Guest post by Josh Spokes: This is not an in loco parentis relationship

Josh posted this on Facebook yesterday and I demanded permission to post it here and he gave in.

I don’t like the message, “Trust women to make their healthcare decisions,” many organizations are using. This is not about trust. The idea of “trust” has nothing to do with the anti-choice measures. It’s not that antis don’t “trust” women to “make the best decisions.” This is not an in loco parentis relationship where the antis genuinely have the best interests of their charges at heart.

1. Women are not their charges. 2. They don’t care about women being “trustworthy.” They don’t want women to have options. That’s it.

They want to take the ability away from women to have rights over their body. That’s it. That’s all. This “trust women” message concedes too much. There is NO situation in which the antis could “trust” a woman to “make the right decision.”

And it concedes illegitimate authority. Why are you asking authoritarians to “trust” women? Why are you *asking* them anything? This is typical liberal politics: concede things that shouldn’t be conceded, even rhetorically. Then act like being “nice” will work.

How do women feel about this? I can tell you I’d be fucking FURIOUS with a gay advocacy group saying to Republicans, “Trust gays to make the right decisions.” Words matter. Tone matters. Rhetorically conceding to an enemy an illegitimate form of power contributes to the very problem we fight.

Antis aren’t sitting around saying, “OK. I’ll trust her. If she’s really trustworthy and decides on an abortion, then I’m satisfied.” Come the fuck on.



  1. Athywren says

    Of course, if we’re trusting women to make the right decisions, why do we need to give them choices? Huh? We’re already trusting that they’ll make the right choice, so why not just make that the immutable default?

  2. quixote says

    Brilliant! I’m huge on framing and stupidly conceding ground, but all I’d really noticed was that for some reason I hated that “trust women” BS. You got it. It’s not about trust. It’s about rights. Exactly.

  3. Forbidden Snowflake says

    I liked the message because it made me unpack to myself the thing that has been bothering me about the “trust” lingo:
    (as I said on Twitter)
    “Trust” implies that you could let me down, but I have faith that you won’t. The possibility of you letting me down by not Doing The Right Thing is acknowledged as a real possibility. And of course, that you can let me down (or not) implies that I have a stake in your decision and the right to pass judgment on it. Which is clearly wrong.
    Another thing about the “trust” narrative is that it’s vulnerable to stories of women who made decisions that the subject finds distasteful, or women who themselves regret their abortions. Because duh, when people fuck up, trust in them is naturally eroded. The “none of your business” narrative, on the other hand, does not have this weakness.

  4. says

    We have this conversation on Twitter a bunch, don’t we? 😛

    Why is the “official liberal” position always to concede almost everything, and then try to skate by on irrelevant technicalities? With abortion it is “We concede that abortion is horrible and shouldn’t happen, BUT sometimes it is medically necessary and we should trust women and their doctors.” For birth control, the technicality is the same with the implication that just enjoying sex isn’t really valid. For gay rights, instead of defending people’s rights there’s the “born that way loophole” to avoid the argument completely. Hell, we even see that in more trivial shit like atheism, where there the whole “lack of belief” dodge trotted out by people who should know better.

    In all these cases, what we’re looking at is a kind of moral cowardice in place of a firm defense of liberal principles. The amount of abortions should be exactly the number that matches the number of people who want one. If someone is on birth control because they’re having weekly Internet PPV gangbangs, that’s fine and their insurance should cover it the same way it covers aspirin and emergency room visits. If someone makes the conscious decision to become gay just to piss off their parents, we should be just as cool with it as if we had built perfect gaydar. It is NECESSARY for us to defend the basic right of people to live their lives without having busybody third parties sticking their noses into it. And that defense must be absolute and not begrudging, and without using weasel words and half-measures to validate the people who fight to take away rights.

  5. karmacat says

    A better way to say this is: “Why don’t you trust women to make decisions for themselves?” or “Do you really think a woman hasn’t thought about all her options before she goes to planned parenthood?” Putting the onus of explanation back on the people limiting women’s rights. Of course, what I really want to say is “as a celibate bachelor male dressed in robes, what makes you think you can ever know what it is like to be pregnant, to have children, to worry about how to feed them. Why are you insulting women this way?”

  6. Forbidden Snowflake says

    A better way to say this is: “Why don’t you trust women to make decisions for themselves?” or “Do you really think a woman hasn’t thought about all her options before she goes to planned parenthood?”

    I get what you’re trying to do, but… There’s always a story up someone’s sleeve about some girl who had, like, seven abortions (which is supposed to be bad for some reason), or regretted her abortion, or actually didn’t think about all her options. There’s always a counterexample, because some people have bad luck, or actually are at least sometimes foolish/irresponsible. The point is that this shouldn’t matter. Saying that women as a collective surely fulfill the respectability requirements for having control of their own bodies doesn’t help when the point is that there shouldn’t be respectability requirements.

  7. says


    I have been grinding away at this for years.


  8. says

    @ Improbable Joe

    “We concede that abortion is horrible and shouldn’t happen, BUT

    Where is the concession that anencephaly is beyond question an appropriate candidate for late term abortion? Why do these controlling fucks never, ever admit certain conditions indeed call for termination of pregnancy?

    …”we should trust women and their doctors.”

    What does this mean? Since when are third parties privy to a discussion between women and their doctors? The arrogance of these people who interject themselves into private life choices is beyond the pale. Wherever did they get the notion that they and their gods get a say in other peoples medical decisions?

  9. screechymonkey says

    Improbable Joe @4:

    Why is the “official liberal” position always to concede almost everything, and then try to skate by on irrelevant technicalities?

    I don’t agree that they are irrelevant technicalities. They’re only irrelevant if someone has already accepted the broader argument. But since we’re talking about persuasion, then you can’t assume that — in many contexts, you’re trying to convince the undecideds.

    And for better or worse, in my experience most people don’t form coherent ideologies. They just support whatever sounds “reasonable” to them and oppose whatever doesn’t. And so you have people who insist that of course they don’t think government should endorse religion, but who get upset at hearing that there won’t be a nativity scene at City Hall this Christmas, or prayers at the public high school graduation, because, come on, that’s just being unreasonable. Or they support free speech, but you know, not that particular kind of speech that they find inappropriate.

    And I disagree that this is a liberal thing. We’re keenly attuned to it because we follow the wingnuts, but for the most part anti-choicers try to gloss over the anti-sex, anti-birth control aspects of their movement. Look at how anti-choicers frame their arguments: they’re all about showing pictures of second- and third-trimester fetuses, and talking about “babies,” even though they oppose abortion even at the earlier, zygote stage. They make arguments about women having abortions for the “wrong” reasons, meaning reasons that the general public will find unpalatable, even though the hard-core movement opposes abortion for any reason. They get annoyed when they’re asked questions about pregnancies from rape and incest precisely because they know their position on those doesn’t play well with the mushy middle.

    But I agree with you that not everyone needs to limit themselves to arguments that are carefully framed for the mushy middle. Somebody needs to make the broader argument about absolute rights rather than cherrypicking the easy cases. Just like with atheism: I’m fine with the nice, soft-spoken atheists who never say anything bad about religion, as long as they’re not telling the rest of us to shut up.

    And sometimes the broader argument succeeds where the narrowly tailored one fails. Marijuana legalization is gathering steam now based on the broader, rights-based argument, not the narrow (and often, in my opinion, disingenuous*) argument about medical marijuana. I hear about movements in other states to follow Washington and Colorado’s lead, but not California’s.

  10. says


    I think you’re mistaken about the ability to sway some mythical “mushy middle”, especially when people insist on mushy arguments. If one side makes a bold absolute statement, and the other side kind of agrees with that bold statement and tries to soften it with a few exceptions, the bold side wins by default since BOTH sides are accepting their basic premises. If you’ve got one person saying something, and their “opponent” accepts what their saying as kind of true sometimes, you’ve got two people saying kind of the same thing.

    People respect strong, unambiguous statements of support for a viewpoint. They don’t respect wishy-washy “nuanced” POVs that are spoken by people who don’t seem to be very committed to their own position.

  11. says

    …”we should trust women and their doctors.”

    To be honest, I’ve long hated the “and their doctors” bit as well. It seems to call up an image of a male doctor, despite the fact that many (if not the majority of – I have no idea) OB-GYNs today are women, paternalistically guiding the woman’s decision. It reminds me of countries where a doctor has to declare that continuing with an unwanted pregnancy would be psychologically burdensome for a woman to get an abortion. As I see it, in the best case doctors should honestly provide medical information while showing an understanding of a patient’s suffering and sometimes difficult choices, but I see no reason doctors should be presumed to be involved with the decisions themselves.

  12. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    1. Joe, that’s a great response. I agree completely. Well-written.

    2. ScreechyMonkey—this is a case where I think there is *no* upside at all to framing this for the mushy middle. I think attempting to placate that set is itself a tactical mistake. This has to be forceful. Yes, it will alienate some people. That’s fine. They’re not helping anyway.

    Are you saying that you disagree with my observation that liberals frequently use these tactics? That is, conceding things implicitly or explicitly because they keep expecting that, contrary to all of known history, their opponents will suddenly become reasonable if they’re coddled enough?

    I’d find it surprising if that is what you’re disagreeing with. I sure see a lot of it on the left.

  13. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    SC-YES YES YES about the “and their doctors.” It’s part of the same rotten dynamic.

  14. screechymonkey says

    Improbable Joe @10,

    I don’t think it’s necessarily an issue of bold vs. mushy. It’s about — pardon the use of the word — framing the question. There’s a reason why public opinion polling is so sensitive to how the question is worded, even on issues that have been debated so loudly and long that you would think people have well-formed views that aren’t that easily tweaked.

    But if you ask people “should a well-off 30-year-old married woman be allowed to abort her baby six months into her pregnancy because she’s worried about getting stretch marks and changed her mind about having a baby?” you get a different result than if you ask “should a 13-year-old girl who was raped by her grandfather and is now two weeks pregnant be able to terminate the pregnancy if her parents agree to it and her doctor believes her health would be in serious danger if she was forced to carry to term?” I’m sure I’m not telling you anything you don’t know there.

    Anti-choicers want to fool the public into thinking that abortion rights are mostly about protecting the woman who could easily have a baby but changed her mind for what many would regard as superficial reasons. And while I think she should have that right, and that if forced to argue the issue I would defend her right, it’s politically dumb to get stuck in that argument. Just as the anti-choicers know it’s dumb to get stuck in an argument where they’re demanding a 13-year-old rape and incest victim risk her health.

    That’s not being mushy, it’s choosing your battleground and putting your most persuasive arguments forward. You can do that boldly.

  15. says


    I think this is where we differ: “That’s not being mushy, it’s choosing your battleground and putting your most persuasive arguments forward.”

    I don’t agree with that, because what it seems like to me is allowing the other side to pick the battlefield, and then you pick a single hill to defend while letting them have the rest of it. I say that we should stand firm that “don’t want stretchmarks” is a perfectly fine reason to have an abortion. Once you concede that some “choices” aren’t really valid, you’ve validated the anti-abortion crowd’s belief that they get to judge other people and control their bodies accordingly.

  16. screechymonkey says

    Josh and Joe,

    I think it depends on the context of the argument.

    In a political campaign, especially when there’s a ballot proposition in an upcoming election, or a bill before a state legislature, you use every argument you’ve got. And that means targeting the mushy voters who, as much as you or I don’t like it, are ok with some abortions but not all. I’d rather win the vote and prevent a restrictive law from being passed than lose the vote and have women actually lose their rights. I think you can and should still frame your arguments in a way that doesn’t concede ground — you can acknowledge that yes, you do support the right to choose in all situations, but then you steer the discussion back to more favorable ground, you don’t let the discussion be dominated by the less popular aspects.

    In a more ongoing, general culture war sense, yes, I agree that you want to argue the general principles and change the long-term picture.

    And Josh, it’s probably true that, once you get away from the abortion context (where I think both sides are engaging in framing), liberals probably do water down their arguments and play to the middle more often… because they kind of have to! The precise numbers vary from year to year, but overall polling shows that on average, only about 20% of the population identifies as “liberal,” compared to 40% “conservative” and the other 40% “moderates.” Now, a lot gets lost in those general labels, but as a general proposition, conservatives have a much easier time winning on any issue — they can focus on rallying their 40% base and just getting a slice of the moderates, whereas liberals have to win over the bulk of the moderates to prevail on any given issue.

    I suspect you’ll say, “but how do we change those 20/40/40 numbers if we never make the strong principled arguments?” and I agree. But you’ve got to win some battles along the way, too.

  17. says

    Everything I know about politics tells me that there’s not that many “mushy” voters, they don’t make a damned bit of difference come election day. So tailoring your message so that it appeals to a narrow few people who probably won’t vote, while de-energizing your base and giving fuel to your opponents AND the media who supports them is political suicide.

  18. Blanche Quizno says

    ”we should trust women and their doctors.”

    Yes, well, given that most doctors are men, I suppose I can give them my permission. Provided they don’t give me any reason to take it back. Yes, dears, by all means. Make a decision. And make sure it’s the *right* one.

  19. quixote says

    The other thing about a clear statement of rights is it would appeal *more* to reasonable people than the mush version. One side: we claim the right to force pregnancies on women. Other side: we say adults have the right to make their own medical decisions.

    (No, it doesn’t matter what you believe about the legal personhood of the fetus. Nothing gives anyone the right to requisition life support, even if they unequivocally are a legal person.)

    Personally, I’m convinced the reason Dems can’t say that loud and clear is because too many of them don’t see women as “real” human beings, any more than the Repubs do.

  20. Pierce R. Butler says

    Josh @ # 12: I sure see a lot of it on the left.

    Have you by chance been reading Tom Sharpe’s Porterhouse Blue, from which I extracted the following?

    ‘I have yet to meet a liberal who can withstand the attrition of prolonged discussion of the inessentials…’

    ‘We must not appear too inflexible. An appearance of openmindedness has in my experience a tendency to disarm the radical left. They seem to feel the need to reciprocate. I’ve often wondered why but it has worked to keep the country on the right lines for years.’

  21. karmacat says

    I think what has helped the LGBT community make progress is that more open they are about their sexuality, the more other people realize that they are not so different from them. It is easier to hate a vague idea than to hate your co-worker, your neighbor, etc. It may be helpful if both men and women talk about how contraceptives and abortion have helped them. I wish people would just listen to women but given the culture, people tend to listen men more. certainly we should take the shame out of contraceptives and abortion

  22. karmacat says

    The religious right are always claiming abortion is a selfish decision. Most women have abortions because they know they can’t provide a child a healthy and poverty free life. I know these people will just claim that people should just manage. I think there was an increase in abortions with the recession. Nobody wants to see their children go hungry.

  23. qwints says

    I like the phrase “trust women” because I find it gets anti-choicers to explicitly state that they don’t. The point is not to persuade the anti-choicers to change their minds, but to show the anti-choice sympathizers (who, at least in my state, we desperately need to keep abortion legal) just how extremely anti-women the anti-choice position is.

    I also think opposition to the phrase dramatically underestimates how little autonomy is actually afforded to patients in the US in other areas of health care. The argument that a person’s right to health care is absolute everywhere besides healthcare is ludicrous in the face of private (insurance companies) and public (governmental) incursions into how health care is provided. That said, I think the argument for bodily autonomy still needs to be made, and there is plenty of ‘moderate’ pro-choice language (e.g. ‘safe, legal and rare) that deserves to be criticized. I just don’t think that ‘trust women’ falls into the category.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *