A Pro-Choice Bill of Goods (Part 3)

Abortion and the Irony of “Choice”

This is the third part of a three-part series on the deceitful legacy of pro-choice propaganda from Roe vs. Wade to the present. To read Part 1 visit HERE, and to see part 2, visit HERE.

How Abortion Politics Deceived the American Public

Over the past forty years, abortion supporters have regularly asserted a woman’s right to be the sole decision-maker over all choices related to her body. This principle has also been a pillar of second-wave feminism. As Margaret Walters declared in Feminism: A Very Short Introduction, “[one of] the most urgent concerns of second-wave feminism has been a woman’s rights over her own body.” The category “a woman’s body” is assumed to include any baby the woman may be carrying. The right to bodily autonomy means that it is up to the pregnant woman, and no one else, to decide whether her fetus should be treated as a person or as just a lump of tissue.

Yet we have seen that in cases where a woman does choose to treat the child in her womb as a person, the abortion lobby has been willing to throw the concept of choice out the window. We saw that in discussion of penalties against men who perpetrate violence against pregnant women, abortion advocates are unwilling to treat a fetus as a person regardless of the mother’s choice.

To be sure, most American states do recognize forced miscarriage as murder. But this has come about in spite of the abortion lobby, not because of it. If abortion advocates had their way, unborn children would never be treated as persons, even in cases when their mothers (exercising their “right to choose”) expressly desire it. For example, the pro-abortion group, the ACLU, has an article on their website where they declare that, while it is tragic when pregnant women are victims of violence, a fetus should still not have legal protections:

“The ACLU recognizes that a woman may suffer a serious physical and emotional injury if her pregnancy is ended by an assault, a drunk driving accident, or other criminal or negligent acts. But we have serious reservations about legislation designed to protect fetuses…”

They go on to suggest that if there are fetal-protection laws it is important that “the penalty for killing a fetus should not be as severe as the penalty for killing a person.” Moreover, such laws should avoid using terms like “pre-born,” “unborn baby,” “unborn child,” or “unborn human.”

What is curious about the ACLU’s policy is that it applies even in cases where a woman, exercising the “right over her own body,” wishes for her fetus to be considered a person.

Why then has the pro-abortion lobby made the principle of “choice” their constant rallying cry if they are not prepared to apply it consistently? The answer is simple: it resonates with the American people. The notions of inalienable rights and personal liberty run deep in the bloodstream of Americans. Activists have found that by coupling abortion with these cherished concepts, they can chip away at the scruples of many Americans who might otherwise be inclined to oppose abortion.

Rethinking “Choice”

The fact that pro-choice philosophy cannot be coherent, let alone consistent, should not surprise us. In his book The Marketing of Evil, David Kupelian shows that slogans like, “Women must have control over their own bodies” and “Who decides? You decide!” were devised as marketing slogans by cynical abortion activists who wished to divert attention away from the core issue to a web of newly created artificial issues. Kupelian references Bernard Nathanson, M.D., co-founder of the abortion vanguard group NARAL, who, after his pro-life conversion, reminisced about the early days of the abortion movement. “I remember laughing when we made those slogans up,” Nathanson said. “We were looking for some sexy, catchy slogans to capture public opinion. They were very cynical slogans then, just as all of these slogans today are very, very cynical.”

These catchy slogans certainly did capture public opinion and even became enshrined in case law, as we saw in Part 1 of this series. They will continue to exert enormous influence on the American public unless we start asking some difficult questions about what exactly “choice” means in practice.

I suggest, as a solution, that we throw the entire idea of choice out the window. Even if it wants to, the state cannot be neutral about the most basic question of what a person is. By pretending to leave this up to each woman to decide, the post Roe settlement simply enforced one de facto position on the entire nation: an unborn child is simply, in the words of Planned Parenthood, “unviable tissue mass.” This view was made explicit in Planned Parenthood v. Doyle (1998) when Judge Richard Posner announced that partial-birth abortion is simply a removal of tissue comparative to cosmetic surgery.

This dogmatism on our courts concerning the non-personhood of the unborn is exactly what we should expect, notwithstanding the initial language of neutrality, autonomy, privacy, and choice that has dominated post Roe polemics Abortion law does not actually protect a woman's privacy and self-determination, and indeed cannot because matters relating to family and personhood are inescapably public. The pretense of neutrality under the guise of the liberty-privacy axis merely created space for the state to impose one philosophical position on all of us, independent of a robust public debate on the veracity of that position.

is the author of Gratitude in Life's Trenches: How to Experience the Good Life Even When Everything Is Going Wrong (Ancient Faith 2020) and has a Master's in history from King’s College, London. He is currently working on a Master’s in Library Science through the University of Oklahoma. He is editorial assistant with the Fellowship of St. James and is a frequent contributor to Salvo and Touchstone magazines. He operates a blog at www.robinmarkphillips.com.

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