Opinion: You Can’t Explain Abortion to Conservatives

National Day of Action to Defend Women's Rights. Rally at Dallas City Hall, July 15, 2013.
National Day of Action to Defend Women's Rights. Rally at Dallas City Hall, July 15, 2013. Photo by Steve Rainwater via Flickr
“I’m going to need Governor Greg Abbott at some point to look directly into a camera and say, ‘I support a 13-year-old being forced to carry her grandfather’s baby to term.’”

I was really proud of myself when I thought up that line above. For me, nothing better encapsulated the cruelty and misguided nature of the “heartbeat bill” that Abbott signed into law last week. It was short, quippy, brutal, and true, and I couldn’t wait to try it out on the constellation of conservative dudes that orbit around me on social media. Surely, something like this would cause a spark in the tinder of humanity that I have faith exists in every conservative’s heart.

Results were disappointing. Mostly, guys would just ignore the question. At best, they wanted me to lay out the crimes that the unborn had committed that meant they should be put to death, which you will notice is also ignoring the question.

Can the anti-abortion people be reached? The answer is yes, but it’s a long process that will require much more than mere information and must be undertaken by someone that the person in question will actually listen to (usually a man). Should you want to give it a go, here’s what you need to know.

The battle between conservatives and the left is mostly a fight about individualism versus egalitarianism, though there are many other facets. Conservatism is at heart the defense of the concept of nobility or hierarchy while liberalism is adherence to democracy.

As such, conservatives are positively allergic to thinking in sociological terms. The idea that someone is guided, even dominated by, circumstances of birth and station is abhorrent to their entire world view. They will usually acknowledge that poor beginnings are a thing but staying there is always a matter of personal choice.

You see this a lot in extended conversations with them on abortion. On a list of possible causes for an unwanted pregnancy, a conservative will always list poor choices on the part of the person who got pregnant at the top. Rape, incest, lack of access to birth control, failure of sexual education…these things can all at some point be explained away as mistakes if you really commit to it. A person shouldn’t have gotten drunk at a party or have known antibiotics would reduce hormonal birth control effectiveness. As long as there is some element of blame that can be assigned to the person who got pregnant, the choice illusion holds.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump said something I thought was horrifying, but brilliant. For years, Trump had been pro-choice, switching to anti-abortion as soon as he wanted to be a Republican. When pressed on his flip-flop, Trump said that he had a friend who decided against an abortion and ended up raising an amazing kid.

Granted, it’s Trump, so this could all be a lie, but I don’t think it is. I think he was completely sincere, and I also think it’s the crux of the anti-abortion argument. As long as some person, somewhere, was able to raise a good kid despite not initially wanting one, it proves that it can be done. Like poverty, conservatives go on to extrapolate that because anyone can do it, everyone can do it even though that is just demonstrably false.

I don’t know who Trump’s friend is, but odds are they’re rich. They weren’t being forced to move back in with abusive parents to afford care. They probably didn’t have to stay at a job that was slowly killing them for health insurance. If they lost a job, they weren’t going to be forced to rely on a stingy welfare state to survive. They almost certainly didn’t have a rapist assert continued control over their lives through paternity.

My hypothetical, which I assure you is not nearly as uncommon as you might hope, is not a societal failure to a conservative. It’s a brain teaser to be solved, and the people involved are merely playing a game because that’s how an oppressor class treats most of their problems. The handicapping of millions of people through unfair legislation is not a matter of concern for conservatives. They’re exactly like Capital G Gamers who get pissed when a game offers an easy mode, even if such modes allow disabled players more access.

Because access isn’t the point. A win state for all is not what they want. What conservatives seek is a clear separation of winners and losers. Obstacles toward reproductive freedom only help enable the division. The “right” people will not need abortions or will have resources to subvert the system.

That worldview is what you have to fight, and no number of ruined lives will alter it. Until conservatives see this as more than a game, they will not care about the number of bodies that they hack through on their way to winning.
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Jef Rouner (not cis, he/him) is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner