In the eyes of many pro-choice people, abortion is not only a crucial form of women’s health care — it is a form of preventative medicine with the capacity to repair a variety of social issues.
While most pro-choice people claim that abortion reduces societal ills associated with poverty and the foster care system, recent arguments have shifted the focus toward racism and equal health care access.
According to the pro-choice advocacy site Rewire News Group, sex and race-selective abortion bans are “rooted in anti-Asian stereotypes.” If people want to support Asian women’s “dignity,” then Rewire believes they must shun the “racist myths and stereotypes” that “erase the need for abortion care in Asian communities.”
Even if Rewire’s position stems from genuine compassion for women, the over-reliance on sensationalist rhetoric and falsehoods fails to make a convincing argument for abortion.
Rewire’s Unconvincing Case
Earlier this month, the pro-choice Guttmacher Institute reported that 11 states currently prohibit sex-selective abortions, and four states forbid termination if the child’s race is a motivating factor.
While discriminatory abortion bans do not completely eradicate abortion, passing laws like these is one way that pro-life legislators can take steps to reduce what is already a horrible wrong against humanity. The practice may not save every life from abortion, but it can at least rescue some.
But Rewire’s article argued against such bans, classifying them as “dangerous.”
The outlet alleged that discriminatory abortion bans promote “fearmongering narratives” about Asian women being more likely to end pregnancies based on gender or racial preferences. Rewire also claimed that the result of these laws is that Asian women are racially profiled and “criminalized” when seeking “abortion care.”
Is it sexist to claim that abortion is health care?
Yes: 72% (13 Votes)
No: 28% (5 Votes)
Before refuting Rewire’s argument, it is important to understand how the pro-choice website is attempting to counter the pro-life case against sex- and race-selective abortions.
At the very least, the brand deserves credit for recognizing that it cannot outright condone abortions in this scenario. And while it should condemn them, Rewire feels it cannot do that either.
If Rewire merely argued that women still have a right to choose, even if the reason for termination is due to the child’s gender or race, then it would have to support the discriminatory slaughter of human beings.
To argue these types of abortions are wrong, however, would mean that Rewire does not believe abortion rights are absolute, and the procedure is subject to restrictions. But it seems the outlet recognizes that supporting a ban on abortion in certain scenarios would leave them struggling to explain why lawmakers cannot apply regulations in other situations or even ban abortion altogether.
Instead, Rewire attempted to flip the argument around on pro-life people by claiming race- and sex-selective abortion bans are rooted in prejudice, not the other way around.
For a pro-choice website like Rewire, abortion is a form of health care. The outlet knows that most would agree it is wrong to intentionally deny women or certain groups of women access to medical treatment.
By broadening the definition of health care to include abortion, Rewire can then argue that limiting abortion access in any way subjects women to health care discrimination and denies them the care they supposedly need.
It seems the outlet recognizes that arguing this way allows them to inspire outrage against two injustices — racism and health care discrimination — and use it to garner support for abortion.
While it certainly is an effective strategy for attracting a passionate audience, it should come as no surprise that Rewire’s arguments are only intended to stimulate heated emotions. Upon closer inspection, however, the article’s empty rhetoric becomes increasingly apparent.
Rewire cited the cases of Bei Bei Shuai and Purvi Patel — two women who were prosecuted due to suspicious circumstances surrounding their respective pregnancy losses — as evidence that “Asian women and people of color are disproportionately targeted and regarded as suspicious.”
While racism is undoubtedly an incredible evil, neither case supports the outlet’s point that Asian women are more likely to be “criminalized” for “self-managed abortions or pregnancy loss.”
According to The Indiana Lawyer, in Shuai’s case, the woman in question made it clear to her friends and through a suicide note that she planned to kill herself and her 33-week-old baby by ingesting rat poison. Shuai survived the suicide attempt, but her baby did not, and she was charged with murder and attempted feticide.
The charges were eventually dropped in 2013, however, after a plea agreement.
Now, suppose Rewire is arguing that Shuai’s mental state rendered the charges overblown. In that case, there is at least a fair argument to be made against prosecuting pregnant women in already desperate circumstances.
The potential side effect of charging women like Shuai with a crime, for example, is that it may discourage women in similar situations from seeking medical help.
Still, the case had nothing to do with abortion or criminalizing a woman for her pregnancy loss, and it is dishonest for Rewire to treat it as such.
Regarding the other woman the outlet mentioned specifically, the speculation surrounding her case makes it unclear whether abortion was even a relevant factor. The outlet claimed that Patel was charged in 2013 for allegedly taking chemical abortion pills that resulted in stillbirth, but Rewire neglected to mention a few details.
As USA Today reported, Patel was charged with feticide and neglect of a dependent after she allegedly left her newborn baby to die inside a dumpster. There was some debate surrounding the outcome of her trial, involving a few factors that could not be verified one way or another.
First, there was no way of proving Patel actually had taken pills to induce an abortion. While several texts and emails did prove Patel had ordered the pills, evidence could not be provided that she had taken them (as the chemicals contained within them cannot be detected in the bloodstream). The pills are not recommended after the first trimester of pregnancy, but forensic evidence indicated Patel was on the last week of her second trimester when the baby was born.
Second, there was the issue of the baby’s state of being when it was delivered. One pathologist testified the child was born alive, while another claimed the baby was stillborn. Patel told prosecutors the baby was not alive when she gave birth. It’s worth noting that she initially told hospital workers after being admitted for a bleeding pelvic area that she had not delivered a baby at all. Though she was sentenced to 30 years in prison in 2015, with 10 years suspended, the Indiana Court of Appeals overturned the conviction in 2016.
With both cases failing to support Rewire’s claims of racism, the outlet’s only other defense for abortion is that it is somehow health care for women. But this particular argument is rife with unfortunate implications about women’s bodies and the natural functions of a healthy female reproductive system.
Classifying Abortion as Health Care Demeans Women
Health care is limited to two functions: It can prevent illness or restore a person from illness. Abortion clearly does not fall into the former category, as its purpose is to end a pregnancy that has already occurred.
The only other option is to classify abortion as restorative health care, which seeks to correct a pathology. As pro-life apologist Rachel Crawford explained, however, categorizing abortion this way is “sexist,” as it implies the female body is somehow “broken.”
“In order to say abortion is restorative, you must pathologize the healthy, functioning female reproductive system,” Crawford wrote in a 2019 blog for the Equal Rights Institute.
“It doesn’t get much more misogynistic than saying that the distinctly female human ability to gestate babies is a sickness that should be corrected with medical intervention.”
“This kind of thinking is predicated on the sexist belief that the male body is the normal human model and the female body is an abnormal variation,” she added.
“The narrative of what is ideal versus pathological has real world consequences because how we define anatomical norms shapes societal, cultural, and political beliefs.”
Pro-choice people or groups like Rewire may object to the idea that their views equate pregnancy with a disease. Instead, they may counter by saying they only believe that pregnant women should have the right to choose what they think is best for their wellness.
As Crawford pointed out, however, this perspective does not align with any acceptable form of medical treatment.
“Pathology, diagnosis, and treatment are based on objective facts,” the pro-life apologist wrote.
“It is incorrect to say that some pregnancies must be stopped for the sake of wellness while others are perfectly fine to continue dependent on the patient’s wishes.”
“You can’t radically relativize medical facts and say that your position is the ‘scientific’ or ‘rational’ one.”
That is not to say unique pathologies related to a pregnant woman’s condition never arise. For example, in ectopic pregnancy cases, when an embryo develops outside the uterus, immediate treatment is required to restore a woman’s health.
“It is not sexist to say ‘we need to use medical intervention to solve this problem and save her life,’” Crawford wrote.
“Because it doesn’t consider the healthy female body to be the problem; rather, it correctly identifies a legitimate pathology, that isn’t the pregnancy itself, to be the problem.”
Even if the argument is well-intentioned, Rewire defending abortion in this way ironically undermines female autonomy and reproductive care.
If the outlet desires women’s bodies to be treated with the same dignity as a man’s body, then it should abandon its heated rhetoric in favor of language that actually affirms the female reproductive system and its natural functions.