I’ve got to take Juan Cole to task for what reads like a rather antagonistic misunderstanding of the pro-life philosophy:
Anti-abortion activism is essentially patriarchal. It insists that the woman’s egg, once fertilized, is immediately a person and that the woman loses control over her body by virtue of being impregnated by her husband’s sperm. It is men who dictate to the woman that she must carry the fertilized egg to term, must be a mother once impregnated by a man. For extreme anti-abortionists, even a woman who has been raped or is in danger of losing her life if she tries to give birth must be forced to bear the child. A rapist can make a woman be a mother whether she likes it or not, because his maleness gives him prerogatives not withdrawn by his mere criminality.
I’m pro-choice, but that’s just not a good representation of the other side. People who are opposed to abortion generally have a pretty simple reason. They believe that life begins at conception, and that there’s no bright-line moral distinction between a baby and a fetus. Therefore, we should extend the same considerations re: life to fetuses as we do to babies. It’s not hard to understand. Again, I don’t agree with it, but if you believe that a fetus has a soul- more precisely, if you believe that God told you that a fetus has a soul- it’s not hard to see why you’d be so motivated to ban abortion. There’s definitely overlap between individuals who are opponents of abortion and individuals who don’t respect women, but there’s nothing “essential” about it.
As Cole correctly notes, strict pro-lifers would force a woman who was impregnated by rape to bear the child of her rapist. Cole proceeds to take a disturbing consequence of his opponent’s philosophy, and constructs his own bad-faith explanation involving patriarchy. I don’t see how this rhetorical strategy differs from smearing opponents of the Iraq war as objectively pro-Saddam, or airily accusing critics of Clarence Thomas of racism.
Cole’s interpretation would imply that women are much more likely than men to be pro-choice, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. In this ABC poll, 54 percent of men, and 58 percent of women, say it should be legal in all or most cases. According to this poll of college freshmen, men favor abortion rights more than women by 3%.
Our positions do not necessarily become more persuasive if they’re expressed more abusively.
UPDATE: We’re blessed with intelligent commenters, but the comment thread here is better than average. Don’t miss it.