Abortion is Violence

From page 37 in Defending Reproductive Rights 2000 Edition


The anti-choice movement may be made up of diverse sectors, but it has a clear, common goal: to ban all abortions, of any kind, at any stage of a woman’s pregnancy. Individual anti-choice strategies may appear to be less absolute, but such apparent compromises are only part of a larger comprehensive strategy of eradicating legal protection for abortion in this country and prohibiting the use of US funds for abortions and family planning organizations abroad. Combining religious belief and savvy political acumen, the anti-choice movement has remained true to this goal. Opposition to abortion has been the Right’s largest fundraiser and the greatest movement-builder in this country since Prohibition. And a candidate’s stance on abortion remains a litmus test for many voters across the political spectrum.

How the Right frames the debate, uses the issue, and crafts its strategies warrants close scrutiny by pro-choice activists who seek some understanding of the patterns and trends that highlight the anti-choice agenda.

Anti-abortion activists have consistently framed abortion as violence against the “unborn child.” The filmmakers of “The Silent Scream” wanted to shock the public with evidence that a standard abortion like the kind done every day in this country is a disturbingly violent procedure. Claiming that abortion causes a painful death to the fetus, they described abortion as a repugnant, immoral act.

A central feature of the religious right’s “frame” for abortion is that human life begins at conception. To many of those who hold this belief, embryos and fetuses are defined as people even though they have not been born. Others in the anti-choice movement may see a fetus as a living organism, but may not be certain of its status. Yet the leadership of the Christian Right consistently uses the arbitrary benchmark of conception as a useful tool to persuade individuals that abortion is not only violent; it is murder.

Many followers of the Christian Right embrace the equation Abortion = Murder as a deeply held personal belief. The anti-choice movement has relentlessly promoted the idea that abortion is taking the life of a child. For those who believe abortion should be stopped, lobbying in the political arena through campaigning, voting and writing elected officials are appropriate responses. For those who see abortion as inherently immoral, despite its current protection under Roe, their conscience may require something more radical, such as direct action, either non-violent or violent. The language of some more militant anti-choice leaders encourages their followers to consider abortion as murder and then to decide what are the right steps to take. Randall Terry of Operation Rescue has said, “If you think abortion is murder, then act like it.” This theme of abortion as violence appears consistently throughout the Right’s discussion of abortion.