Arguing with Imaginary Women

Jill at Feministe asks a question, in reference to something Slate’s William Saletan is going on about in his usual “other people’s actual lives are my detached and lovely postgraduate seminar” way:

If there are no medical reasons and abortion is fully accessible and the fetus is past the point of viability, then I’m fine with saying no, that woman’s “abortion request” should not be “granted” (gah). But let’s also be clear that the number of women seeking post-viability elective abortions for no medical reason at all who also had full access to early abortion is a really really tiny number. It’s significantly less than the number of women who have abortions after 21 weeks of pregnancy, which is a whopping 1.5% of abortions (or 18,000 total). And Saletan, I think, is talking about abortions which women would want to have more than 24 weeks into a pregnancy. There aren’t statistics on that (at least as far as I can find), but I don’t think anyone would dispute that it’s minimal.

So here’s where I’m confused: Why are we focusing on the tiny number of women who want to have post-viability elective abortions when (a) that’s illegal anyway, as evidenced by the fact that Gosnell was arrested for it so there isn’t really much of an argument to be had; and (b) there are all of these issues surrounding access and contraception use and the demonization of abortion that impact infinitely more women?

We’re debating the rights of some group of theoretical women who want to have post-viability abortions, and who have no medical reason to do so, and who were perfectly able to access abortion earlier in their pregnancies. Why? Seriously, why are we doing that?

Why? Because it’s fun for us to argue with imaginary women. Real women, after all, tend to have stupid things like “actual problems” and “lives” instead of “sets of circumstances I can construct to make them seem like dumb sluts.” If we put half the time and attention into filling societal needs that we presently put into constructing elaborate examples that will get us out of feeling guilty for not giving the least bit of a shit, we would have no worries in this country.

But that’s not how we do things. Our national pastime has become finding the anecdote that will allow us to feel okay about not helping people. Like, lately that’s about all we do, make these paper dolls and put all this irresponsible, stupid, uncaring paper clothing on them specifically so we can set them on fire. We’re focusing on the tiny number of women who conform to this particular kind of messed-up behavior:

But we’ll still be left with some women who, for no medical reason, have run out the clock, even to the point of viability.

Just because if we can find one dumb slut who fits that mold, that will mean nobody will need to have an abortion ever, because that slut is dumb. Because that’s how it works now. One example of a person who is a creep, and the entire system is invalidated and everybody in it can go to hell and die. I mean it, ask anybody about anything, and you wind up with “people on welfare all suck because this one chick in the grocery line yesterday was a bitch to me and she had food stamps,” basically.

You know, until we can come around to the idea that we will have to work with a certain number of assholes in order to help millions of people and guarantee them their legal rights, we will never get anywhere as a society.

So we are talking about a tiny number of women because it is just easier for us. And you know, it never really does ever work the other way, does it? People like Saletan never have to justify every example proponents of abortion rights can come up with of a woman for whom abortion was a necessary and just choice. It’s only those of us on the other side of the issue who have to have an answer for every single daffy set of variables that get pulled out of the bingo ball that day.