Reproductive Rights Advocates Speak Out in New York City
Pro-Choicers Need To Talk About Morals.
The voices that are strongest on reproductive rights often falter when it comes to the cultural dialogue. At least part of this absence is because so many of the pro-choice movement’s leaders and funders are secular and civic in their orientation, awkwardly uncomfortable with the moral and spiritual dimension of the conversation, or, for that matter, even with words like moral and spiritual. From language that seems moderately wise–Who decides?–we fall back on “safe, legal and rare” (a questionable effort to please everyone) or even the legal jargon of the “right to privacy.”
The other side talks about murdering teeny, weeny babies and then mind-melds images of ultrasounds and Gerber babies with faded photos of later abortions. And we come back by talking about privacy?? Is that like the right to commit murder in the privacy of your own home or doctor’s office? Even apart from the dubious moral equivalence, let’s be real: In the age of Facebook and Twitter, is there a female under 25 in who gives a rat’s patooey about privacy, let alone thinks of it as a core value?
The right to privacy may work in court. But it is a proxy for much deeper values at play. Privacy simply carves out space for individual men and women to wrestle with those values. In the court of public opinion, it is the underlying values that carry the conversation.
Far too often those who care most about the lives of women and children and the fabric of life on this planet limit themselves to legal and policy fights. Fifty years ago, reproductive rights activists took the abortion fight to the courts and won, and they have kept that focus ever since. But the legal fight has drawn energy away from the broader conversation. And the emphasis on “privacy” has meant that even the most powerful stories that best illustrate our sacred values are too often kept quiet.
My friend Patricia offers a single reason for her passionate defense of reproductive care that includes abortion: Every baby should have its toes kissed.
If life is precious and helping our children to flourish is one of the most precious obligations we take on in life, then being able to stop an ill-conceived gestation is a sacred gift.
Whether or not we are religious, deciding whether to keep or terminate a pregnancy is a process steeped in spiritual values: responsibility, stewardship, love, honesty, compassion, freedom, balance, discernment.
But how often do we hear words like these coming from pro-choice advocates?— Valerie Tarico, “Abortion as a Blessing, Grace, or Gift: Changing the Conversation on Reproductive Rights and Moral Values”
Claire Underwood’s Abortion in ‘House of Cards’
The writers of House of Cards reveal the complexity of sharing an abortion story and illustrate how abortion stigma, defying maternal expectations, and the decision to speak publicly all affect Claire. This is a new narrative for audiences, and one that’s reflective of reality. Many characters with a history of abortion have been cast as feeling guilty and depressed as a result of the abortion itself, which research shows is not accurate. Instead of seeing Claire act out of shame—internalizing and accepting that she is bad for making her choices, as society would have her believe—she’s shown as a woman who was confident in her decision to seek abortion care, reflective in her choice to share, and navigating a world that she knows disapproves.
“Well I can’t use the real reason,” she explains to her communications director before telling the interviewer that she had an abortion. “The first two, I was a teenager. And I was reckless.” Claire later notes that her third abortion was with her husband and was indeed the one the reporter brought up in the interview.
Claire recognizes that viewers might judge her decision to seek an abortion, especially with how society views, and shames, “promiscuous” teen girls. She feels she must handle the situation, yet stay true to her empowered choices. Ultimately, Claire and her communications director think it “best” to falsely claim she only had one abortion, the result of a rape she survived in college. Claire’s uneasy yet calculated decision to lie minimizes her risk of attack from outsiders who may not understand her situation.
“Claire’s behavior here is called ‘stigma management’—she’s making deliberate decisions about what information about her abortions to disclose, and what information to keep to herself,” says Sea Change Deputy Director Steph Herold. “This is a rational, understandable response to living in a world where the predominant expectation for people who have abortions is to feel ashamed and keep silent.”