For those of us who have come of age as feminists in the past few decades, the opposition to abortion we’ve encountered has virtually always centered on the life of the (choose one) fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus. In the not so distant past, however, anti-choice rhetoric came from a very different place. Up until the latter half of the twentieth century, arguments against abortion focused primarily not on the notion of saving an innocent life, but on enforcing traditional gender roles for women.
Historically, abortion—as well as all forms of contraception—was typically seen as an evil not out of concern for the unborn, but rather out of the belief that allowing women to separate sex from child-bearing would lead to a complete collapse of womanly morality, allowing women to have sex willy-nilly for no other reason but pleasure. In other words, contraception and abortion would allow women the same sexual freedom enjoyed by men. There also was a widely accepted view that any woman who wished to avoid motherhood was inherently some kind of deviant; shunning the “natural” role of mother was viewed as a serious gender transgression. And of course, no attempt to maintain gender roles has ever been merely about preserving tradition for the sake of it, but rather about upholding the patriarchy. Social and economic equality are virtually impossible for women whose lives are circumscribed by compulsory motherhood.
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