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Last week, the news that Chelsea Clinton is expecting her first child inspired its fair share of headlines — even fueling suggestions that it was somehow carefully timed to benefit her mother’s potential presidential run. The announcement also made the rounds in the right-wing blogosphere, inspiring several op-eds attempting to highlight the apparent contrast between the Clintons’ stance on reproductive rights and their daughter’s decision to have a child.
Abortion opponents expressed confusion that the Clintons would refer to Chelsea’s unborn child as a “baby” and not a “fetus,” suggesting that’s wholly incompatible with their support for legal abortion. “When it’s their own grandchild, it appears the Clintons see things differently, with their words most definitely betraying their true feelings on the matter. No talk of a non-person fetus, only of a child,” a Christian Post editorial noted, declaring that the Clintons must actually believe that life begins at conception.
The insinuation, of course, is that the people who support abortion rights must always opt for abortion over pregnancy. But that’s an incredibly black-and-white view of reproductive rights that doesn’t actually reflect the reality of Americans’ experiences — including the women who have chosen to end a pregnancy at some point in their lives.
Although the issue of reproductive rights typically separates people into two camps, either “pro-life” or “pro-choice,” there’s increasing evidence that those labels don’t accurately capture Americans’ complex relationships to abortion. Many people identify as both, and say their attitude about the procedure depends on the situation. Some people who tell pollsters they’re “pro-life” don’t actually support overturning Roe v. Wade. It’s possible to believe you are carrying a baby and choose to end the pregnancy anyway. Many times, personal experiences with abortion fall into what’s known as a “grey area” between the two political camps.
Furthermore, the idea that “pro-choice” women never want to give birth is demonstrably false. About 61 percent of women who choose to have an abortion have already given birth to at least one child. It doesn’t make sense to construe the women who support abortion rights as being anti-family or anti-pregnancy. But the fact that most women who have abortions are parents simply doesn’t fit into the anti-choice community’s narrative, which relies on the assumption that the women who seek out this procedure don’t value children.
In a society that understands women are capable of making complicated moral choices, there’s nothing unusual about Chelsea Clinton or any other “pro-choice” women who decides she wants to parent. Simultaneously, there’s nothing unusual about another woman who decides to end a pregnancy because she can’t currently financially support another child. But as demonstrated by the barrage of state-level restrictions attempting to legislate women’s bodies, not everyone lives in that world yet.
This isn’t news to reproductive rights supporters, who are well aware of the fact that Americans often have huge misconceptions about abortion and the women who choose it. That’s largely because of a persistent stigma surrounding the procedure that makes women feel like they’re not allowed to talk about it. In order to change the narrative — which could eventually help lead to a policy shift in this area — advocates are attempting to create more safe spaces for women to be “open” about their wide range of experiences.
Advocates are also challenging the fundamental misconception that reproductive rights begin and end at abortion. Lawmakers are increasingly calling for a range of pro-woman policies to support people at every stage in their lives, including when they may want to have a child — comprehensive packages that include maternity care, pay equity, and the preservation of abortion access. But the anti-choice community often doesn’t take such a holistic view.