Simon talks to Katha

Simon Davis interviews Katha Pollitt for VICE on the launch of her new book saying why abortion is a good thing.

It’s not surprising that many people who don’t want to see all abortion clinics shut down have bought into a few of the assumptions of the pro-life movement. The result is what we have today: a situation where a majority of people believe abortion should be mostly legal but frowned upon.

Which is why I wrote that piece for Free Inquiry a few months ago.

It is precisely those people that Katha Pollitt, columnist for The Nation, wants to speak to in her new book Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights, which came out just as the Supreme Court intervened to halt a new Texas law that would close all but eight of the state’s abortion clinics. Pollitt not only lays out in extraordinary detail her opposition to a wide array of anti-abortion advocacy, but also takes the additional step of making her case for why abortion is a good thing. I reached out to her to find out more.

VICE: Unlike many other pro-choice advocates, you say abortion is a social good. Can you explain that?
Katha Pollitt: What I try to do in the book is to put abortion into the context of motherhood and society. And I say it is a good thing for society that children are born at a time when a woman—and the man, if there is one—are able to best take care of them. And society also benefits when women who are currently unbelievably hampered in every area of life when they become mothers can express all their talents and gifts and make a good life for themselves and the people in their families.

How could it not be? How could involuntary unwanted childbearing be a good thing? How could it not be vastly better to be able to choose when to have a baby and when not to? How could reluctant unhappy motherhood be a good thing??

What do you say to those who might dismiss the abortion debate as a “culture war” issue?
“Culture war” is about culture—pornography, or what books should be in the school library, or whether Harry Potter promotes witchcraft. But this is an issue that goes right to heart of whether women can ever be equal to men. Whether they can have the basic autonomies we give to men to decide what goes on in their bodies and what risks they’re going to take. What physical, emotional, and social risks they’re going to take. Basically it’s about making sure that women don’t remain vulnerable to pregnancy from their first period to their last period.

That question could have been worded as: What do you say to those who might dismiss the abortion debate by pointing to women who are put in sacks and beaten? It’s the same idea.

You have a chapter called “Are Women People?” Do you believe the anti-abortion movement denies women their humanity?
To me, that is the central issue. I think that if you say that at any moment in life a woman can be compelled, because of an accident, because of a failed condom, or she got carried away and, my God, had sex without protection—that this should derail her life. You can see how it basically means what she wants to do with her life is really not important.

That. I think there are depressingly many people who don’t think women are fully people – not as fully as men are. I think we get thousands of cues to this effect every day, and that the result is a stereotype of women that is emptier and thinner and more fundamentally trivial than the stereotype of men is. The war against abortion is one facet of this.


  1. opposablethumbs says

    I used – seems like a long time ago now – to like the “safe, legal and rare” slogan because I figured that it was blindingly obvious that the way to make it rare was to have really great access to genuine sex education and effective contraception – free of charge, of course, as part of free universal healthcare – and that this was even better for you, less time-consuming and less of a nuisance than having an abortion.

    The attack campaigns of the anti-choice brigade have become such a threat now that I can’t pick that slogan any more. What I once thought was blindingly obvious, I now know has to be spelled out. And defended. Over and over again.

  2. quixote says

    I’m glad Pollitt wrote the book and is making those points. I’m also boggled. This needs to said? Really? Control of your own body is the most fundamental right of all. If you don’t have that, none of the other rights you may have on paper mean a thing. Everybody knows that. That’s why we have a right of self-defense. But it all needs to be carefully explained when women are involved. Not really human, indeed.

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