The XX Factor

Gestation Is a Life-Changing Experience for Women

Francis Kissling has an article in Salon today discussing the strategies of the “new pro-lifers.” These men and women (though they’re mostly men) have shifted the focus away from making abortion illegal. Their movement seeks to make bearing and raising children easier, and reducing abortion that way. It almost sounds reasonable to pro-choice Kissling, except for one thing: Making bearing children “easier” doesn’t acknowledge how gestation can change a woman’s life. According to Kissling, the new pro-lifers barely acknowledge the difficulties of childbirth:

It denies the reality that even in modern Western culture, in the high-tech U.S., every woman who agrees to be pregnant still risks dying if the pregnancy goes awry. But the new anti-abortionists want to use their rosy view of pregnancy as the frame for public policy, and that is where they become indistinguishable from the old anti-abortion movement. For both groups, women are passive participants in gestation. They are the Tupperware containers in which children grow. “Left alone,” anti-abortionists say, “the fetus will develop and be born into the world.” Left alone? The development of the fetus into a baby is not a mere matter of geography. It is governed by what philosopher Maggie Little of Georgetown University describes as the “actions and resources of an autonomous agent.” That includes the woman’s “blood, hormones, her energy, all resources that could be going to other of her bodily projects.”

What’s more, many of the new pro-lifers don’t support efforts to bring contraception to women who don’t have access to it. Though it feels like both sides in the abortion battle are waging wars of attrition at this point, the issue is likely to come back in a big way in the next few months as the administration’s new health plan is debated. White House budget director Peter Orszag told the New York Times that he couldn’t say whether tax dollars would fund abortion under the new plan. “I am not prepared to say explicitly that right now. It’s obviously a controversial issue, and it’s one of the questions that is playing out in this debate,” Orszag said.

Photograph by Getty Images.