In recent years, anti-abortion advocates have argued that abortion harms not only a developing fetus, it also harms the woman who chooses to terminate her pregnancy. These arguments, which Reva Siegel has termed “woman-protective anti-abortion argumentation,” have made their way into abortion jurisprudence.1 In the 2007 case Carhart v. Gonzales, a majority of the Supreme Court characterized abortion as “a difficult and painful moral decision” that may cause women profound psychological, physical, and emotional harm.2
In response to these arguments and the judicial decisions that entrench them as truths, pro-choice advocates have sought to recast abortion in a more positive light. Katha Pollit’s recent book, Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights, seeks to strip abortion of its stigma by reframing it as a common part of a woman’s reproductive life—one that may have positive implications for the woman, her family, and society. Similar themes have surfaced in popular culture. In the 2014 movie Obvious Child, Donna, a struggling twenty-something, becomes pregnant after a one-night stand and decides to have an abortion. Donna’s decision is utterly devoid of the usual angst and drama that attends television and film depictions of similar scenarios. Indeed, she is matter-of-fact about the decision, never contemplating the possibility of raising the child herself or giving it up for adoption. More radically, Donna is no worse for the wear after her abortion. Indeed, she is pleased with her decision, confident that it was the right choice for her.
Amidst these popular efforts to recast abortion in a more positive light comes Khiara Bridges’s excellent article, When Pregnancy is an Injury: Rape, Law, and Culture. In the piece, Bridges considers criminal sexual assault statutes that characterize a pregnancy that results from rape as an injury—beyond the rape itself—to the victim. As Bridges observes, these criminal statutes are notable not simply because they identify those circumstances in which the crime of rape is aggravated and subject to heightened penalties; but because they construct pregnancy as an injury to women. As Bridges explains, the construction of pregnancy as an injury “runs counter to positive constructions of pregnancy within culture.” But it is not just that these criminal statutes disrupt the conventional narrative of pregnancy as a beautiful and blessed experience; by reframing pregnancy as an injury, the criminal sexual assault statutes also provide us with an opportunity to reconceive abortion as “a healing modality, serving to heal a woman of her injury.” Continue reading "Reframing (and Reclaiming) Pregnancy and Abortion"