by Priscilla J. Smith, Associate Research Scholar in Law at Yale Law School and the Senior Fellow and Director of the Program for the Study of Reproductive Justice at the Information Society Project
The 2016 presidential election is already making a difference in our conversation about women’s role in society, about gender stereotypes, about what constitutes sexual assault. I would like to think this is because a new generation of young women and men, those who have been raised by women and men who fought for sexual equality, have completely different expectations for gender equality than generations that came before them. After all, their parents may have fought to change things but they had not been raised to take these changes for granted the way their kids have.
Let us recognize the change that we have already experienced. It was only a few election cycles ago that abortion remained a third rail for progressives. If forced to discuss it, they would mumble that abortion should be safe, legal and rare and then pivot to discuss the economy as quickly as possible. More recently, especially after all the “slut-shaming” that came from conservatives when women demanded access to contraceptives and the discussion of “real”—and thus implicitly “unreal”—rape, things had begun to shift. Progressives began to recognize that being outspokenly pro-women and pro-choice increased their support among women voters in ways that could decide elections. Still, few progressives seemed to actually enjoy discussing abortion. Especially dreaded was any discussion of so called “late term” abortions.
That all changed during the last presidential debate, when one candidate seemed to puff up and beam when the other starting ranting about abortion. Could it be that this election can help us shift what it means to be pro-life? Could being pro-“life” mean that you would support kids and their parents when a child is born, no matter your view of the status of the embryo or fetus before birth? A truly pro-“life” politician would change policies that discourage families from having more children, like the welfare “family caps” that deny additional support to families who have additional children; s/he would institute programs of paid family leave and free or low-cost child-care to enable parents, both single and coupled, to provide for their children; s/he would make sure that families had adequate health care; s/he would support the right of a pregnant woman to protect her own life and her health status by ending her pregnancy. At least, that kind of pro-“life” position has the benefit of not being hypocritical. In this view of what it means to be pro-“life,” we could ask when a state claims to be promoting potential life, does it undermine its claim by failing to support these policies that support the lives of the people who are born or live in that very same state?