by MIA FREEDMAN
What’s the difference between a scented candle and an unwanted pregnancy? There isn’t one! They’re both gifts and should be accepted with smiling gratitude.
When Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum was asked earlier this year how he’d feel if his daughter was raped and became pregnant, he insisted he wouldn’t want her to have an abortion and would instead encourage her to see the pregnancy as ‘a gift’.
Last week, Richard Mourdock, the Tea Party-backed Republican Senate candidate in Indiana, declared during a debate that he was against abortion even in the event of rape because after much thought he “came to realize that life is that gift from God. And even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”
This word is often used by people opposed to abortion and at first, it seems like a reasonable one. Babies are a gift, aren’t they? Many new parents use that exact word, especially if they’ve struggled with infertility.
But what about the ones who don’t choose – or want – to be pregnant?
A candle and an unwanted pregnancy do have this in common; neither ‘gifts’ were chosen by the recipient. And that’s where the similarities end. Because lives aren’t plunged into poverty and extreme emotional, mental and physical hardship by a candle that smells like figs. Journalist Caitlin Moran masterfully argues against the idea of unwanted pregnancies being ‘gifts’ in a recent column where she says:
“From the shop floor of pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood, here’s what that gift can entail: tearing, bleeding, weeping, exhaustion, hallucination, despair, rage, anaemia, stitches, incontinence, unemployment, depression, infection, loneliness. Death. Women still die in childbirth. Not as many as used to – but notably more die while receiving any other “gifts”, such as scented candles, or minibreaks. Additionally, “gift” sounds hopelessly inadequate to describe your children, whom you inhale like oxygen, swoon over like lovers and would die for in a heartbeat. I have never done this over a foot spa, book token or vase.”
This week I watched Mitt Romney’s wife Anne on The View face questions about her husband’s strong anti-abortion views and what they could mean for women if he were elected President. She tried to demur, saying it was ‘a very tender issue’ and segued quickly towards less emotive ground. “What most women are saying to me when I talk to them is ‘help’,” she countered with faux gravity, “because they’re in terrible financial strife.”
At that point, I had a shouting-at-the-TV moment. “Can’t you see the connection between those two things, Anne? Forcing women to have babies they don’t want and can’t afford to look after pushes them into poverty!”
Naive people believe restricting access to abortion will stop women from having them. Even better, make it illegal! More gifts! Smarter people understand women will always find ways to control their fertility, even if it means risking their lives. The idea of forcing a ‘gift’ onto someone who desperately doesn’t want it is baffling. And cruel.
I’ve always wondered how anti-choice crusaders measure their ‘success’. Is it by an increase in the number of children who are abused or neglected? Perhaps it’s by the number of women who abandon their education or employment? The percentage of mothers forced onto welfare? Or maybe ‘success’ comes in the form of more families pushed below the poverty line. Is that what a gift looks like?