politics and abortion in the US
A discussion with Judith Arcana
Feminist politics and abortion in the US: A discussion with Judith
Arcana (writer, professor of writing, literature and women's studies
and former 'Jane'), organised by Birkbeck College Sociology and
Politics Society and Pro-Choice Forum. Chaired by Amanda Callaghan,
Public Affairs Manager, BPAS.
Judith: I'll begin by talking about what those of us who
were 'Janes' called 'the service' - though it was formally named
The Abortion Counseling Service of The Chicago Women's Liberation
There has been a remarkable pendulum swing since the US Supreme
Court's Roe v. Wade decision in January of 1973. The social and
political climate around abortion in the US is now actually worse
than it was before that ruling, when the Janes were operating.
This situation is what made me decide that, as a writer, I should
be writing about abortion, including my work in the service, to
bring that part of women's health history to people's attention,
to be of use, to stand as a witness. In this collection-in-progress,
I will also deal with abortion now, not just as memory, and not
as nostalgia for what some of us did in the past. My perspective
is, naturally, different from when I was a Jane. Then we were
doing clinical and counseling work, providing illegal abortions,
working for women's liberation. Now, 30 years later, I think I
have a stronger focus on the ethics, morality and experience of
abortion, though surely this focus is fostered and developed through
my earlier clinical work, and is still strongly anchored in feminist
I was in my late 20s when I joined The Service. Its history is
four or five years long, depending on when you start telling the
story; I was a member for two years. In the mid 60s in the US,
the UK and Europe as you no doubt know, there was a great deal
of ferment within and among liberation movements; in particular
in the states, there was a burgeoning anti-war movement and the
beginnings of women's movement, the relatively more-established
civil rights movement, and organizing/action starting to appear
among students. Out of that political context, as well as through
the social/medical history of abortion and the history of medical
practice(s), the work of the Janes was generated.
In 1966, a college student in Chicago, a young woman who had gone
South for 'Mississippi Summer' to work on voter registration and
in Freedom Schools, got a phone call from a friend, who said that
her sister was pregnant, frantic, and didn't know what to do.
This young woman was able to find someone who would do the abortion,
despite the fact that it was illegal. Once word got around that
she knew how/where to find an abortionist, people kept on calling
her. Using the pseudonym Jane, short for Jane Doe, she began to
keep a list of abortionists and reports on their practice; she
gave out the phone numbers of those who were reported to be competent.
The number of people calling her grew and grew, and she reached
a point where she could not deal with demand on her own. So she
called a meeting, and a small group of women came together. First,
the group just had a list of those in the city who performed abortions.
As far as they knew, these people were reliable. As far as they
knew, no one on the list had 'botched' abortions, they did not
'come on' to the women they saw, and some of them could be bargained
with about money (abortion was very expensive, with prices ranging
between $500 and $2000).
Soon the referral service evolved into a counseling service and,
eventually, into a traveling underground clinic - and this, you
understand, was criminal activity. Women joined the service through
periodic orientation meetings, and learned the necessary tasks
from those who had come before them. Once their counseling skills
had been developed in new recruits, and the group had come to
trust them, they could learn more - doing everything from basic
record keeping to becoming a medic, one who performed abortions.
Ultimately, we learned to do abortions in all three trimesters.
Although we did only a handful in the third, as you may imagine,
there were many in the second, no doubt because illegality forced
women and girls to take so much time searching for abortionists
and saving up money. The methods that we learned, we primarily
learned from one man. He was not a doctor, but he was the best.
Once we understood that many of the people doing abortions at
that time were not doctors, we realized that we could do it too.
This would mean women would not have to be charged a lot of money,
could even come through the service free.
So we pressed this man to teach us, as he had been taught. He
was an extraordinary man in many ways, had been doing this work,
and maybe other illegal work, virtually all of his life. It's
important to note that anything illegal will ultimately generate
payments to the mob, so almost all abortionists were giving them
a cut, as well as paying off the police. Our man, because he didn't
live in Chicago, was always 'on the run', avoiding both the police
and the mob. He liked us because we would pick him up at the airport,
take him to one of our houses, and bring him work. You could say
he was our 'kept abortionist' -- and we were his main source of
We would bargain at the beginning, like urging him to do six abortions
for the price he usually charged, and then three for free. Abortionists
were charging between $500 and $2000 over 30 years ago. Hardly
anyone had that kind of money; the rich have always been able
to get abortions of course, but certainly not most people. So
we tried to get the price down as much as we could. 'Our' abortionist
liked us, thought we were cool (which we were!), and we liked
him, so it was a good arrangement all around. He eventually taught
one of us, and then let others watch.
Eventually, the one he had taught then taught others. We did not
have to send women to anyone else anymore, unless there was a
situation we felt we could not handle. (For example, lots of people
who came to us had already tried to abort in various ways, and
we could not take on people with the resultant complications.)
We were operating out of various apartments. We packed up our
equipment and used different places around the city. So we could
not deal with difficult cases. But all other abortions women needed,
we carried out ourselves.
I first heard about the service when in 1970 I thought I was pregnant.
As it turned out, that time I was not, but I had made the phone
calls, had been given the number and told to call and ask for
Jane. When I realized I was not pregnant, I called to say I could
be taken off the list. The woman I had spoken to - at some length,
both times - said she thought I sounded interested in what the
Janes were doing, and would I like to join up? In the Fall of
1970 I did that, and remained a member until the fall of 1972.
In those two years, I had two unusual experiences for a Jane.
First, I had a baby - on purpose - as did another Jane. Our pregnancies
led to major policy discussions about whether pregnant women should
keep working with the service. Other pregnant women previously
had decided not to, but we wanted to stay, and the group decided
this was a good idea. We essentially subscribed to the idea that
women should have babies when they want them , and abortions when
they need them. We conceptualized this thinking as a sort of motherhood
Second, I was one of the people arrested when we were busted.
It is very important to understand that the political climate
in those days was incredibly positive, both in the country at
large and in Chicago. I do not mean everywhere and everyone, but
there was a general climate which supported positive change: hence
Roe v Wade and other landmark events of that period. Chicago was
(still is) a heavily Catholic city, but even in that circumstance,
nobody messed with us! Everybody seemed to know what we were doing.
Police department employees came to us, police officers' wives,
daughters and mistresses came to us. Politicians' wives, daughters
and mistresses came to us (no local politicians were women in
those days, and virtually no police officers either). Our abortion
service was an open secret. In those days, like smoking dope.
prostitution and many other illegal activities, abortion was known
about and accepted.
The bust, therefore, was something of an accident. We generally
operated in neighborhoods where many local folks knew us. But
a sister-in-law of a woman who was coming through the service,
who knew the address for that one day, was a devout Catholic;
she called the police in her own neighborhood - which was not
a district where we generally worked. Abortion was classified
as homicide, so they sent the Homicide Squad. Those men apparently
didn't know anything about us. Seven women were working that day,
including me. We were all taken down to the station, as were all
the women waiting, the men waiting with them, and the children
too. There were about 45 people in all, from two apartments, the
'front' where people first came, and the 'place,' where we did
the abortions. Eventually the police arrested the seven of us.
Ultimately the case was dropped, however, since of course none
of the women who were there that day wanted to testify against
us, and the case stalled on until the Supreme Court's Roe decision.
I understand that you are interested in current abortion events
in the United States, so I'll talk a bit about that now. Almost
immediately afterward the Court's decision, anti-abortion groups
sprang up and started organising. They were very clever in their
approach, having learned a lot from progressive movements, especially
the Civil Rights movement. Their tactics were drawn directly from
mostly leftist, radical movement groups, and those tactics worked
just as well for this new, reactionary movement. Their earliest
successes were with State legislatures. Within 6-8 years after
1973, several states passed laws which disallowed abortion for
certain reasons, or were on their way to doing so. Examples of
negation or stalling tactics are requiring parental consent for
minors, or gestational limits on abortion, or waiting periods
once pregnancy has been verified and the decision has been made
How did this change come about, and why did the political climate
change so fast? There are four points to note: The first is what
I call the rise of 'the bad guys'. This is the anti-abortion movement,
both those who are overtly religious, and those who are not. The
majority in that movement are religion-driven. Both the Roman
Catholic Church and the Mormon Church are significant in the ongoing
structure and action of that movement, and both appear to be possessed
of virtually unlimited funds. So the anti-abortion movement has
major league money, some might say enough to buy whole state legislatures,
as well as to be effective in ways other than simply buying votes
and for lobbying - like mobilizing its proponents to inundate
merchants or media that appear to support women's reproductive
Second there is the power of the media. Primarily this is television,
and to a lesser extent radio, and a much lesser extent film. For
reasons we can only speculate about, the anti-abortion movement
has been perceived, and continues to be perceived in the US, as
news. Everything they do is news, and because of the power of
their organizing and money, they have had an enormous effect,
editorially, on the media over the past two decades.
Third, there is science, the technology of pregnancy. People can
now make fetuses live, keep them alive outside of a woman's body,
from far earlier in pregnancy than was ever imagined by us, thirty
years ago. Rapidly changes in medical technology have changed
pregnancy utterly. We can now watch babies growing, virtually
from the beginning of pregnancy, throughout their development;
one result of this is that women relate to the fetus quite differently
- primarily after the third or fourth month of course - in the
early weeks of fetal development (which is, ideally, when abortions
should be performed), the situation is quite different.
Fourth, there is the important central fact that abortion is a
woman's issue: it's all about the lives of women and children;
it's clearly related to female sexuality and women's autonomy;
it's an issue that was brought forward by feminist movement in
the USA. The anti-abortion movement is part of the powerful backlash
against women's liberation.
These four factors have combined to make the majority of political
elections at any level in the USA be decided (really, in great
numbers) according to the candidates' views on abortion - this
is true in elections ranging from school boards and library boards
to the federal government. The abortion vote is often measured
by the media and the pundits before military spending, even before
taxes. The question asked of candidates is: Where do you stand
on abortion? (sometimes coded as "a woman's right to choose" or
Moving from the situation in electoral politics to the sociopolitical
effect of anti-abortion activists, it's enormously important that
you know the following: many clinics in the US have been strenuously
picketed for 15 to 20 years; virtually all clinics where abortions
are performed have been picketed at least sporadically in that
time. The picketers are people who carry pictures of dismembered
fetuses, who thrust crucifixes into the faces of people attempting
to enter the clinics, thrust bibles in their faces and pray at
them. There is a lot of screaming, there've been scuffles over
the years and, on several occasions, violence. Clinics have been
bombed - resulting in serious injuries and deaths, clinic personnel
have been shot at, and abortion providers have been assassinated.
In the past, prior to the Roe decision, most doctors in the US
would not touch abortion. They were not moved by the needs of
women and children, nor were they interested in taking risks for
moral and political reasons. Now, a lot of doctors won't touch
abortion because, though their licenses are not at risk, their
lives are. And who can blame them? The most recent murder was
in the autumn of 1998, when Dr Barnet Slepian was assassinated
in a suburb of Buffalo, New York. He was the only doctor performing
abortions in the Buffalo metropolitan area. That's a big community,
equivalent perhaps to Birmingham or Liverpool.
Comments and Questions
Floor ; The picture you paint of the current situation
the US looks grim. Do you see any area where things could improve?
J: Yes and no. The extreme violence of the most dangerous
members of the anti-abortion movement has, I think, finally begun
to affect media representations of anti-abortion sentiment and
action, and public opinion as well. Most people don't like the
idea of doctors being gunned down by high-powered rifles in their
own homes. The screaming on the sidewalk, the waving of the bloody
fetus pictures did not have the same effect on the public. But
the extreme violence has made a difference. I think there is some
turning of the tide because of that.
Politically however, there is more power on this issue wielded
by the right than by the left or even the centrists in the US
at present. The man who may well be our next President, George
Dubya as we call him, is strongly anti-abortion. The public is
ignored on this issue by legislators, who get a lot of money and
support from the anti-abortion movement. Moreover, there has been,
as you may know, a heavily rightwing House of Representatives
for the past several years, and most of those folks have been
anti-abortion from the jump - they didn't need campaign contributions
to urge them to go that way.
Floor: How do young women get abortions? Are there illegal
J: I don't think there are as many underground abortionists
now as there were before Roe, though of course there are some
- there are always some to serve or exploit the very poor. But
women, doing what we did - I don't think so. Some women are saying
that we need to learn again, and soon, because abortion will be
totally against the law very shortly.
If laws and court decisions come to counteract Roe v Wade completely,
as has happened in some states, then I suppose that could happen.
But I don't think it has happened yet. What has happened is this
sort of thing: clinics and other organizations arranging for young
women, who feel they cannot tell their parents but live in a state
where parental consent is required, to be taken across state lines
to procure abortions. Some state laws are now being drafted to
make this illegal, but it is happening at present. However, for
very many young women this is impossible - mostly because even
finding out about such services is difficult, and there are so
few of them.
For women who are older, there is great expense, and often the
grief of going through the pickets. There is fear and shame, and
a great emotional burden. Now people are talking about abortion
pathologically, in terms of the psychology of women. Even those
women who do get abortions carry an onus that had been lessened
enormously by 1973 in the states, and is now back in a giant wave,
a cultural backlash of huge proportions.
In an interesting - and to my mind related - corollary, there
has been a rise in the numbers of women having babies in the states,
a 'mommy boom'. In part, this is happening because the medical
industry, eager to play with its new technology, is encouraging
women who might not have conceived without chemical interference
to have babies, and touting the 'right' of others, even women
in their 60s, certainly women in their 40s and 50s, to become
pregnant. Lots of people who did not choose to have babies in
the 1960's, 70's and early 80's, are now doing so.
Women in the states have bought this new mumsy package in great
numbers, almost as great as those in the post WWII "baby boom."
Some women are having babies because they are afraid of seeming
selfish, unfeminine, unnatural, or think they are missing a core
experience that they are somehow "meant" to have - yes, just as
if twentieth century women's political movement hadn't happened.
We had the three steps forward, now we're having the two steps
back. This cultural wave also makes abortion somewhat less likely
than it has been for three, maybe even four, decades.
Floor: Are there areas where it is not like that?
J: In the big cities, in areas where people have more education
and more money, things may be a bit different - and it's often
a question of class. But, generally, this is what's happening.
Even urban/urbane, single, financially successful, women are having
babies in their late thirties and forties. Even women with wealth
are now going to extreme measures to get babies, buying babies
from eastern Europe, Asia or Latin America, employing a surrogate,
or subjecting themselves to the chemical and surgical vagaries
of IVF - which is still essentially experimental. It's scary!
It's a bad time for women, in terms of the reality of motherhood
issues - and I'm speaking as a mother here, not only as an abortion
rights advocate. Of course there are still many women seeking
abortions, but abortion resources are so much scarcer that, ironically,
in the face of all this push to get pregnant and get babies, there
are still many women also have babies by default, or deliver and
give their babies away, or have late-stage abortions, procedures
that have greater potential for being difficult, even dreadful,
Think about this: 86 per cent of the counties in the US have no
abortion providers right now. This means women seeking abortion
services have to travel, pay more, and lose days of work. Abortion
is, in theory, available, because it's 'legal,' but hard to get,
even to find. One of the first backlash decisions following Roe
was that the federal government does not have to pay for Medicare
abortion, so poor women have to scramble for the money or bear
a child they can't afford to raise in good health. The insurance
of federal employees will not pay for abortion; this includes
military personnel, of course, and all of their dependants who
are female. And many states have other laws restricting abortion.
Individual clinics also tend not to take chances, so even where
there are not very restrictive laws, where perhaps a law is just
suggested or lobbied for, clinics will be cautious, and fewer
will offer abortion services.
Floor: There are a lot of techniques the anti-abortionists
have for attacking clinics. Not just bombs, but suing for negligence
against clinics, to try to bankrupt the doctor through legal means.
J: There are many, many tactics, and they are using all
Floor: Who are the women who ask you to teach them? What
resources are there to do this?
J: Usually college students. You don't need much (in the
way of resources) to do what we did. I don't know how many women
would be prepared in these times to do what the Janes did. There
weren't exactly droves even then, after all, when we were not
risking our lives. I think they may be motivated by what I call
the romance of the Janes. I would prefer to quash that. We were
risking a great deal, and sometimes thought about going to jail,
but this, now, is a totally different situation. I want them to
understand that they would be practicing medicine without a license
and would be taking terrible risks with the fanatics - all without
the unspoken positive sanctions that we had. We operated in a
supportive climate, one far more like the climate here in Britain,
around abortion. If the law is overturned, however, there may
be women who will do it. You may be sure I'll wish them well.
The only other group I have heard of who did what the Janes did
was in Rome in the 1970s. It is surprisingly easy, however. If
you take abortion out of the social, political and legal contextual
conversation, the actual doing of it is simple. You really do
not need much, as long as you have someone skilled to teach you.
Floor: What is the state of the law in the US at present?
J: It is different in every state, and sometimes within
states. There are very few abortion providers, few medical schools
teach it, and most doctors are afraid to do it anyway, or say
they disapprove. Beyond that, in terms of the law, it depends
on which state you live in. In my state, Oregon, you'd be in luck,
despite the fact that we have a periodically resurgent anti-abortion
movement. They move back and forth between attempting to bring
forward and pass referenda against gay people and against abortion
rights; at the moment they've not been successful in either endeavor,
but they sometimes come close, and fighting them is a lot of work.
But if you lived in Missouri, or Florida, you would be entirely
out of luck.
No state can outlaw abortion altogether, because of the Supreme
Court ruling, but they try to get as close as they can by finding
ways to restrict access, like a requirement for a waiting time
of one, two or three days between a positive pregnancy test and
initial contact with the clinic, and the operation itself. For
women who need to travel significant distances to a clinic or
private practitioner (and that's a lot of women because those
are so few providers), the time and money of that waiting period
is a significant barrier to abortion access. Say you live in Western
Montana and have two children and a job and the closest abortionist
is a whole day's travel - both for the initial visit and then
for the operation after the waiting period. You have to get time
off from work, you have to get child care, you have to have the
money to cover both of those, and you have to do it all twice.
Floor: It's very hard to imagine the situation you describe
living in Britain. One factor that makes the situations quite
different is the existence of the National Health Service in Britain,
and the protection it offers to those who practice abortion here.
If you practice as part of a service in obstetrics and gynaecology,
not just abortion, and in a hospital that provides a whole range
of services, you are much less exposed than in the US. Where an
individual doctor has to make a decision to set up his or her
own practice as an abortion doctor, the challenge and exposure
is much greater. You single yourself out in a way gynaecologists
don't have to here. It therefore perhaps is no surprise that most
abortion doctors in the US are over the age of 65. Few young doctors
want to take the risk. There is a similar trend here, where younger
doctors are also not opting enthusiastically for abortion work.
The reasons may be different though. It perhaps is not because
of the level of risk involved, but because abortion work is perceived
as boring, unchallenging and also unglamorous, compared say to
working in infertility, providing IVF.
J: That also is why in the past not many doctors in the
US got involved in abortion work, even in the first few years
after Roe when it was not so dangerous. Abortion - who wants to
do that? It's not disliked simply for moral and ethical reasons,
it's because it's simple, and it's about women. It is not like
brain surgery, or anything like the high-tech reproductive medicine
that can be done now.
Floor: The other point about Britain is the response to
attempts by extreme anti-abortion activists like Operation Rescue.
When they tried to come to the UK they were kept out, under order
from the Home Secretary, and refused admission.
Floor: There are other approaches taken by the anti-abortion
movement here however. I used to live near to a Marie Stopes clinic
in Brixton, and close to it a board was put up which said 'Pregnant?
Worried? Come in and talk'. This gave directions to an anti-abortion
Floor: That is a tactic imported from the US.
Chair: There are some anti-abortion counselling centres
set up with American money, where women are misinformed particularly
about the health risks of abortion. I wanted to ask a question
about the ethics of abortion. You said you had become interested
in this aspect, but what do you think has most changed in this
area in the last 30 years?
J: I think there is a need for us to talk more about what
it is we are doing, when we carry out or support abortion. We
- in the states - have dealt heavily, up to now, in euphemism.
I think one of the reasons why the 'good guys' - the people in
favor of abortion rights - lost a lot of ground is that we have
been unwilling to talk to women about what it means to abort a
baby. We don't ever talk about babies, we don't ever talk about
what is being decided in abortion. We never talk about responsibility.
The word 'choice' is the biggest euphemism. Some use the phrases
'products of conception' and 'contents of the uterus,' or exchange
the word 'pregnancy' for the word 'fetus.' I think this is a mistake
tactically and strategically, and I think it's wrong. And indeed,
it has not worked - we have lost the high ground we had when Roe
My objection here is not only that we have lost ground, but also
that our tactics are not good ones; they may even constitute bad
faith. It is morally and ethically wrong to do abortions without
acknowledging what it means to do them. I performed abortions,
I have had an abortion and I am in favour of women having abortions
when we choose to do so. But we should never disregard the fact
that being pregnant means there is a baby growing inside of a
woman, a baby whose life is ended. We ought not to pretend this
is not happening. That pretence has allowed the anti-abortion
people to hold the high-ground only because we never talk about
it! When they talk about the life of the baby, we talk about the
life of the woman. This is a big mistake, not a useful or even
accurate way to frame the situation. In this scenario, the decision
is a contest: a woman's life against a baby's life. And when she
aborts, then of course she is just a heartless, selfish bitch
again - just as the anti-feminist mother-blamers and woman-haters
have always said.
In my view that is not what is going on in abortion. If we ignore
or avoid discussing the reality of abortion, then when women and
girls want to think about what it means, we have no vocabulary
to do so. We are told it's just an operation, a simple procedure,
but there is no emotional content to the conversation. In the
clinics, having an abortion is sometimes compared to going to
a dentist. There is no discussion of, and no acceptance of, what
is actually being done when the choice is made, when the responsibility
to abort is accepted.
Floor: Do you think that is why groups like Project Rachel,
which aims to counsel women after abortion about the impact it
has on their minds have set up? Maybe they are the only people
out there who are tackling this issue.
J: Yes, I agree with that. I don't know about that particular
group. I believe that the pathologising of abortion, the creation
of a Post-Abortion Syndrome - even by well-meaning psychologists
- is one result of this. I think abortion belongs in the same
context as assisted suicide, euthanasia, even war and domestic
self-defense - all situations that require the taking of life
with moral, ethical knowledge and acceptance of responsibility.
Floor: Post-Abortion Syndrome originated as part of an
anti-abortion strategy where the movement tries to present itself
as concerned with women's health. Project Rachel is a Catholic
organisation that exists to do that. There are number of different
counselling organisations that exist to counsel women who they
suggest, are suffering from this Syndrome. In England we have
similar organisations, which base their activities on those set
up in the US, for example British Victims of Abortion, which is
modeled on American Victims of Abortion, and LIFE counselling
My difficulty with the issue is not a disagreement with your representation
of what has changed. With regard to women's experience of abortion,
I think a shift has taken place where in the mid-1970s, abortion
for a significant section of women was thought of through the
prism of women's rights, and a positive assertion of independence
and freedom. Now that context has gone, women are likely to experience
abortion as an individual dilemma, shaped by the ethical and moral
arguments around abortion. These focus on the 'unborn child',
a phrase which was not popularised in the late 1960s in Britai
J: They have created the language, and we have to struggle
Floor: The difficulty is that while on the one hand we
can understand that abortion is experienced differently than in
the past, and is difficult for many women who choose to abort.
However, what conclusions do we draw from this? First this does
not, to my mind change the ethical issues that are at stake. The
fetus is no more of a person than it was in 1970, just because
it may be perceived that way. The issue rather is how we explain
that to people, in a convincing way. Second, does the fact that
women can find abortion difficult to decide on, and dwell on their
decision afterwards, mean that we should respond in this in some
way, by for example providing more counselling for women? I don't
believe that it does.
J: Neither do I. I don't think we should be talking about
trauma or psychological risk. However I do think we should be
asking women, "What does this mean for you?" This attitude comes
out of the counseling I learned in 1970. "Have you thought about
why you want to do this? Do you take responsibility for this?"
We - the Janes - could be clear about responsibility, partly because
we were deliberately committing a crime. We could say, you are
in this with us; we are committing this criminal act together.
You, your mother who brought you to us, your boyfriend who is
sitting here with you; it's you and us, together. That was excellent
education - giving women a sense of collaborating with and being
supported by others and acting with the knowledge, the understanding,
that this action, this decision, is their right.
We don't have that context now, but we can still talk about what
we are all doing. When it was made legal, the women who came to
abortionists became clients, as opposed to women who needed abortions
coming to other women who could help them. We need to talk about
how to change how we represent, offer and perform abortion, pay
attention to what now dominates women's experiences with the medical
industry, particularly the technology around pregnancy, like ultrasound.
We have to accept that women are relating to fetuses differently.
The relationship we all have to fetuses is in rapid transition
Floor: I was thinking about how to make the strongest argument
for abortion. I think using images of starving children might
be the best. Abortion will always be necessary, but how do we
make this more acceptable?
Floor: Surely the outcome of that approach is to make the
case less woman centred. Surely the child is really irrelevant
to the issue. We have services for children, to look after when
once born. This is about abortion services, and what women need.
Floor: It is tempting to talk about wanted children, but
I think the focus should be because that is what women want, rather
than to move the emphasis entirely over to the needs of the child.
Floor: Then you almost inevitably end up with a polarised
debate between women's rights and children.
Floor: In terms of public opinion, we should note that
the vast majority of Americans are happy with what the law says
at present. Polls in America, regardless of the merits of the
pro-life or pro-choice positions, show that the vast majority
are happy with the situation that exists. That is to say, Roe
v. Wade still stands, but states are allowed to introduce their
own legislation. It is 10 per cent of people who are pro-life,
and 10 per cent who are pro-choice who are on the extremes. What
you are arguing for is either a change in the American political
system or for different Americans!
Chair: My own view, talking as someone who works for an
abortion provider, would certainly be to separate any future problems
a child might encounter from the abortion request. Most women
who come for abortion do not want to be pregnant, and that is
the issue. The argument should be that women should be able to
enjoy sex without the consequences of unwanted pregnancy. We should
be able to just talk about abortion as a practical, medical issue.
Floor: That would be to suggest that having an abortion
doesn't have consequences.
J: I think that we can talk about the issues of abortion
and the lives of children at the same time. We can talk about
the life of a woman who is deciding whether she wants to make
a new person and raise that person. We do not have to split those
questions or their answers off from each other. I definitely do
want to talk about the fact that when you are pregnant, there
is a baby growing inside of you. I think the quality of life of
children is important, more important than the dubious value of
simply being alive. We can say women need to decide, once pregnant
inadvertently, whether to have the child, and one of issues that
they need to consider is whether they want to make a person, raise
it for 18 years, and throughout that time be emotionally, financially,
spiritually responsible for it. That is the situation, the question,
which is raised for a woman by pregnancy. Do I want a baby? a
woman thinks; what would happen if I had this baby? what would
happen if I didn't have this baby, if I aborted it? what would
happen if I gave it away?
Floor: But if we use the image of the starving child, the
implication is that abortion can be used to prevent women having
children in certain circumstances, and this is about population
J: I absolutely agree that we should be careful with our
language, our meaning, even our graphics. It is a complex issue.
The young American women I have encountered, and those asked in
surveys, are now starting to say something they never used to
say in the 60s and 70s. Now they say 'I think abortion should
be legal, but I could never have one'. This reminds me of when
women used to say of rape, 'How could she let that happen to her?
I would never let that happen to me'. We learned fairly quickly,
once we began to study rape, that that response is not only unkind,
but deeply ignorant of the reality of rape. But with abortion,
something has changed the other way, gone backwards, so to speak.
A US generation has grown up in a context where abortion is a
negative word. Granted, abortion was never a jolly subject, but
simply thinking and talking about abortion is once again something
people do not want to do, something fraught with guilt and fear
and shame. This is because they have learned to think simply about
abortion - they think only that abortion is 'a bad thing.' They
do not identify with the struggle for it, or with the need for
it. That has all been minimized in these past three decades, proving
(yet again) that what Ida B. Wells-Barnett said to the American
public about lynching just about a hundred years ago, is still
true: Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.