The National Youth Poet Laureate, Amanda Gorman, made a splash at President Biden’s inauguration when she became the youngest poet to write and recite a piece at a presidential inauguration. She is known for focusing on issues of race, oppression, marginalization, and feminism in her art, and her performance at the inauguration brought her videos circulating around social media once again, especially this piece advocating against abortion bans. A lot of pro-life advocates are encountering this video for the first time, and it’s important for us to know how to effectively respond to the arguments she makes in it.
Now, I’m not the poet that Amanda is, so I won’t be trying to emulate her style in my responses. She’s a very talented communicator. I’m also not going to mock her or her arguments. Even though her arguments are, quite frankly, poor, mocking them isn’t beneficial to actually helping you know how to deal with them. So, I’m going to take Amanda’s arguments seriously and respond to the best versions of the arguments she’s making.
Estimated reading time: 16 minutes
Her piece is titled, 8 Reasons to Stand up Today against Abortion Bans in the United States, which you can watch by clicking below:
Amanda Gorman Starts With False Facts
She opens her piece by saying:
Let’s get this straight. When the penalty for rape is less than the penalty for abortion after the rape, you know this isn’t about caring for women and girls, it’s about controlling them.
Amanda is referring to the states with so-called heartbeat bills that don’t have exceptions listed for the case of rape, namely Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, and Georgia as long as the abortion is before 20 weeks. Assuming I’m right about what she’s referencing, I’m a bit confused because her facts are just plain wrong: there is no penalty in these states for abortion in the case of rape.
First of all, an injunction was filed for every one of these abortion bans immediately because they violate Casey v. Planned Parenthood, which says you can’t place an “undue burden” on a woman’s ability to get an abortion before the baby is viable. Yes, all of these state laws declared abortion illegal after a heartbeat had been detected, but there was no statutory penalty for the woman. It was explicitly illegal to prosecute a woman who got an abortion in every state other than Georgia.
Alabama probably had the most infamous heartbeat law, and it clearly stated “No woman on whom an abortion is performed or attempted to be performed shall be criminally or civilly liable.” I’m not sure how it can get any more clear than that. Even if we agree that it was possible, though unlikely, that a woman could be prosecuted in Georgia, Amanda acts like every conservative state provided a statutory penalty worse than the penalty for rape and an easy path to conviction. She also postures as if literally any of these laws were allowed to go into effect, even though three were already blocked by the time she published.
The penalty for rape is not less than the penalty for abortion after rape, because there simply is no penalty for abortion after rape. You can find more information about heartbeat bills in our article Heartbeat Laws: What You Need to Know.
Now, I agree with Amanda that we need stricter penalties for rape. I help pro-lifers have better conversations about abortion for a living, and I think that pro-life advocates often have difficulty expressing to pro-choice people the genuine compassion they have for survivors of rape. Rape is one of the worst things I know of, and I certainly don’t think that our society takes rape seriously enough. I do feel like our society has been trending better on this lately, thanks in part to the #MeToo movement, and I’m glad for that, but there is so much more work to do. For example, we need to make sure that every city has the necessary resources to process rape kits, instead of leaving thousands on the shelves as many cities were recently exposed doing.
We both agree that rape is a horrific and unjust act of violence against an innocent person: the woman. But I don’t think it is right to commit a second act of violence against another innocent person in order to help solve an already traumatic situation.
Taking Poetic License With the Reality of Abortion
Amanda’s second point is:
Through forcing them into motherhood before they’re ready, these bans steadily sustain the patriarchy but also chain families in poverty and maintain economic inequality.
My position as a pro-life advocate is very simple: it generally shouldn’t be legal to kill people, and a fetus is a person and should have an equal right to life. You can check out this video or this article about the Equal Rights Argument to know why I think the unborn human is a person. Therefore, abortion is a lethal act of violence against an innocent person.
I am saying “don’t kill,” and that is NOT the same as forcing someone to do something. Yes, other things must follow from my “no killing” stance, such as “go through pregnancy, give birth, and parent the child or pass along that responsibility to someone else who can.” But me saying “don’t kill” is not the same as forcing a woman to be pregnant.
If you think I’m just making an irrelevant distinction between words, let’s imagine for a moment that there is a single-mother with a two year-old son, and she is at the end of her rope. She’s struggling to make ends meet and finish school, and so she comes up with a plan to kill her son and make it appear that he died of natural causes. I think Amanda and I would both agree that it would be horrendously wrong for this woman to kill her son, and if Amanda and I told this woman she can’t kill her son, we would not be “forcing” her to be a parent. We’re telling her she can’t kill her son.
Being opposed to a woman murdering her child is a very different thing from forcing a woman who doesn’t have a child to cause a new child to come into existence. It is incredibly misleading for pro-choice people to respond to the pro-life argument “you can’t kill a child” by saying that we’re forcing people into motherhood. Yes, poverty and economic inequality are serious issues facing our country, and that’s a huge reason why pro-life advocates have founded nearly 3,000 pregnancy resource centers that are dedicated to providing financial, education, and health resources during and long after pregnancy so that women are empowered to choose life all while helping them overcome their difficult circumstances.
Amanda’s third point is:
Pregnancy is a private and personal decision and should not require the permission of any politician.
There seem to be two simultaneous arguments going on here: if you don’t like abortion, don’t have one, and, more powerfully, abortion is a private health care decision, not the kind of thing that the government should be making laws about. Let’s tackle those one at a time.
The former is a fairly common pro-choice slogan that takes abortion out of the realm of morality and into the realm of personal preference, like me choosing whether I want to get my hair cut or not. Choosing to get my hair cut certainly shouldn’t require the permission of any politician, but abortion is not even in the same universe as getting my hair cut. Abortion is a lethal act of violence. Someone could argue that it’s a justified act of violence; that’s at least an interesting conversation I’d love to have with Amanda! But for her to categorize a lethal act of violence as a personal preference is a tragic misunderstanding of what people like me actually believe about abortion.
Amanda also seems to imply that abortion is health care, and I certainly don’t want politicians involved with my personal health care decisions. But health care is defined as a preventative or restorative practice. To claim that abortion is preventative is a categorical error since the living, human, organism in question has already come into existence, so unlike contraception, abortion doesn’t prevent a human, it kills one. And to claim that abortion is restorative is an incredibly misogynistic viewpoint, which I’ll get into more later.
Holding the Law Hostage
Amanda’s fourth point is:
For all time regardless of whether it’s a crime women have and will always seek their own reproductive destinies. All these penalties do is subdue women’s freedom to get healthy, safe services when they most need them.
If abortion becomes illegal, there will certainly be some women who will still seek an abortion. I don’t agree with Amanda’s assertion that abortions will continue at the same rate—there are plenty of women who have had abortions who would not have made that choice if abortion was illegal at the time—but there will certainly be some women who are desperate enough to put their health at risk in order to have an abortion, and I agree with Amanda that those women are important to talk about. But if abortion is a lethal act of violence against an innocent person, we cannot hold the law hostage because of citizens threatening to hurt themselves.
Let me explain what I mean with a kind of weird thought experiment: Let’s imagine for a moment that the female body is built in such a way that abortion as we know it is physically impossible—the uterus is so protective of the fetus that it is not possible to kill the fetus without doing significant harm to the woman, by stabbing a knife into her abdomen for example. In this thought experiment, there are a group of pregnant women campaigning to make infanticide, the killing of human infants, legal because, if infanticide remains illegal, then they are desperate enough to hurt themselves by stabbing their abdomen in order to kill the fetus.
Now, this is a hypothetical situation; I’m not saying that this is what women are like or that there are any women who would actually do this. It’s certainly a tragic situation, and I obviously don’t want any women to hurt themselves. But we cannot make infanticide legal because infanticide is morally wrong, the kind of serious moral wrong where innocent people are vulnerable to violence, and therefore it should be against the law. Even though there are women who are threatening to hurt themselves in this scenario, we still cannot make infanticide legal. We cannot hold the law hostage because of citizens threatening to hurt themselves. And that’s precisely how I think about abortion. Abortion is a lethal act of violence against an innocent person. I don’t want anyone to get hurt in an abortion, legal or illegal, but I cannot advocate for abortion to remain legal just because some people might try to get one anyways.
She’s Somewhat Right about Roe
Amanda fifth point is:
Fight to keep Roe v. Wade alive. By the term “overturn” Roe v. Wade the main concern is that the Supreme Court will let states thwart a woman’s path to abortion with undue burdens.
There’s not really an argument here, but Amanda did accurately describe what would happen if Roe v. Wade was overturned; the question of abortion’s legality and any restrictions on abortion would go back to the states. As I noted earlier, the “undue burden” clause she references is actually in Casey v. Planned Parenthood, though, which states that any restrictions on abortion cannot pose an “undue burden” on women’s access to abortion. That clause is currently why the Supreme Court has struck down many state abortion bans, not anything in Roe v. Wade.
Abortion and Equal Rights
Amanda then argues:
But one thing is true and certain: these predictions aren’t a distortion, hypothetical or theoretical, women already face their disproportion of undue burdens when seeking abortions. If the sexes and all people are to be equal, abortion has to be actually accessible and not just technically legal.
I’m pro-life because I care a lot about equality and rights. I’m 100% with Amanda that the sexes and all people should be equal, but we seem to differ in how abortion fits into the equal rights conversation. Here’s how I think about it: we know that the unborn are alive because they are growing, and we know that they are human because they have two human parents, and I think that all human organisms are persons and therefore should have the same equal right to life and equal protection from violence.
All humans deserve these protections, which is why there can be no room for racism or sexism or anything else that devalues some humans based on an arbitrary characteristic. We’ve seen countless times throughout history where a society has treated a particular race or gender or trait group as less than human, and we decry those societies while working incredibly hard to reform our own into a more inclusive one. I’m pro-life precisely because I am dedicated to equal protection of all people from violence.
More Misleading Rhetoric
Amanda’s seventh point is:
Despite what you might hear, this right here isn’t only about women and girls. This fight is about fundamental civil rights. Women are a big part of it but at the heart of it are freedom over how fast our families grow goes farther and larger than any one of us. It’s about every single one of us.
Amanda is right; this is about fundamental civil rights. All people should have an equal right to life and equal protection from violence. We need to uphold the inherent dignity and value of all, and that’s why I’m pro-life. To describe abortion as “freedom over how fast our families grow” commits the very same “private and personal decision” mistake she made in her third point and the “forcing” mistake she made in her second. I don’t want to force anyone to have a family when they’re not ready or to grow their family larger than they want to. My position is that killing is wrong, and abortion is killing. To say that a lethal act of violence falls in the realm of personal preference or that my stance against killing is forcing people to have families is misleading rhetoric that quite frankly isn’t a convincing pro-choice argument. There are strong pro-choice arguments out there, but these slogans aren’t it.
The Right to Life Isn’t Alt-Right
Finally, Amanda argues:
Fight for Roe v. Wade in the United States because this change can’t wait. We’ve got the energy, the moment, the movement, and the thundering numbers. The alt-right’s biggest blunder is that most Americans aren’t under their impression that a woman’s body is up to them to decide. So when you’re outraged these lawmakers are terrified. They want our tide to lose hope, to back up, pack up, and go home. So don’t. We won’t. We are never alone when we fight fire with feminism. So go, be unafraid. We will not be delayed. We will not be masquerade to the tail of a handmaid. We will not let Roe v. Wade slowly fade because when we show up today we’re already standing up with the tomorrow we made.
There’s a lot going on in this last point, so let’s start at the beginning: “The alt-right’s biggest blunder is that most Americans aren’t under their impression that a woman’s body is up to them to decide.” Before I get into her actual argument, I’m incredibly concerned and offended by her assertion that all pro-life people are alt-right. Believing that all people deserve equal protection from violence under the law isn’t a right or a left or a center issue: it’s a human rights issue. It’s horribly condescending for her to just assume that everyone who disagrees with her about abortion must be alt-right. That’s more than just a stereotype; it’s slander deliberately designed to silence people like me who dare to assert that killing an innocent human person is wrong.
But now to her actual argument: Amanda is making a bodily autonomy argument here, arguing that abortion is justified because a woman’s body is her sovereign zone—in other words, that a woman should have the right to do anything she wants with anything inside her body. It’s an argument that sounds really convincing on its face when you think about how the medical world works. Anytime a doctor wants to do anything to my body, I have to sign a million consent forms, right? I clearly do have some sort of rights to my bodily autonomy, but can a woman really do anything she wants with anything inside her body?
Unfortunately, I don’t have the opportunity to ask Amanda some clarification questions about her view, but if I could, I would start by asking if she thinks there should be any restrictions on abortion at all. Most pro-choice people are really uncomfortable with elective abortions at 8 months or abortions because the parents don’t like the sex of the child (almost always because the child is a female). If Amanda thinks that sex-selection abortion should be illegal, then a woman’s body isn’t her sovereign zone—she can’t do anything she wants with anything inside her body.
You see, bodily autonomy arguments like this are inherently extremist arguments. A bodily autonomy argument necessarily claims that there isn’t any single thing that a person can’t do with their own body, including killing a female fetus just because you think girls aren’t as valuable as boys. In order to maintain her pro-choice view, Amanda would have to acknowledge that deliberate discrimination against women by selectively killing them should be legal. If she is truly a feminist, as she claims, that’s a consequence she just can’t accept. Bodily autonomy arguments like this put pro-choice advocates between a rock and a hard place, because if there is literally anything a person can’t do with their own body, then the argument isn’t consistent and falls flat on its face.
Amanda also makes a reference to “Handmaid’s Tale” at the end of her argument, so let’s talk about that for a moment. When pro-choice people bring up the imagery of “Handmaid’s Tale,” they usually mean something along the lines of “Women should not be forced to have children against their will. By passing restrictions on abortion, the government is forcing precisely that, and this gives power to the patriarchy and leads to tolerance of violence against women, who are treated as second-class citizens and are only viewed as having worth in relation to their ability to bear children.” This argument against abortion restrictions seems to come primarily from a place of fear and misunderstanding about why pro-lifers are pro-life and what pro-lifers actually want.
I don’t want to force women into pregnancy, and I certainly do not believe that women are second-class citizens with a purely utilitarian worth to society as child-bearers. I am pro-life because I believe that the unborn have an equal right to life and should be protected from violence, not because I want to control women. And I genuinely don’t think that restrictions on abortion will make women second-class citizens, nor would I want that. Pro-lifers have advocated for years that pregnant and parenting women should be empowered, not told that they must conform to the “normal” male model of success.
As long as pregnancy is viewed as an abnormality to be fixed, women’s healthy, pregnant bodies are deemed inferior by a society that misogynistically insists women abandon and subdue their natural bodily functions in order to succeed in life. For more on understanding and refuting this rapidly spreading worldview, which President Biden has endorsed, check out our article “Abortion is Healthcare”: A Misogynistic Non-Argument.
Poetic Slogans Still Aren’t Arguments
We covered a lot of ground here because it takes a lot more time to think through arguments well than it does to recite emotionally charged rhetoric. Amanda’s video is intended to be received as a serious attack on the pro-life position, but it just restates the same pro-choice talking points that we’ve heard for years. Pro-lifers have the better arguments, and you should feel confident that you know how to respond to the kind of assertions made in Amanda’s video and other pro-choice media.
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The post Unpacking Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman’s Pro-Choice Arguments originally appeared at the Equal Rights Institute blog. Subscribe to our email list with the form below and get a FREE gift. Click here to learn more about our pro-life apologetics course, “Equipped for Life: A Fresh Approach to Conversations About Abortion.”