Speaking about Women When Talking about Abortion

Last week, two Missouri lawmakers joked on the Senate floor about women going to zoos rather than a clinic to obtain an abortion. Senator Bob Onder opposes a tax hike that favors the St. Louis Zoo because the city has decided to become what he calls an “abortion sanctuary city” by banning employers and landlords from discriminating against women who have had an abortion. He and Senator Wayne Wallingford quipped that it would be safer a woman to get an abortion at the zoo since the zoo has yearly inspections. Sen. Onder also said that the zoo was better regulated since it required a five-day waiting period before euthanizing animals, while Missouri law requires women to wait three days after their appointment with a doctor to get an abortion.

Sadly, these sorts of comments are not uncommon among lawmakers and pro-life advocates. Senate candidate Todd Akin claimed in 2012 that women don’t need abortion access after being raped because they can’t get pregnant through those means; he stated that “if it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” CNN contributor Dana Loesch declared that women shouldn’t complain about a bill that would require women to undergo an invasive and medically unnecessary trans-vaginal procedure before getting an abortion since they experienced a similar penetration during the sex that caused the pregnancy. Oklahoma Representative Justin Humphrey said that while he understands women feel like their body is their own, they are actually just hosts for a fetus. And Representative Lawrence Lockman once asked that if a woman could have an abortion, why couldn’t a man be free to force himself on a woman?

I understand arguments on both sides of the debate on abortion, and I don’t make a judgment on people who personally believe one way or another. However, I do take issue with the inherently sexist and damaging line of thinking some use to argue against a women’s right to obtain an abortion. Todd Akin displayed a criminal ignorance of basic anatomy. Dana Loesch supported a bill that would strip women of their autonomy over their bodies and shamed women for their sexuality. Lawrence Lockman made a disgusting argument that misrepresents abortion and trivializes rape. And our own Missouri senators compared women to zoo animals. More concerning than their casual insults over a serious issue is Senator Onder’s stance against a bill that would protect women who have had abortions, use contraceptives, or are pregnant from being discriminated against by employers or landlords. (The bill doesn’t support the actual act of abortion; it guards against individuals punishing women who exercise their legal reproductive rights.)

Yet these comments also point to a deeper, widespread problem. Rather than treating women as rational human beings, some arguments about abortion depict women as individuals who should be stripped of autonomy and humanity, as well as their legally protected rights. For example, arguing that women shouldn’t have gotten pregnant in the first places tries to shame women for having sex and places all the blame on them; yet, from what I learned in sixth-grade biology, it actually takes an egg and sperm to conceive a child. Other arguments, like Humphrey’s comment that women’s bodies are hosts, commonly attempt to ignore that a woman’s body is her own and lessens her autonomy. When men speak of women this way, no actual dialogue between those holding differing viewpoints is possible. Dialogue can only exist when both parties receive respect, and these comments suggest a lack of respect for women, their autonomy, and their bodies.

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