13 November 2014

New book tackles abortion issue

Provocative critic Katha Pollitt takes on the whole of the abortion debate in her new book.


Katha Pollitt, the columnist for The Nation, the feminist essayist, poet and critic, has been frustrating some on the left and angering some on the right for years now.

The 'muddled middle'

But she's surprised at the positive tone of most reviews for her new book, Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights, though there's always Twitter, she laughed.

"I get attacked on Twitter, but everybody gets attacked on Twitter," Pollitt said in a recent interview.

The book, from Picador, spans the abortion debate in its entirety, focusing not just on staunch foes but also the "muddled middle", those who don't necessarily believe abortion should be criminalised but in Pollitt's eyes have it wrong nevertheless.

Read: Having an abortion

And she has plenty to say about women who have had abortions as well.

"We women need to speak up more. We need to be able to say, yes, I had an abortion. I was in college. I wanted to finish school. I had an abortion. I was much too young to have a child, or I had two children already and that was enough, or whatever," she said.

Woman-hating stereotypes

"The fact is three in 10 American women will have had at least one abortion by menopause. That's a lot of people, and most people know someone who's had an abortion but because of the stigma they don't know that they know. In that silence, woman-hating stereotypes flourish," Pollitt added.

A conversation with Katha Pollitt:

AP: You question how the abortion debate is framed today. Can you explain?

Pollitt: The pro-choicers have fallen into the framing that the anti-abortion people use, which is abortion is always a terrible thing, that it's an agonising decision. Inadvertently pro-choicers sometimes talk in a way that stigmatises abortion and the women who have them.

AP: How do you feel about the term "pro-choice" and can you provide an example of the dangerous "language of apology" you describe among abortion rights advocates?

Read: Unsafe abortions take toll

Pollitt: Planned Parenthood, for example, is trying to move away from the word pro-choice and instead talk about walking in another woman's shoes and seeing abortion not in terms of black and white but in terms of gray. I think that pro-choice is better terminology because it basically says this a choice that is up to a woman to make.

If you say walking in her shoes, that could mean, "Hey, if I were walking in those shoes I wouldn't go down that street." People are very quick to judge.

If you say it's not black, it's not white, it's gray, that's really kind of saying there are good abortions and there are bad abortions. The good abortions are the ones I approve of. The bad abortions are the ones I don't approve of. That kind of invites everybody to jump in and pass judgment on a woman.

AP: You argue for abortion as a "positive social good". How so?

Pollitt: It's good for women to have children when they can take care of them well. And it's also good for women to go to school, to have a good job, to not be tied to an abusive or controlling man that they can't get away from because they have children with him. It's good for people to be able to plan their life, and that's good for everybody.

AP: You've written this book to reach the "muddled middle". Can you explain who they are?

Pollitt: I hope to reach people who don't want abortion to be criminalised but they have such negative feelings about it that they are ready to believe that harmful restrictions are unimportant, or even good.

Read: Abortion rate rising sharply

For example, supporting the 20-week ban. It's hard for people to concretise what that means. They think it just sounds good: 20 weeks, that's late. Yeah, people shouldn't do that. What they miss is who is having these abortions after 20 weeks? It's a tiny, tiny number of people. It's 1.5 percent of all abortions.

But the biggest thing that pushes abortions later into pregnancy, and I think everybody would like to see abortions happen as soon as possible, is that the woman has a problem accessing that abortion. She's searching for the funds to pay for it or it's really hard to get to a clinic in a lot of the country.

All these restrictions encumber it and it gets pushed later and everybody comes down like a ton of bricks on this woman. That is a very unhelpful way to go, to say there are too many abortions so we should make them harder to get.

That's the muddled middle position.

Read more:

90% of SA against abortion
More girls aborted in India
US abortion fight in high gear

Image: Pro-life vs. pro-choice from Shutterstock




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