Young Pro-Life Supporters at March for Life Rally


Recently, US Presidential candidate Rick Santorum confirmed his commitment to stupidity when he declared that women should view a pregnancy that resulted from rape as a “gift from God” and carry it accordingly.


 Socially conservative US presidential candidate Rick Santorum.

“I believe and I think that the right approach is to accept this horribly created, in the sense of rape, but nevertheless, in a very broken way, a gift of human life, and accept what God is giving to you.”

Hey y’all. Yours is not to judge. God moves in mysterious ways. Why not see it as a silver lining? It’s the right approach.

Unfortunately, views like Santorum’s aren’t all that uncommon.

Last month, a networking group was formed with aims to link select members of the ALP, including Environment Minister Tony Burke and Tasmanian Senator Helen Polley.

The group is linked to the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association, one of Australia’s most powerful and notoriously conservative unions and led by the vigorously anti-choice Joe de Bruyn. It’s title – Labor for Life – should leave no one guessing as to its primary objective.

The battleground on abortion has never been truly abandoned.

Every so often, the issue rears its divisive, morally contentious head and sends everyone tearing away to their activity bench to construct crudely painted placards featuring slogans like, ‘MY BODY MY CHOICE’, ‘MY MUMMY SAYS MURDER IS WRONG’ and ‘WHAT IF MARY HAD ABORTED JESUS?’.

Leaving aside the ineptitude of hypothetical moral quandaries, I think we can safely say that this is one issue that will never find its way out of the wilderness it’s been trapped in ever since people decided that women’s bodies belong to everyone but themselves, ie the dawn of time.

Luckily, there aren’t too many sides to choose from.

The legalisation of abortion procedures in the latter half of the 20th century led to a convenient political dichotomy in which defiant people could state their position. On the one side, there were those who believed in a woman’s right to self-determination, reproductive autonomy and the ability to decide for herself when or even if she wanted to become a parent.

We called those people ‘pro-choice’.

On the other side were those who had a peculiar understanding of biology, preferring to imagine the womb less as an environment in which a tiny embryonic fetus might grow into personhood, and more like one of those tents that all the wizards have in Harry Potter; deceptively small on the outside but big enough to house bunk beds, a rudimentary kitchen and a ping pong table behind the entrance flaps.

Within this magical sanctuary, they liked to imagine a fetus skipping through the fallopian tubes and playing pat-a-cake with the uterine wall. From the cosy hearth of its amniotic sleeping bag, it would dream of one day having the kind of job that requires gentle hands and a loving heart – a vet perhaps, or Georgie Parker.

It was held as incontrovertible fact that a fetus was more important than the woman carrying it, and that anyone who thought otherwise should be burned at the stake.

We called these people ‘pro-life’.

And this is where we went wrong.

Allow me to explain. I am a feminist. I have also had two abortions of which I am neither proud nor ashamed. I have yet to feel the enormous sense of guilt and depression that the anti-choice camp assures me is my destiny, and I have never for a moment regretted my decision.

Because of this, and after deep philosophical consideration of the issue, I would now describe myself as fervently pro-life; I am absolutely and whole-heartedly in pro respecting the life of any woman who finds herself facing an unwanted or unexpected pregnancy.

When it comes to the thorny issue of abortion, a woman’s life IS the point.

It’s time we reframed the debate to reflect that. By allowing anti-choicers to lay claim to the title of ‘pro-life’, we effectively concede that it’s okay to compare the already established life of a woman with the biological existence of an embryo.

Unfortunately, anti-choice activism goes even further, seeking to elevate the status of a fetus to above that of a woman. Let’s just be very clear about this. When these people say pro-life, they’re not talking about the woman whose life will be permanently altered by being forced to parent a child she either cannot care for or simply doesn’t want.

They’re talking about an embryonic fetus that is, at the average time of termination, approximately 2.5 cm long.

To put it in a simpler terms, a woman is seen as secondary to that of an entity that hasn’t even begun to develop the complexity of personhood, and is roughly the size of a small apricot.

I know we like to perpetuate the idea that the most satisfying and important thing a woman can do is have children, but for many of them that’s just not true.

For me, it was most certainly the opposite.

Had I chosen to have one of those babies – because the law of sliding doors dictates that there could only ever be one – I wouldn’t be working in a job that I find enormously fulfilling and stimulating, but that I also believe contributes in some small way to feminism, sociology and the cultural debate.

I’m validated by my decisions, because making them meant I could go on to live a life of my choosing – and I have never for a single moment regretted that decision. For that matter, neither have the countless women I’ve spoken to who’ve made similar choices, because they decided their singular autonomy was more important to them than being shamed into becoming a mother against their will.

And this is exactly no different than women who decide to have children, because they have envisioned a future that includes them.

Neither of us is more or less admirable than the other, because we have both acted with the intention of defining our lives as we see fit. I have a great deal of respect for women who choose to have children, and I will defend just as strongly their right to do so. But I have no less respect for those women who choose for their lives to have a different kind of meaning.

People like Rick Santorum and the members of Labor for Life claim the title of pro-life because they believe a woman’s life only exists to beget other, more important lives. By not fighting them on this definition, we’ve allowed them to equate the biological life of a fetus with that of a fully formed woman, even while we find ourselves arguing against that comparison.

We might not be able to convince these people to keep their sanctimonious politics away from women’s bodies.

But by taking back the term pro-life, we can at least send a message that the lives worth protecting first and foremost are those of the women who are already here and who deserve to be respected.


Girls, you can’t save a bad boy

Mum, thankyou for the memories

*Clementine Ford is a freelance writer, broadcaster and troublemaker based in Melbourne. She enjoys cups of tea on stormy summer afternoons, men with beards and the collected works of Nancy Mitford. You can read more of her work at or follow her on Twitter @clementine_ford.



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  • Reply January 30, 2012


    I totally agree with you, Clementine.

    I also think we need to consider that ‘pro-life’ should incorporate those things that women may need to have a fulfilling life after abortion. I too have had two abortions, but unlike you I have experienced the shame, remorse and sadness that anti-abortionists speak of. For a long time I had trouble finding the support I needed to be happy in the life that came after the abortions.

    It’s hard to be in the middle – there seems to be pro-life for those who don’t have abortions, and pro-choice for those who do and are totally fine with it, but a lack of maybe pro-empathy for those who will make an impossible choice and then struggle to come to terms with it. And that’s not choosing (our own) life either.

    • Reply March 23, 2012


      I totally agree with your article Clementine. I just wish Mary had aborted Jesus, it might be a less judgemental society we live in now.

  • Reply January 30, 2012

    Jackie K

    Well said – agreed. “Pro-life” has always felt like an unfair, sanctimonious and sneaky moniker to those of us who are “pro-choice”.

  • Reply January 30, 2012

    A woman you might know

    The baby a woman chooses not to carry to term could have been a neurosurgeon, or a mass murderer. Either way, it is not up to legislators or moral commentators to tell a woman she must give up her future, or even her life given the number of women who (like me) are at risk of death from medical complications of pregnancy. A woman should not be forced to give up everything for a maybe – it should be her choice to make.

  • Reply January 30, 2012


    Right on.

  • Reply January 30, 2012


    I also dislike pro-lifer’s claiming that pro-choice is pro-abortion. I’m not pro-abortion, and I especially struggle with the issue of late term abortions. For me, abortion is an option of last resort and unfortunately thats where women sometimes find themselves. I think greater emphasis should be given to young women and men on how to avoid being in that situation in the first place, and for when the best laid plans go awry, the morning after pill should be readily available OTC. However I remain steadfastly pro-choice, as I don’t believe my personal values should be used to judge others and neither shguld we ever return to the dark days of backyard abortions.

  • Reply January 30, 2012


    absolutely! ‘pro-life’ always wants to make me scream, Whose life … who decides?

    slightly off topic, it makes me a little sad that you felt that you wouldn’t have achieved as much with a baby, though, as realistic as that assessment probably is. we still have such a long way to go creating a world with real choice for our children. xt

  • […] Give me back my womb – reframing the debate on abortion […]

  • Reply January 30, 2012


    Its not so much that I wouldn’t have achieved anything. It’s just that these incidents happened before the thought of being a professional writer even seemed like a possibility. It would have change the path of my life completely, because it was really good fortune that led me to this point. Good fortune, opportunity and being in the right place etc. Of course, many women have children and achieve their ambitions and dreams, and I totally respect that as being a fact. But I know that it wouldn’t have been the case for me.

    • Reply January 30, 2012


      What would you say about a woman whose hopes and dreams were to have a family (children) and devote herself to raising them to contribute meaningfully to the next generation?

      • Reply January 30, 2012


        I would say good on her, and that was her choice.

        I really don’t see the point of the question.

        • Reply January 30, 2012

          WENDY GREEN

          Clementine says, ” Of course, many women have children AND achieve their ambitions and dreams.. ”
          .. so it’s like she’s saying having children isn’t one of a woman’s hopes and dreams.

          • January 30, 2012


            Now you see, I didn’t read it like that at all, but I guess, in fairness, it would need Clementine to clarify.

            Referencing On the Highwire this week, one of my favourite quotes is from Anais Nin, and it goes like this “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”

            I reflect on this daily – not least while reading the comments on The Hoopla 🙂

  • Reply January 30, 2012

    Jane Caro

    Great piece, Clementine.
    And – further to your sliding doors analogy – it depends on whose life you are pro. I have had one abortion and didn’t regret it for an instant.
    Still don’t. How could I? Because if I had had that child at an age when I felt totally unprepared for parenthood, I would not have had the two much loved and wanted children (now young women themselves) I went on to have at a much more grown-up point in my life. One potential life ended, two actual lives created.
    The anti-choicers (as I prefer to call them) often have a religious belief that the foetus has a soul and is – literally- implanted by their god. Hence their blanket rejection of abortion for any reason even incest and rape. Personally, I see this as arrant nonsense, but they are entitled to believe whatever they like and make whatever nutty choices about their own bodies they want to. Like you, what I absolutely reject is their right to impose their myths and legends on my body or those of my daughters, or any other woman’s for that matter.
    And we are really talking about whether you are pro-safe, legal abortion as opposed to unsafe, illegal abortion. Because women will always find ways to prevent bearing children they do not believe they can adequately and wholeheartedly parent. They always have and, as long as contraception remains fallible, they always will.

    • Reply January 30, 2012


      Okay, so at what point do you say life begins then?

      • Reply January 31, 2012

        Jane Caro

        I think society indicates when it believes life begins very clearly. I had a miscarriage while trying to get pregnant and the world reacted with vaguely sympathetic indifference – you know, probably for the best, you’ll soon be pregnant again, never mind, these things happen. I grieved but no-one else much cared. Then my first child was born prematurely, picked up a respiratory infection and nearly died at all of 13 days old. The world rallied round like you wouldn’t believe. I received massive support and help, from people who knew me and people and professionals who didn’t.
        From that it seems most of us believe life starts at birth.

        • Reply January 31, 2012

          WENDY GREEN

          That’s the weird part though, once a baby is born we do everything in our power to preserve it’s life, but any woman who has felt the tender kicking of a wanted baby early in her pregnancy, knows the overwhelming joy of that first touch and recognition that there is something alive within her.

          It’s only the unwanted fetus that is disregarded without due consideration as to it’s right to live on the ‘outside’.

          I’m sorry you lost your baby and that you didn’t receive the empathy you wanted. I have also miscarried and often think of the lost child and what might have been. But, you are quite right, people don’t know how to comfort the grieving no matter what the age. We have lost our ability to cope with death because we are so sanctioned from it – our elderly are shoved into nursing homes to be ‘kept alive’ by strangers, if a person is sick they go to hospital and allow the medicos to ‘experiment’ on them with drugs and other treatments. Once upon a time, the sick were treated with the greatest respect and cared for in our homes not only by adults but children as well.

          It is just the proper respect for human life that I wish we still had.

  • Reply January 30, 2012


    Well said. Have always had an issue with the ‘pro-life’ tag that was latched onto. That sanctimonious attitude has often come across as “if you’re not with us, you’re against us, if you’re not ‘pro-life’, you’re ‘pro-death'” and nothing could be further from the truth.

  • Reply January 30, 2012





    Governments should govern, but that does not extend to the womb. What next – interfering with men who want vasectomies.

  • Reply January 30, 2012


    My concern is that you speak of abortion as though it’s as simple as taking the pill. While it needs to be legal and safe, it should be a very last option. You speak of having had two abortions purely for inconvenience… do you agree that precautions should be taken to prevent unwanted pregnancies? We all know sex can lead to babies and there is the morning after pill. abortion should be safe and legal but it shouldn’t be trivialized.

    • Reply January 30, 2012


      I think you’ll find it’s usually the anti-abortion people who are anti-contraception and think that abstinence-only sex education is a good idea.

  • Reply January 30, 2012


    The Pro-life group is also the one which rails against the idea of voluntary euthanasia. How dare they take it upon themselves to attempt to influence law-makers to legislate for their own wishes, totally ignoring the opinions of the majority? Because this is what they are attempting to do. Just as with abortion, they want to take away the individual’s right to make important decisions about his/her own life. Certainly allow anyone the right to decide not to abort, and not to decide when life has become too onerous; but to deny anyone else that same right goes beyond the bounds of reasonable controls. And risking obliteration by a thunderbolt, I suggest that using God and the Bible as reasons for this stance and expecting rational people to swallow this superstitious fiction is just not on.

    I am now 71. I had an abortion at 17 and shudder to think what my life may have been had I not done so. At that age I had nothing, and would not have been able to gain any qualifications as childcare didn’t exist back then. I suppose I could have taken the adoption route, but doubt if I would have recovered from that emotional trauma. I have never felt really good about the abortion I must admit, but I see it as the only reasonable solution to a very naive mistake that I made.

  • Reply January 30, 2012


    Reading between the lines of the article and all these comments, it seems to me that the real issue here is not about abortion. It’s about one individual putting themselves above all others. While reading all of the above, I kept hearing: “Me! Me! Me!” My body. My career. My choice. My life.

    I’m afraid that just sounds selfish to me.

    Aren’t we meant to live in community? Doesn’t that mean everyone working together for the common good? Aren’t we supposed to contribute to the ‘gene pool’ by having more children? Some of the above contributors sound like they don’t think women should be having babies at all; where would that leave humanity?

    Come on girls, think about what you’re saying. Ask your self: when does life begin? If you can’t answer that ask your GP or look it up. You probably won’t find the answer because, as a society, we have never actually decided on the ethics of when a life is actually a life.

    (It would be good if we could try not to get so emotional about discussing this issue. There was an awful lot of it – emotion – in the article and I think that has fuelled some of the comments here.)

    • Reply January 30, 2012

      Meghan B.

      I’m sorry Wendy, but the argument that we need to “contribute to the gene pool” just doesn’t stack up for me. What makes any individual’s genes so superior? The pool isn’t drying up. There are too many children in the poorest parts of the world without parents and there are too many unaccompanied minors behind bars in Australian detention centres, who many argue we don’t have enough room for. If we were really struggling for numbers and we really wanted to improve the community then adoption in Australia would be a much simpler process. I believe in families choosing to have children of their own if they are willing and able but “contributing to the gene pool” is no reason to bring a baby into the world.

      • Reply January 31, 2012


        We are, all of us, just passing through.

    • Reply January 30, 2012


      I should think it is far more selfish to have children for the sake of societal expectations and wanting to contribute to the gene pool. I have had one abortion and do not regret it; I believe I contribute more to society and my community as I am now than I would as a parent. There is nothing wrong with wanting to make one’s career or other ambitions a priority over procreating – parenthood is best left to those who genuinely desire to raise children and I thank and admire those who do so. The argument is also insulting to those who dearly wish to have children but cannot, by insinuating that they can’t contribute to society because of a physical attribute.

      Funny how men rarely face the same accusations of selfishness when they express the same sentiments as women who choose not to have children.

    • Reply February 9, 2012


      and calling women “girls” is just about the most patronising thing you can possibly do.

      I don’t want kids, therefore I must be an immature little girl who hasn’t figured out “who I am” yet.

      I can (and am) a part of my community but I have no intentions of giving birth. Deal with it.

  • Reply January 30, 2012


    Hi Clementine,

    This endless summer of feminism is doing my head in and I’ve read literally piles of it and I can’t take it anymore. So here’s what I think.

    I think I’m pro-life. In the pro-fetus sense, not in the pro-woman sense. I really hope your taking back of “pro-life” doesn’t work, because pro-life rallies will get very confusing and then we will end up with “pro-old-life” and “pro-new-life” placards and just NO. You can’t have it. Everyone has only just figured out which is which. If you are pissed that pro-life got an unfair advantage then it’s too late. That baby is forty years old now and has left home. Both “pro-choice” and “pro-life” were invented to catchphrase their respective causes, since being “for” something apparently appeals to people more than being “against” something. Positive thinking and all that.

    I don’t agree that a woman’s life is infinitely more valuable than that of her unborn child, just because she’s in the middle of it. I realise that an already established woman has important goals and plans, such as “finish degree”, while the fetus is just floating around on auto pilot building organs and has NO CLUE at all. But I don’t agree that we should dispense with the voiceless based purely on the preferences of its carrier. Who is its mother. The one person in the world it might reasonably be expected to, well, depend on. A fetus may not be more important than the woman carrying it, but it sure isn’t of no importance. It should get a vote.

    It doesn’t make it easier to think about the “average” size of terminated fetuses, because that makes me think about the non-average size, which is the sort of size that sucks its thumb and yawns. The consequences for the woman who carries a fetus to term may be very life-changing and somewhat unsatisfying. But the consequences for the fetus if she doesn’t are about as life-changing and unsatisfactory as it is possible to get, which is death. So yes. That is what pro-life means.

    I think your article did two other things that do it a disservice. The first is opening with male target poster-boy Santorum, who is an American. In America! Fighting an exceedingly American battle. The second is your calm, rational description of the pro-choice people, followed by the flying leap into a stream of metaphorical voodoo to describe the pro-life people. That was unproductive.

    And finally. We do need abortion for a few reasons. We don’t need abortion to give a woman “the ability to decide for herself when, or even if, she wanted to be a parent”. We have contraception for that. Can someone look into that? Because if thousands of intelligent, independent women like yourself are unwillingly pregnant then we need to make it easier for them not to be.

    You may have your womb back now; I already have one. Could you just leave “pro-life” on the table on your way out?

  • Reply January 30, 2012


    My suggested replacement term instead of the hopelessly inaccurate “pro-life” is “forced-birth enthusiast”.

    I hope it catches on.

    • Reply January 31, 2012


      I supporting “anti-safe and legal abortion”.

  • Reply January 30, 2012


    Response to Me: I don’t think Clementine is trying to trivialize abortion, she is saying it is a choice woman should able to make, and then move on with their lives.

    For one reason or another unwanted/unplanned pregnancies do occur, and it is not always due to contraceptive irresponsibility on either partners behalf. I personally know someone using 2 forms of contraceptive who still became pregnant.

    I myself had 2 unplanned pregnancies in my 20s, the first I carried to term and I now have a wonderful daughter, the second I terminated. To this day I am glad I made that choice, and even moreso that I had the choice.

    This may seem callous to some but I often forget that I have even had a termination. It was one of innumerable choices I have made in my life and like so many other choices I do not spent large amounts of my time thinking about it. I made the right choice for me at that point in my life and I see no point in regularly revisiting it.

    And Wendy Green, if that sounds selfish that’s because it is, there are two people I consider when I make any choice about my life – myself and my daughter. Having an abortion is my business, not the “communities”. I believe that I have achieved more, and been able to contribute more to my community because I did choose an abortion.

  • Reply March 2, 2012


    “To put it in a simpler terms, a woman is seen as secondary to that of an entity that hasn’t even begun to develop the complexity of personhood, and is roughly the size of a small apricot.”

    As a Dad of three girls, one who as a newborn is still particularly little, I think Dr. Suess says it best, “a person’s a person no matter how small.”

    • Reply March 20, 2012


      Paul, Dr Seuss’ own family was appalled to find people were using his writing as a pro life catchphrase. It’s also a bit of a cheap shot, isn’t it?

      • Reply March 21, 2012


        I find it hard to believe that someone who could write such amazing children’s stories could support the brutal killing of innocent children through abortion but yes, the Dr Seuss and his family donated to Planned Parenthood.

  • Reply March 22, 2012


    Wendy Green wants someone to answer the question; When does life being.
    We I want HER to answer the question; Who killed my fetus’?

    I had two abortions ( miscarriage is the sweet term) and if I were not an atheist I could blame a god for that. It was NOT my choice. The god took it from me.
    I am a believer in choice in everything, from having sex, contraception, giving birth and having the right to say when I should ‘check out’.

    People like Wendy do not need to take my ideas/ideals onboard and I am willing to let her have her choice of pregnancy/paenthood and even ‘when life begins’.
    It is the religious who believe that life does not ‘end’ but continues unto heaven. I do not.
    So I love the idea of using the term ‘anti-choice’ for those cruel thoughtless judgemental control freaks for I am ‘pro-life’ as long as life is worth living.

    :Like a previous commentator when I had my miscarriages the most common comment was ‘just get on with it’. WE ( my hubby and I ) wanted those pregnancies, and ended up with ‘three live births’ ( that is how the records read…five pregnancies with three live births). So I guess life begins with the delivery of the baby.

  • Reply March 23, 2012


    Why are we having a discussion about this subject? As far as I am concerned it is of no importance to anybody except the person who is, for whatever reason, having a termination. And it certainly is not anyone else’s business. Rick Santorum is a sanctimonious (I was going to use the other word which starts with “p”), moronic, poor excuse as a future political leader in the US. And as far as the remark “I just wish Mary had aborted Jesus, it might be a less judgemental society we live in now.” – I find that offensive.

  • Reply March 24, 2012

    this can be a

    Say “thanks” you to your mother and father they gave you the world

  • Reply March 27, 2012


    Leonie, your comment was 100% spot-on and I agree with all you’ve said. Clementine, please refer to it. Thanks – a pro-life feminist.

  • Reply June 2, 2012


    Read “I am Roe: my life, Roe v. Wade, and freedom and choice” by Norma McCorvey. I don’t wish to share my opinion, except to say that I have the deepest compassion for all women, who are afterall human beings first and women second.

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