Answers to ‘Ten Questions For Pro-Choice People’: Part 2

This is the second part of a multi-part answer to Andrew Haslam’s post Ten Questions For Pro-Choice People. Part 1 is here; it covers some key points about my own beliefs, so I’d recommend reading that one first.

I’d intended to cover three more of the questions in this post, but found I had far more to say for each answer than I’d anticipated, so I’ve broken it down further. This post answers question 6. I’m hoping to cover two in the next post and then the last three in a fourth post, though I’ll see how it goes.


6. Why is the pro-life movement vilified and bullied as though it was somehow backward to campaign for human rights at this fundamental level?

Because of the behaviour of so many pro-lifers.

Please note that absolutely none of what I say here is intended as a generalisation about every pro-lifer everywhere. As I told you in my last post, I used to be pro-life myself, and I don’t believe any of this would have been true of me at the time; I fully recognise that there are many pro-lifers out there of which these things are also not true. If you’re one of them, great. Feel free to mentally insert the words ‘some’ or ‘many’ or ‘a proportion of’ or ‘a heck of a lot of’, or ‘#notallprolifers’ or anything similar at any point here where you feel I’ve left those words or phrases out and should have included them.


1. There is a rather strong correlation between pro-life views and the following behaviours/beliefs:

  • slut-shaming/policing the sex lives of women
  • holding strong and limiting ideas about women’s role in life
  • anti-contraceptive views
  • homophobia
  • transphobia
  • the sorts of anti-immigration views that we’ve all become a little too familiar with during the whole Brexit fiasco, with versions of racism/jingoism lurking not too far below the surface.

I do realise that there are not only many pro-lifers out there who hold none of these beliefs (I was one such) and, for that matter, many pro-choicers who hold at least some of them. But there’s a strong enough pattern of association there that, while the stereotype of the backwards and misogynistic pro-lifer isn’t by any means correct for all pro-lifers, it also did not come out of nowhere.

2. Pro-life movements have a rather unattractive history of dishonesty in the name of their cause. I do realise that there can’t be many movements out there that haven’t included someone, sometime,  who’s stretched a point to make a point. However, I can personally vouch for the fact that the levels of misrepresentation of the evidence that I’ve come across in reading pro-life literature have been… notable. (At one point, one of my hobbies was debunking this sort of misinformation on a discussion newsgroup.) And then, of course, there are the ‘crisis pregnancy centres‘ who have become known for disingenuously advertising themselves in deliberately vague terms in order to hide the fact that they will be very actively trying to talk their clients out of abortion, then giving out alarming amounts of misinformation to the people who visit them for help.

3. There are quite a lot of pro-lifers out there whose commitment to saving fetal lives does, in practice, seem to be very secondary to their desire to police the sex lives of women. I don’t know whether you’ve ever read How I Lost Faith In The Pro-Life Movement, by blogger and former pro-lifer Libby Anne, or the several follow-up posts she wrote in reply to various objections (linked at the end of the initial post), but they’re well worth reading for anyone interested in the issue.

The short version of those essays is that, having grown up as a very active, committed member of the pro-life movement who certainly was sincere about wanting to prevent abortions and who believed other members of the movement were in full agreement about that priority, Libby Anne found out that the best ways to reduce the numbers of abortions happening were not laws against it, but better social welfare policies, better sex education and more readily available contraception. However, the pro-life movement that she’d grown up with and thought she knew, despite supposedly wanting to prevent abortions, was against all these measures. And the reasons for this typically seemed to boil down to some version of ‘We don’t want women to be having unauthorised sex’. That was more important to these supposed pro-lifers than actually saving fetal lives. Or, for that matter, making conditions better for children or their families.

When people consider it so important to police the sex lives of anyone with female genitalia that they will treat ‘make women suffer for having unauthorised sex’ as a higher priority than ‘prevent abortions/improve health and conditions for children’ then, yes, that is misogynistic and backward. When these beliefs are seen this frequently among people calling themselves pro-life, then that is going to lead a lot of people to the assumption that it’s normal for pro-lifers to be misogynistic and backward.

Yes, that is not true for all pro-lifers. Yes, it is very possible that your reaction right now is something along the lines of “But… but… the group of pro-lifers I belong to are lovely! We do go out and help women in dire straits! We do want better social safety nets for children and families so that no-one is in the position of having to get an abortion because of their practical circumstances!” If so, then that’s wonderful. But, unfortunately, people like that are not a very representative sample of all pro-lifers everywhere.

The pro-life movement is often portrayed as led by white men and as fundamentally backwards and misogynistic, despite the fact that women of all races are involved and are more opposed to abortion than men)

You do realise that the last part of that sentence doesn’t actually contradict the first part? Yes, many women are against abortion, and many of those get involved in pro-life movements; that doesn’t say anything about who’s leading the movement. What organised religious or political groups have the strongest associations with the pro-life movement? In no particular order, the three most obvious ones are Catholicism, fundamentalist Protestantism, and the political right wing. Well, the first two of those are explicitly led by men, and the third has a history of being predominantly male (not just a history, for that matter). So, while it’s certainly more complex than ‘the movement is led by men’, it’s also not as though that portrayal came out of nowhere.

But talk to a pro-lifer. Generally, they believe a basic ethic: All human life has sanctity. Which part of this is backwards and misogynistic?

Hoo boy. Look… I’m about to go into a rant. So, just before doing that, I will not only repeat ‘Not all pro-lifers’, but will also give you this link, which is to a lengthy and beautiful essay by an American blogger who’s clearly pro-life in the truest sense of the term, explaining why the very pro-life beliefs that make her against abortion also prevented her from joining in with the rush to vote for Trump as the candidate promising he’d be tougher on abortion. So, yes, definitely not all pro-lifers.


As you know, Trump did get voted in as US president. As you might or might not have known, a significant part of the reason for this was the reaction to his vs. Clinton’s respective platforms on abortion rights; Trump promised tougher and more punitive laws on abortion, and got a big slice of the anti-abortion vote that way. That means that a heck of a lot of people who were calling themselves pro-life on the grounds that they were against abortion were quite willing to vote in a racist sex abuser who mocked the disabled and bragged about his plan to barricade the USA against refugees who were, in many cases, fleeing for their lives.

Less than a year later, the overwhelmingly anti-abortion Republican party (the term ‘pro-life’, in this context, is seeming more and more hideously inappropriate) were making the latest of their many attempts to drastically cut the health care funding that is keeping tens of thousands of Americans alive. They did not seem particularly bothered about the sanctity of those lives, or at least not in comparison to the sanctity of their own millions of dollars.

While you were writing this post, the news was full of that same Republican party’s callousness and dismissal of the appalling conditions in migrant camps. Three days before you posted it, Mike Pence was photographed on his visit to one such camp, turning away indifferently from desperate migrants crowding against the wire. I remember one person on Twitter commenting wryly ‘Someone should tell him those men were fetuses once’.

Now, of course, we have right-wing anti-abortion site The Federalist campaigning to lift the current quarantine restrictions that are so vital to minimise the horrendous death toll from COVID-19. Apparently their belief in the sanctity of human life isn’t important enough to them to put up with restrictions on their freedom to act how they want.

I know all of those stories concerned America’s right wing, and, yes, they are particularly egregious offenders, but it’s not just them. Mother Teresa ignored or diverted millions of pounds’ worth of donations that, if used for the purpose for which they were surely intended by the donors, could have provided life-saving medical care for thousands of people in need. Instead, she deliberately kept the clinics she ran in terrible condition, letting people who could have been saved (and people who could have at least been palliated) suffer and die with minimal medical help.

In Ireland, less than a decade ago, Savita Hallappanavar died at the age of 31 after the medical staff caring for her concluded that, under the anti-abortion law of the time, it would be illegal to shorten her doomed pregnancy by a few hours even to reduce the growing and ultimately overwhelming risk to her own life.

Further back, there were the infamous Magdalene Laundries, whose founders and staff were, of course, from a religion very well known for their staunchly anti-abortion stance. Their horrific history of abuse and of burials in mass graves demonstrates all too clearly just how those particular ‘pro-lifers’ felt about the sanctity of the lives of the people under their care.

You want to know what part of ‘All human life has sanctity’ is backwards and misogynistic? The part where that principle is selectively applied only when any resulting difficulties will fall exclusively on people with uteruses.

Pro-lifers are merely consistent in applying this fundamental ethic to every single human being, including people in the womb.

You know… when I first read this question and started composing my answer, my read of it was that you genuinely are motivated by a belief in the sanctity of human life and, as such, you’re frustrated by people who make negative stereotypical assumptions about you. I still think this might have been what you meant to get across when you wrote this paragraph. Unfortunately, however, it is not what you actually wrote. What you did write is a kind of wide-eyed bewildered ignorance about the problems within pro-life or pro-life-associated movements. You are talking here as though pro-lifers generally, not just a subset of them, are consistent about applying the sanctity-of-life ethic to every human being. You’re talking as though you have no idea why anyone would think otherwise.

No matter how charitably I look at this, this does boil down to one of two possibilities:

1. You genuinely are that ignorant about the many problems associated with the pro-life cause. You genuinely have no clue about any of the stuff I wrote above. If that’s the case… well, I know you couldn’t have known all the stuff I wrote up there. I mean, you literally couldn’t have known it, because the whole business with people who are supposedly pro-life wanting to break the quarantine hadn’t yet happened at the time you wrote your post, but there are also a lot of other things I mentioned that you might quite plausibly and reasonably not have known about; I’m not going to condemn someone just because they spend less time reading left-wing feminist blogs than I do. However, if you had no idea about any of those things… well, that is a level of ignorance about the world about you that means you probably shouldn’t be out alone on the streets.

Look. When I was pro-life, it was because I genuinely cared about fetal life. But I was at least aware that there were a lot of pro-lifers out there whose beliefs actually stemmed from the view that women should be eschewing careers in favour of bearing and raising children, and/or were associated with other objectionable views such as homophobia, the hellfire-and-brimstone type of religion, and/or strong anti-contraceptive views. I certainly wasn’t among the number of pro-lifers who felt that way, but I did recognise that such people not only existed, but existed in fairly significant numbers. If blogs had existed back then and I’d had one, maybe I would have objected to the stereotyping of pro-lifers generally… but I’m pretty sure that I would not have expressed this sort of bewilderment about why such stereotypes would possibly exist. Even as a very naive and uninformed teenager, living in the pre-Internet era and almost entirely ignoring current affairs, I was still more aware of the world around me than that.

You, however, are talking as though you really are that unaware of all these issues. If that’s true, and not just an act you’re putting on, then that is a truly stunning level of obliviousness. I would have thought it quite hard to be more oblivious about the world out there than I was at seventeen or eighteen, but if you really do know this little about this subject, then, congratulations, you’ve managed it. I personally suspect that in fact that is not the case and the actual reason for what you wrote is the second one, below; but if I’m wrong and you really are that unaware, then, good grey grief, you need to get a clue, fast.

2. The other possibility here is, of course, that you are aware (to whatever degree) that there are a lot of objectionable views/actions associated with pro-lifers and the pro-life movement, but decided to act as though you don’t know any of that. If that’s the case, then not only is that disingenuous, but it’s also backfiring badly as regards your desired goal of convincing people you are not, yourself, misogynistic or backward.

I’d have happily accepted it if you’d acknowledged that some pro-lifers are misogynistic and backward but disavowed yourself from such beliefs. I’d have happily accepted it if you’d stayed off that particular subject altogether; I like to assume the best of people, so that’s what I’d have done. But, instead, you chose to claim that pro-lifers are just people who believe in the sanctity of all human life, that’s it, nothing else to see here. If you did know something about the problems within the pro-life movement and/or the movements commonly associated with it, then your choice to ignore all that and claim that it’s all really just about the sanctity of life is a choice to defend the indefensible. If you don’t want to be misogynistic or backward, then do not excuse or overlook views that are misogynistic or backward.


  1. says

    I’ve heard those crisis pregnancy centers also tend to push adoption rather than look for ways to help an unmarried mother keep her child. That’s in line with the terrible way women who get pregnant outside of marriage are looked at, rather than thinking they’ve allowed another life to come into the world. So much for being pro-life.

  2. Pierce R. Butler says

    Pro-lifers are merely consistent in applying this fundamental ethic to every single human being, including people in the womb.

    Uh-huh. How many “pro-life” counterprotesters do you see at pro-gun or pro-war demonstrations?

  3. Katydid says

    To me, the issue must come down to who the best person is to make a decision about a woman’s pregnancy. It must be the woman herself, with input from her doctor and/or partner. That’s basic human autonomy, and nobody is out there protesting against a person’s right to seek medical care for other issues. You’re right that a lot of the anti-choice stance comes from the desire to force women into a dependent and helpless role, particularly when the anti-choicer is religious.

    How bitterly ironic that there’s evidence that Donald Trump demanded at least one of his acknowledged children be aborted (her mother refused), and it would not surprise me in the least if I were told that he funded abortions for other women he might have made pregnant. It seems that Trump’s base do not let reality or facts into their beliefs.

    @robertbaden, Christian adoption agencies depend on women not to abort. It can cost $50,000 to adopt through a Christian agency; babies are very lucrative to them.

  4. A. Noyd says

    You want to know what part of ‘All human life has sanctity’ is backwards and misogynistic? The part where that principle is selectively applied only when any resulting difficulties will fall exclusively on people with uteruses.

    Well, there’s a mic drop moment if I ever.

    Also, viviparity in humans seems to contradict the idea of universal sanctity of life. Gestation necessarily makes one individual’s life directly dependent on that of another. If life comes with sanctity, then that dependence can put each individual’s sanctity in conflict with the other’s.

    As Dr Sarah has noted, the misogyny in the “pro-life” position is in consistently privileging the fetus’ sanctity (or in choosing to sacrifice that of both individuals to preserve the sanctity of patriarchal religious authority, as in the case of the Laundries).

    Whatever reasons Andrew might suppose his deity came up with this paradoxical design choice for human reproduction, the inherent conflict can’t be undone just by citing an ethic that “all human life has sanctity.” The corollary is still “and sometimes we must choose whose sanctity to uphold.”

    Andrew should explain why his choice (ironic, innit?) is always in favor of the fetus.

  5. says

    I believe that people who choose to contribute to creating a child have a moral responsibility to make sure that this child has a happy childhood, access to education and opportunities in life, good healthcare, etc. By forbidding an abortion, anti-abortion people contribute to forcing the birth of a child. Thus they have a moral obligation to support social welfare policies and possibly to also donate their own money and time to help take care of unwanted babies and children. As in “you wanted this child to be born, now take care of them” or “you chose to forbid the pregnant person from having an abortion, now contributing to taking care of this child is your responsibility.”

    I’m really annoyed that anti-choice people routinely don’t want to pay taxes so as to support social welfare, free university education, healthcare for pregnant people and their children, etc. I’m not even asking each of the anti-abortion people to personally adopt a disabled kid, even paying taxes and contributing to a good social welfare system would be at least something. But no, these people pass laws that force the births of unwanted children, and simultaneously, once the kid is born, they don’t want to personally pay for this child’s upbringing either.

    They often claim to care for a fetus before it is born, but as soon as the child is born, they refuse to personally contribute to paying for its upbringing. It’s as if these people stopped caring about babies the moment they were born. Nor do they seem to care about the life quality of these children. This is just hypocritical. Never mind that a consistent worldview free of double standards would also require pro-life people to be also anti-war, pro free healthcare, etc.

    One more point: No child should suffer a terrible childhood just because their parents forgot to put on a condom (never mind that condoms can break; almost no birth control method is 100% effective). A child is innocent and doesn’t deserve this. Nor do parents deserve this kind of punishment either—considering an unwanted child as a just punishment for having had sex for pleasure is a terrible idea.

  6. StevoR says

    6. Why is the pro-life movement vilified and bullied as though it was somehow backward to campaign for human rights at this fundamental level?

    Its pretty late /early here in Oz now so I’ll try to make this quick –

    1) “Why is the pro-life movement vilified and bullied ..”

    It isn’t. Not generally and certainly not in the way the pro-choice side gets physically targeted eg reproductive healthcare centres targeted by bombs, death threats and actual murders. I’ll also disagree with their self-chosen moniker of “pro-life” as again they are inaccurately framing the narrative by word choice to suit their side. [comment redacted by blog owner]

    Yes, they get pushback and opposition but this is nowhere the same thing and is quite justified in my view.

    2 “ though it was somehow backward to campaign for .. ”

    It is literally backwards to be campaigning for removing peoples rights here historically and ethically and its typical of the side of our culture that seems almost (?) always on the wrong side of history and ethics. Again, the framing suggests “as
    though” as if it is otherwise and it really isn’t. But it is. Those wanting to reverse Roe vs Wade and return to the eras before legal abortion are literally campaigning to go backwards albeit I spose there is a subjective element to that but certainly in historical & ethical terms, well..

    3. “for human rights at this fundamental level?”

    As the answer (2) no doubt indicates I reject this section as well because it is NOT what I consider / evaluate the anti-legal-abortion (ALA) side as doing. The right to control one’s own body is probly the most fundamental of all human rights. Certainly it’d be high up on that list. The ALA side is arguing against that and in favour of violating people’s right to bodily autonomy and to control what happens to (incl inside) their own bodies. They are campaigning then against and NOT for human rights fundamental or otherwise.

  7. Katydid says

    Those “crisis pregnancy centers” are infamous for trying to get women to remain pregnant by any means they can (including lying about how far along the woman is and telling her she’s too late to abort), and if the baby is easily adoptable, to use them as a middle-man to adopt the baby to a Christian couple. If the woman does not agree to the adoption, she’s given a blanket or a box of diapers after the birth and sent on her way with no further support from the group.

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