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Abortion: The Two Approaches
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ANTH 290:  The Cultural Politics of American Family Values
Paper #2

     The abortion issue has been the root of much division throughout the United States.  After the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, these divisions grew in size and complexity.  Despite this, both sides do on occasion agree on certain ideas, yet differ in their approaches toward them.  This aspect of pro-life and pro-choice arguments is clearly seen in the male and female quality analysis and ideas surrounding marriage and the family.

     Certain qualities, or stereotypes, have been identified as masculine and feminine, qualities to which both pro-life and pro-choice factions agree.  They base femininity on altruism and love.  The woman, therefore, is naturally nurturing and she is domestic.  The male side, in contrast, is much more self-sufficient and monetarily based.  It is a realm of choice and contract.  The two sides differ greatly: altruism versus self-satisfaction, nature versus choice.  This trend can also be seen in society since the industrial revolution.  After the introduction of mass production and the decline of small business owners, society in general has become much more based on choice and contract rather than on family nurturance.  Herein begins the division between the pro-life and pro-choice factions.

     Those who advocate a pro-life standpoint will point to the separation of male and female roles and argue for a conservative natural approach to womanhood.  Women, they argue, are natural and nurturing, thus, to have an abortion a woman would be completely undermining and degrading the instinctive qualities she possesses.  Elizabeth Cady Staunton, a notable womens right leader, declared abortion to be the degradation of woman.  (Ginsburg 1989: 29).  She, and other pro-lifers, claims that by allowing abortion, they continue, women are adopting the masculine ideology based on choice, a distinctly non-female role.  Matilda Gage further illustrates this, as she states clearly that abortion lies at the door of the male sex.  (Ginsburg 1989: 29).

     Pro-choice advocates take this and turn it around.  Women are seen as natural and nurturing, they claim, but society is and has been pushing to a much more contractual culture.  By clinging to such archaic values, they argue, women will remain subordinate and will always be lesser than their male counterparts.  Abortion, therefore, allows women a choice, which brings them closer to the values held highly in society.

     Pro-life advocates, most notably feminist pro-lifers, will argue further that abortion allows for, and could encourage, male sexual promiscuity.  By allowing abortions, men are allowed to procreate as often and with whomever they choose, and have no obligation.  This, they argue, demeans women and allows men to do as they wish.

     Pro-choice factions disavow that claim, stating male sexuality is not the issue.  They claim that a womans choice is very important, and overrides this claim.  Women too have the choice of whom they sleep with, and further, they argue, should be allowed to choose what happens as a result.

     Pro-life supporters will go on by stating that abortion hurts the union of marriage and of the family.  By allowing abortion, and allowing male sexual freedom, marriage and the family become worthless.  Procreative sex ending in abortion does not support marriage nor the family, both of which are unions held dear by many. 

     Pro-choice groups claim that abortion is not at all related to the decline of marriage or the family, and will occasionally go on to claim that it can strengthen it.  Those who have children out of wedlock and those opposed to being married do not always use abortion.  Many women that have abortions have already had numerous children, and do not think it would be good for them or the child to have at that time.  Kay, a pro-choice activist, drives the point home in stating that, How bringing an unwanted child into a family strengthens it is something I have never been able to understand.  (Ginsburg 1989: 154).

     While the issue of the fetus as a right-bearer is often focused upon, pro-life activists also bring this idea of femininity and family into play.  This attracts many by appealing to what most view as natural and fundamental in the home and society as a whole.  Accordingly, they tend to cater to religious and conservative families to form a basis for their cause. 

     Pro-choice activists, on the other hand, do not consider femininity and families to be overly affected by abortion, and, if anything, counter with a desire for gender equality.  Pro-choice activists view the separate spheres of male and female qualities as being akin to society and the home.  Society is where respect and rights are dealt out, and if women are forever stuck in the female or home sphere, they will never achieve equality.  Abortion, they argue, brings women one step closer by giving her a choice, a key factor in the male or societal realm.

     Politics is then divided into two separate groups concerning these issues.  Pro-life tends to be made up of conservative and religious people as the ideals of the woman as a natural nurturing mother and of encouraging familys appeals to them.  There are always exceptions, and the feminist pro-life movement is one, that though it wishes for equality, it denouncing abortion on the grounds of promoting male promiscuity.  The pro-choice movement is made up of more liberal groups focused on gender equality.  They do not discount the values set up by family that the pro-life movement support, but instead do not think abortion weakens it. 

     However, both groups do identify with each other on certain ideas concerning the spheres of male and female, their approaches to them differ.  Pro-life advocates argue to maintain these spheres, arguing their naturalness.  Pro-choice supporters claim that these spheres are degrading, and must be changed in order to promote equality.  Whereas pro-lifers claim abortion weakens marriage and the family and further promotes male sexuality, pro-choice advocates say it does nothing of the sort.  Though agreeing on the underlying principles, pro-life and pro-choice movements split in their approaches to these ideas and form the basis for heated conflict.


Works Cited


Ginsberg, Faye D.Contested Lives: The Abortion Debate in an American Community.  University of California Press, 1989.


Analyze the commonalities and differences in how pro-choice and pro-life activists frame the abortion issue as part of a larger set of ideas about the nature of male and female qualities (including sexuality), marriage/family, and the relation between the domestic and larger social domains. Show how these ideas shape very different understandings of their activist goals and strategies. Use your knowledge about the commonalities and differences between the pro-choice and pro-life positions to reflect on the nature of the political opposition on this issue in the US.