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Damned if you do and also if you don’t

About the author
zohra moosa is Women’s Rights Advisor at ActionAid.

hanger picture, pro-choice

The many contradictions of anti-abortion arguments serve only to reinforce to me the extent to which the anti-choice agenda is actually about undermining women's right to have control over what happens to their bodies.

Take the argument that anti-abortion is about being pro-life put forth by the Catholic Church or the government of Nicaragua. In August Amnesty International, after two years debating the issue, took the decision to

'support access to abortion for women in cases of rape, incest or violence, or where the pregnancy jeopardises a mother's life or health'.


In response, the Vatican asked all Catholics to boycott the organization, likening abortion to murder. As Cath Elliot points out this effectively means that the Catholic Church values a woman's present life less than the potential life of the unborn. I fail to see how condemning a woman who is currently alive to death-by-childbirth is pro-life. Forcing such a woman to term in full knowledge that it will kill her is anti-life just as surely as asking her to sit on a ticking bomb is.

In Nicaragua, 82 women have already added their lives to the evidence on this truth. María de Jesús González felt forced to take on the almost certain rock (death by backstreet abortion) in a desperate attempt to avoid the increasingly certain hard place (death by ectopic pregnancy). Her gamble didn't pay off and she died a terrible - and completely avoidable - death anyway. Is this what pro-lifers in Nicaragua were hoping for?

Another argument put forth by the anti-choice lobby is that abortions are, irresponsibly, being used by women as a form of birth control. What options exist for Catholic women where the Church forbids contraception? More importantly, as it take a man to get a woman pregnant, if no contraception is used during sex, isn't it the man who is relying on abortion as a form of birth control? After all, it's the man's sperm that is the catalysing agent. Surely he should be responsible for neutralizing its effects. The placing of responsibility for preventing pregnancy solely on the woman echoes the burden of responsibility placed on women in preventing rape. As Heather Corinna explains, this is ludicrously illogical. The fact that women can help mitigate the outcome should not mean that they ought to take responsibility for said outcome. Moreover, in many instances, men actually undermine women's abilities to use contraception - what options do women have to prevent unwanted pregnancies in this case?

Obviously I am not suggesting that the two scenarios (rape and sex) are inter-changeable; part of the decision to have consensual sex should include some thought to the potential impacts precisely because it is a choice that is actively made. I am merely attempting to highlight how women are made responsible for (hetero)sexuality where men, who are intimately involved, are not.

The pro and anti-choice lobbies need not always be at odds with each other. Women have abortions when their pregnancy is unwanted. Anti-choice campaigners who do not want abortions also, presumably, don't want unwanted pregnancies. Why then aren't more anti-choice efforts directed at preventing unwanted pregnancies - the cause - rather than the end product of abortions - the symptom instead of attacking women for:

  • Using contraception (Catholic Church)
  • Not using contraception (instead of dealing with why it wasn't used)
  • Taking back control over their bodies when something they don't want to happen starts happening

Towards this end, may I suggest we bring men back into the picture on sexuality and pregnancy by putting more resources into something they can take responsibility for: the male pill.

Photo by Lodigs, shared under a Creative Commons license

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