Engaging Anti-Choice (White) Women: How?

photo by Chloe S. at Unsplash.

This is my second try at writing a post about the reality of anti-abortion laws passing right now in America: despite the rhetoric about men who know nothing about women then creating policies about women’s bodies and health care, the reality is much more complex. It’s men, yes, but also white women. And as far as I can tell, those women who support such policies in the population more broadly are also white. The Atlantic has already done the fact checking. The first post I wrote was mostly snark and I figured that wasn’t useful save to vent my frustration. But that thinking got me to another place: as much as I feel it’s the job of other white women to call these anti-choice white women out and in, I am realizing I don’t know how. And part of the not knowing is not knowing what their deal really is. 

I suspect they fall into a number of categories, and I’m not sure what to do with any of them save try to educate and persuade.
  1. They’re firm believers in patriarchy and see women as second-tier citizens who owe sex and reproduction to men.
  2. They’re acting in accordance with their faith–ok, this I can grasp–but they don’t seem to know or care that their faith and our national politics are not and should not be the same thing. Right, so it’s one thing to say “I’d never have an abortion, my faith prohibits it” and another altogether to say “You should never have an abortion, as my faith prohibits it.” Basic constitutional law bars that kind of thing, and yet! it happens all the time. So I suspect for these women, there’s a gap between what they’re willing to tolerate on behalf of other religions (imagine the reaction if all foods now had to be kosher and are thus priced accordingly. Hoooeeee) and what they think we ought to tolerate on behalf of theirs, because theirs is correct. I don’t know how to address that.
  3. They think women are stupid and don’t realize what abortion is or means (for them). This line is related, I imagine, to #2 for some. I’ve had experience with this one. I was literally in a church, squirming as an ad came on for the local Knights of Columbus affiliated with that church; the Knights were very proud that they sponsored “information” available to women outside clinics providing abortion services about “what really happened” etc etc. A relative saw my face and asked what my deal was, and I said, “women know what they’re going in there for. They’re not stupid. This is a choice they’re making,” and she demurred, saying it was important that women be informed. So, uh.
  4. No doubt there’s a substantial chunk of women in here for whom this belief set is combined with other awful belief sets like racism, and the two work together–prohibiting some women of color from choices, for example, so as to keep their positions low.
In all of these cases, I don’t know how to engage in a conversation so as to a) not explode and b) bring these women around.

The reality is that women have sex with men; that women are entitled, as much as men are, to physical pleasure; that women are entitled to control their own fertility as a piece of their right to privacy. That’s how the law works.

The reality also is that abortion will happen whether or not it is legal.

The further reality is that to limit women’s access to abortion (and possibly contraceptives, if some of these people can be believed) is to limit their ability to be functional members of society to the fullest. It limits their ability to pursue careers, to create financial stability and independence for themselves (incredibly significant after centuries of women’s forced dependency on men, which compelled them to stay married in abusive and otherwise awful situations).

And I don’t doubt that a chunk of women who support anti-choice policies LOVE that idea–see bullet 1 above. But I suspect for others, they either haven’t thought it through OR, if they have, they still see their faith as paramount, regardless of anyone else’s.

And I find that deeply frustrating.

We need to move beyond the rhetoric of bad men making decisions for women and come to realize that women sabotage each other, and somehow enact change. I suppose my angle would be to ask questions, but I don’t know where that would get me:

For example, what do you think happens when a woman cannot get an abortion where she lives and desperately needs one?

What would you do if you had a pregnancy from a sexual assault and couldn’t get an abortion, and knew that having that birth would be reliving the trauma over and over again?

What if you LOVE motherhood–you have several children!–but end up pregnant at a time in your life when you couldn’t possibly feed another mouth, or your body couldn’t handle the strain? Then what?

If you’ve got ideas on having these conversations, I’d love to hear them.


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6 thoughts on “Engaging Anti-Choice (White) Women: How?

  1. Thank you for bringing this up. Honestly, I don’t know the answers either, though there have been times I would like to tell someone, “if you are so anti-choice, how about handing out birth control on the street corner!”

    1. Right? But I think for many, the choice they’re actually about is the choice to have sex–you’re not entitled to BC or an abortion, so choose wisely. I could be wrong, but….

  2. The issue is that there is often a lack of good faith among anti-abortionists. They are often looking for a “gotcha” moment. (As are many individuals on the left, don’t get me wrong). But there is no conversing with someone acting in bad faith.

    When I was in grad school at OSU, an anti-abortion group showed up with mobile billboards comparing abortion to the Holocaust. I had time between classes and volunteered with the counter protesters. Two women approached me and asked, in all innocence “Remind me again? Genocide is…what?”

    I didn’t have it on the tip of my tongue to say that genocide is the systematic destruction of a group of people based upon a shared trait, such as race, ethnicity, or religion. I was just uncomfortable, and they succeeded in taking the wind out of my sails in counter-protesting, even though they were the ones making a disgusting and offensive comparison.

    1. That’s infuriating. The smugness of it makes it worse.
      I’d like to see those same women protesting what’s happening now at the border, given the potential for consistency there, but I’d eat my hat if they are.

  3. The pro forced birth women I know just have a strong belief that fetus = human life so abortion = murder. It’s not really about any formal religion, although it’s heavily influenced by it. So how do you convince someone that terminating a fetus pre-viability is not morally equivalent to murder? So you have the fetus does not equal human life so no murder approach (e.g., building with 5,000 embryos is on fire with a 4 year old toddler inside – save the embryos or the kid? Everyone saves the kid)? Or self defense (stand your ground for your uterus – childbirth can kill you)? Or there is no obligation in the US to save another person’s life, even your child’s – a parent does not legally have to donate an organ to save a child.

    1. Would that I knew. It’s a novel idea, one that doesn’t have any historical roots at all. I think that politicians have used this brilliantly to disempower women and create a bullshit ‘moral’ scenario, knowing full well what they’re doing; I don’t know how you convince other people it’s nonsense without it getting hostile, or how you convince them with any hope of success.

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