproductive health should be treated by health professionals with the same respect and dignity as male reproductive health. I am not saying that you have to oppose legal abortion or “you’re not a real feminist.” I am saying that the statement “abortion is healthcare” is discriminatory language against female bodies, and you can and should do better to defend your viewpoint on abortion.

Let’s try and make this slogan into the best argument it can be:

  • Abortion is a fundamental part of women’s healthcare.
  • People should have access to fundamental healthcare.
  • Therefore, people should have access to abortion.

Healthcare can be preventative to maintain wellness, like a flu shot, or it can be restorative, like occupational therapy after an injury. The exact definition of healthcare includes both of these categories:

“efforts made to maintain or restore physical, mental, or emotional well-being especially by trained and licensed professionals” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary, emphasis added).

I will explain why it is factually incorrect to classify abortion as preventative, and then I will explain why it is sexist to classify abortion as restorative. If you want to say that abortion is healthcare, but is neither preventative nor restorative, then you must argue that the current definition of healthcare is too narrow. Normally, you would bear the burden of proof to argue why that is justified, but I am going to explore it anyway to save some time. If you say we need a broader definition, then you will inevitably run into larger problems, or you will be incredibly inconsistent. I address this in the third section below (under “Broadening the Definition of Healthcare to Include Abortion”).

Podcast: Learn from Mississippi’s Mistakes: How to Prevent Buffer-Zone Laws

Download Audio MP3 | 01:05:08

On October 1st, 2019 the city of Jackson, Mississippi passed a buffer-zone law prohibiting free speech near healthcare facilities, which includes the last remaining abortion facility in the state of Mississippi. By looking at the events leading up to this ordinance being passed, pro-life advocates can learn to make better strategic decisions to prevent buffer-zone laws from being passed in their city. Some pro-lifers argue that buffer-zones are unconstitutional, but whether or not this ordinance is eventually upheld (like Hill v Colorado was in 2000) or dismissed, it is undeniably a devastating blow to sidewalk counseling in Mississippi as well as throughout the country.

For more information:

Consent Decree Pro-life Mississippi v Horton 2016:
http://bit.ly/2IkFnLS

City Council Meeting Sept. 26th, see item 8:
http://bit.ly/34ZjN9H

Hill v. Colorado Supreme Court decision:
http://bit.ly/2V8Y0YB

News report from MSN:
http://bit.ly/30JuXf2

News report from the Guardian:
http://bit.ly/2M5ugYo

Clinic escort group Facebook page:
http://bit.ly/2Og16IF

Refuting Pro-Choice Memes

Responding to Snark with a Winning Argument

Your social media has probably been flooded in the past few weeks with memes and people talking about the recent state bills restricting or banning abortion. Usually I discourage pro-life advocates from spending a great deal of time talking about abortion online because I think that pro-life conversations are incredibly more productive in person. However, the amount of misinformation on social media about these bills and pro-life efforts is currently so widespread that I think it has tipped the scales far enough that pro-lifers have a greater than usual responsibility to publicly refute arguments.

Image: Man banging head on laptop. He probably just saw some memes.

Last week, Josh Brahm and I hosted a webinar where we reacted to some of the most popular pro-choice memes, but there was just too much to cover in 60 minutes before we jumped into a Q&A session. Since there is some overlap in the images circulating, I have sorted the messages into 12 main categories and provided a few sample memes from each. To make your life as a pro-life advocate easier, I have provided example responses in blue font showing how I would reply if my friend posted a meme from that category.

I recommend you use my example responses as a template to work from rather than copying the response word for word. (If you do copy and paste them, you may need to use “shift+enter” to create the paragraph breaks where I have them in my examples.) You should also say something like “Hey, first name of person” before you comment because it is polite and it softens the response in a more personal way. People are people, even if they are behind a screen. In my opinion, “they say, you say” soundbite-style apologetics are usually not very persuasive, hence why we don’t teach pro-life advocates to dialogue like this way. However, when you are scrolling through social media, responding to every pro-choice meme from scratch can be utterly exhausting. Moreover, these responses are not written with the purpose of persuading the original poster; rather, they’re designed to respond to the online snark with a winning pro-life argument for the sake of other readers, so that the pro-choice position is not the only one being seen.

Click on any of the hyperlinks below to skip to that section:

  1. Hypocrisy Memes
  2. Distracting From the Issue
  3. You’re a Man/This is None of Your Business
  4. Biology 101
  5. Ways to Reduce Abortion Rates
  6. Prosecuting Women for Illegal Abortions
  7. The Case of Rape
  8. Common Ground: Memes That Misunderstand Pro-lifers
  9. Handmaid’s Tale Imagery
  10. Back Alley Abortion Arguments
  11. Bodily Rights Arguments
  12. Savita Halappanavar’s Death in Ireland

1: Hypocrisy Memes

These memes seek to point out the apparent hypocrisy of the pro-life movement. They can focus on anything from accusing pro-life people of only caring about children until birth to policing the term “pro-life” to stretch beyond the abortion debate to another issue, saying that if you were really pro-life then you would agree with them about X issue.

Image: One of 25 pro-choice memes in this article.

Image: One of 25 pro-choice memes in this article.

I want to share a thought from the pro-life perspective because I think it is important for people to consider the argument from all angles. If the pro-life philosophical arguments are true, then abortion takes the life of an innocent person. Since we are convinced of those arguments, we think that the life of the unborn child should be protected, regardless of their predicted outcome in life, just the same as we think the homeless, impoverished, or any other group of marginalized people have value and should be protected. The reason we focus on abortion is because we see it as legal killing, and, if our arguments are true, then it would be the most egregious, widespread act of violence in the history of the human race. We see it as that, and that’s why it’s our priority.

On another note, I want to push back on the charge that the pro-life position is primarily one of convenience because I don’t think it is true, especially since it is not socially popular to be pro-life. The pro-life movement has invested so much to care for pregnant mothers with counseling, free medical care, providing resources for the first few years after birth, and setting up networks that will connect them to other existing resources that will assist them, if needed, in the longer term. So, we do actually care for the child who is born beyond when it is “convenient” to do so, if it ever was. If I thought pro-life people didn’t do so, I’d be mad as well! There is also the unsettling idea that is present in the subtexts of posts like this: that if you’re not fighting for every cause then your work isn’t worth doing. I don’t see this accusation as legitimate, because if we do not have different organizations that specialize in different focus areas and everyone tries to do everything at once, we would never get anything done! The Red Cross shouldn’t focus staff time and resources to breast cancer research, and the Breast Cancer Research Foundation shouldn’t focus staff time and resources on help for people devastated by hurricanes and earthquakes.

Again, it all comes back to the basis of the pro-life view, which is that abortion is the killing of innocent people with the same worth as you and I. I think that it is important for people to interact with the philosophical claims on both sides of this issue, so I would love to talk more about that. Let me know if you’d like to continue this conversation. I’d love to keep talking so feel free to message me.

It’s Important to End Your Outreach Well. Here’s How.

Are you a student leader who wants your club to have better attendance at outreach events? As a former leader of a pro-life organization at my university, I faced a similar predicament until I learned to add a critical step to my club’s outreaches: create a space where students can debrief and process after the event. Investing time for this discussion can change the way your club thinks about abortion conversations.

Picture: Josh and Timothy Brahm debriefing with the Students for Life staff after an outreach with them in 2014.

Josh and Timothy Brahm debriefing with the Students for Life staff after an outreach with them in 2014.

Consider whether the following sounds like one of your typical outreach events:

You reserve a table spot on campus. Then you tell your club about the upcoming event, but you end up getting a low response from members. You become frustrated by this, wishing your club was larger and that the current club members would step up and be more committed. You and the other club leaders must stay at the table for much longer than you’d like to because you don’t have enough volunteers to cover the table. This adds stress and takes away from your study time. Each time you want to have a tabling event, you feel even less enthusiastic and more desperate for help than before!

If this sounds like you, you’re not alone. I’ve heard stories like this all too often from students I mentor, and it was my story as well until I learned about the power of debriefing after an outreach. Once I gave my fellow club members the opportunity to discuss and process their conversations after tabling events, their feelings about outreach changed. And when their feelings changed, their behavior changed, too. My club members began requesting more outreach events, and they even moved their schedules around so that we could fill all of the time slots. Outreach became a priority because we had a purpose at the table and we came to understand the benefits of the experience for ourselves and our campus.

How to Avoid Two Extremes of Pro-Life Advocacy

Mastering the art of pro-life advocacy requires a delicate balance of candor and affability.

We should not be so afraid of making people uncomfortable that we are unwilling to share the truth. I have seen this happen in some Christian churches when leaders want to be welcoming but are so focused on building community that they either willingly or unintentionally sacrifice the richness of the faith for the sake of attracting new people. Their idea of evangelism is to make Jesus “cool” by selling people a shallow, feel-good message that isn’t different in kind from a motivational speaker.

In response to this culture of misplaced compassion, some Christians take the opposite approach and overcorrect. They want to dive into advanced theology immediately, and call out sinful behavior of people seeking Christ without bothering to build relationships first. This cart-before-the-horse method can be just as unhelpful as the feel-good-religion approach.

I have seen the same two extremes arise during abortion dialogues, and I would like to make a case for the balanced approach to pro-life activism: we need to be both winsome and truthful when we talk about abortion.

If you want to see a clear example of an unbalanced abortion conversation, go onto Twitter and search for “pro-life” or “abortion.” You will see two main types of people:

  1. Those who tweet about abortion without any careful consideration of how their words will be perceived by pro-choice people, and
  2. People who are throwing insults at individual pro-choice accounts and organizations like Planned Parenthood or NARAL.

If advocates are both winsome and truthful when they talk about abortion they will see more people come join the efforts of the pro-life movement.

It is an ugly, unproductive place. Often, I will scroll through and wonder why these people even bother. I suspect for many of them it is because they honestly don’t know of a better way.