by Amanda Marcotte, RH Reality Check
August 21, 2012
There are a number of phrases that smart progressives realize that you should always end with a period, and not with a comma followed by the word “but.” Examples of phrases that are best excised from your vocabulary completely: “I’m not a racist, but….” And “I’m not a sexist, but…”. Anything you say after the word “but” has been shown historically to swiftly disprove the first clause in your sentence. Now I think we should seriously consider adding “I’m pro-choice, but….” to the list. In theory, you can be pro-choice with a “but” added, but in practice, anything you tack on after that is unlikely to be helpful to the cause of keeping abortion safe and legal.
Take, for instance, the most common formation of “I’m pro-choice, but….”, recently seen in this article at Salon from a woman confessing that her anti-sex upbringing has brought her to the place of being 27 years old without ever having kissed a man. In the piece, she says, “I had no intention of having sex before marriage and, while I am pro-choice, I personally would never abort.” You hear variations on this phrase all the time: “I’m pro-choice, but I could never have an abortion!,” and it drives me personally nuts. Not because I think everyone should have abortions, by any means. If you never have a need to have one, that’s a welcome thing, and congrats to you for successfully avoiding unwanted pregnancies that you had to terminate.
No, the problem with “I’m pro-choice, but I would never have an abortion!” is that, whether the speaker intends this or not, the message is that you believe that abortion is for Other Women. Lesser women. Your clear message is that while you think it’s better if abortion is legal, you still think the women who have it are sexually immoral, and you’re insinuating you’re too good or smart to be caught in a situation where you have a pregnancy that you simply can’t go through with. In this particular article, that mentality comes through loud and clear. After all, the writer is still living with the belief that pre-marital sex is wrong, and that women who only have sex within marriage are somehow superior to others.
“I’m pro-choice, but I would never have an abortion” undermines the pro-choice movement you claim to support. It dehumanizes women who have abortions, and reinforces the stereotype that women who have abortions are irresponsible, immoral, or slutty. After all, what’s the point of making it clear that you would never have an abortion? It’s about distancing yourself from them, implying that you’re not like them. That you’re more sexually pure or more responsible. Which feeds into the anti-choice narrative about abortion: That it should be banned because the kind of people who need that service are bad people who need to be punished for their sexual choices.