Update: I’d like to thank Dylan from The Vegan Police and their response to this article. It was brought to my attention shortly after this piece posted that Walter and I share very different economic and educational backgrounds. Certainly several things I said directed at Walter ignored the privileges I have received in these respects. For that, I apologize. I am glad to get a better picture about where Walter is coming from and how his politics have been shaped by his past, even though we at BWM disagree with his conclusions.
This much needed privilege-check also requires that I give a little more information about myself. I have worked as a rape crisis advocate and reproductive justice organizer for the past few years in my hometown, and as I’ve said in the piece, have terminated a pregnancy in my past. This might give a better picture about why my tone was so harsh, and felt defensive toward Walter personally in constructing my response. My real vitriol is directed to those who would excuse and facilitate reproductive oppression, and Hardline as political thought is certainly open to that criticism. – Jen
After reading Walter Bond’s latest “Official Statement on Abortion”, I have several responses as a fellow vegan and activist fighting for total liberation. I feel that we can have nuanced critiques of activists and their words and actions, even people whom we otherwise admire, to fight for a better and more strategic movement.
First, I think it’s helpful to define “reproductive oppression”, a concept that is glaringly absent in Walter’s discussions of the social and ecological implications of abortion. I am critiquing his words specifically from a framework of reproductive justice, which is not just concerned with legal access to abortion, but to the multitude of ways sexual expression, identity, pregnancy, and other features of reproductive life intersect with racial identity, gender identity, economic class, and ability, among other factors.
For example, if Walter were experiencing a pregnancy during his incarceration, he could be ordered by the state to be shackled to his bed during labor. If he refused a cesarean section because of concerns with health risks and sought a second opinion, the court system could deem him “non-compliant” and perform one anyway. If he was someone struggling with drug addiction, he could be denied health care, pain management drugs, and have his status as a parent called into question. Or, if a client of Indian Health Services, might be coerced into sterilization without given information about its permanancy or side effects. These are all issues of reproductive oppression that requires an intersectional framework as a response. That Walter would find it necessary to speak about abortion specifically points to his failure to see it as part of this larger issue, concerned with the concentration of power by the state into and using the reproductive organs of others.
Asking questions about life is a salient issue for vegans, but we acknowledge differences exist between “having a life” and “being alive”. I frequently explain to non-vegans that nonhumans have unique, rich experiences with themselves, their surroundings, and other creatures on this planet. They are sentient and experience life and need to be respected as such. So when a chicken eats an egg they have laid that does not hatch or exists in surplus, I do not cry out about the injustice of termination. Although the egg, even if fertilized, does not “have a life”, I trust the species to which the egg belongs to do with that makes sense for their lives and needs. We relinquish our impulse to control the reproductive lives of other species; indeed, we should extend that courtesy to our own.
What Walter needs to remember is that people who do have abortions ALSO know that a fetus is a human and will develop into a baby given time. To assume people need to be educated about the species or status of a fetus betrays latent misogyny that requires examination. I had an abortion precisely because this “miniature” human was developing into a creature for whose care I could not afford financially or mentally, nor have any interest in raising because of my political commitments. It is precisely because I am sensitive to the responsibilities associated with growing and sustaining human life that I made the decision to terminate; I was under no illusions that I was carrying a watermelon or desk chair in my uterus. Certainly Walter thinks more highly of those who experience pregnancy and their knowledge of their bodies and judgments. We are not your tragic unplanned pregnancy narratives to trot out when you talk about the failings of feminism and abortion.
Abortion as a facet of human civilization and technology is also nothing new; abortifacient herbs and plants have been used for centuries to regulate fertility and terminate pregnancy. These desires as a human species did not suddenly emerge in 1973 in the United States.
Connecting abortion doctors to vivisectors is particularly heinous. Nonhumans subject to medical testing are forced into situations that are 100% non-consensual, abusive, and exploitive. Persons seeking abortions frequently do so enthusiastically, therapeutically, and have positively transformative experiences. Abortion can frequently be a political action as a direct response to reproductive oppression. Conflating these experiences erases both the horrors of the vivisectors lab and the political agency found in resisting state coercion and control over one’s organs.
So if the state is not enforcing restrictions against abortion in Walter’s Hardline paradise, who then will or should be responsible for the protection of these “innocent lives”? Forcing or shaming pregnant persons to continue pregnancies against their will doesn’t seem much different from the status quo, and isn’t different from the coercive pregnancies of nonhumans for our uses (such as cows for milk production). It is speciesist oversight to not see the connections between the control of reproductive organs among humans and nonhumans as a way to concentrate power and project it into future generations. The fact that Walter self-identifies as a man in his statement (with the associated privileges he likely enjoys) is not lost on me here.
Upon hearing about my planned response to his statement, he reassured me through his friends that he does support abortion if a pregnancy was a result from rape. I think this admission is a political move to avoid the 1) logical inconsistencies in his arguments and 2) the clear exposure of how reproductive oppression violently controls sites of sexuality and reproduction on marginalized bodies in instances of rape.
Even more disturbing are Walter’s comparisons of himself to figures like Malcolm X because of his stance on abortion. If Walter were to entertain arguments made by communities of color that use and construct reproductive justice frameworks to de-center whiteness in terms of reproductive politics and sexual identity, he might think twice about that statement. His concern for “black genocide” by abortion is a kind of racist paternalism and protectionism that smacks of a white-centered ecological worldview, rather than one that acknowledges the ways reproductive oppression specifically manifests itself ethno-racially. Citing arguments that “pro-choice” people advocate for access to abortion as a population control mechanism highlights how mainstream, ecologically focused arguments do have racist implications that need to be examined, and also why the reproductive justice framework is a necessary antidote to this kind of thinking.
We ought to remain vigilant against the ways capitalism and its discontents seeps into otherwise critical minds, parading under the guise of concern for concepts like “innocent life” (which is itself a loaded, racist term). After considering these arguments, I do not feel I need to reconcile my “wrong” perspective for Walter’s; the only worldview in need of change is the Hardline one.