Blog Posts

Equality for women cannot depend on abortion

Braver Angels, an organization dedicated to facilitating discussion on difficult and divisive issues, held a debate on December 2 titled Resolved: Women’s Equality Requires Access to Abortion.

All Our Lives, of course, stands in opposition to this resolution. Although time limits prevented reading it fully, this was co-founder Jen Roth’s statement.

Support for the affirmative position in this debate is more commonly associated with the left. But—and I’m coming at this more from the left side myself—I think there is an inconsistency in this position.

In general, the left is more aware of the economic and social pressures that can constrain decisions that are supposedly free. For instance, economic libertarians argue that minimum wage laws, for instance, are anti-worker because employers would create more jobs if they didn’t have to pay more than they think a job is worth. Thus, they say, these laws actually prevent people who would rather have a $3/hour job than no job from getting them.

But a leftist would argue that the person working in dangerous conditions or for poverty wages isn’t doing that because they’ve made a free choice among multiple viable options. They’re doing it because they need money to live and thus don’t really have much of a choice. That’s why leftists argue for minimum wage laws, worker protections, universal basic income and other measures that mean workers don’t have to make that choice. To someone on the left, never having to make a choice between a bad job and starvation is fundamental to a pro-worker society. I believe that this analysis should also be applied to abortion.

There’s another comparison I could make. Before I start, I would ask participants to remember that, no matter what their own views are, the idea of having an abortion is repugnant to many women because they see it as killing a human being. With that in mind, suppose a woman were required to have sex with her boss or landlord to keep her job or afford her housing. Would we consider justice done if we secured her right to do so? Would anyone be referring to this as economic justice? Of course not, because even if the woman might otherwise be interested in sleeping with that person, it should never be a requirement. I hope we would never say that the right of a woman to participate in society is dependent on whether she can sleep with a person who has power over her. I hope anyone would be enraged at the suggestion that their rights are contingent on that. But we hear over and over that abortion is needed because, for instance, poor women won’t be able to get out of poverty without it—and that’s supposed to be pro-woman.

There’s a reason that major corporations and Hollywood are tripping over themselves to prove how committed they are to abortion, and it’s not because they’re feminist. It’s because it’s a whole lot more money and trouble to pay for parental leave and deal with getting a temporary replacement for a worker on leave and provide for nursing moms and change shooting schedules to accommodate a pregnant actress.

When I hear someone say that equality requires abortion, it doesn’t sound like a call to liberation. It sounds like despair. It sounds like giving up.