Another day, another abortion party

An essayist caricatures pro-choicers drinking and dancing on a fetus' grave

Published July 9, 2009 5:35PM (EDT)

I hadn't heard of an abortion party until today. That's despite growing up in the liberal sanctuary of the San Francisco Bay Area and attending a passionately feminist women's college. I've seen women unabashedly announce "I had an abortion" to friends and strangers alike, out loud and on T-shirts and bumper stickers, but an abortion party is an entirely new concept to me. Yet, somehow, several conservative bloggers seem perfectly unsurprised, albeit outraged, by the personal essay on Alternet that introduced me to the concept of such a shindig. That's because it's just the sort of thing they imagine we evil, unfeeling, baby-hating pro-choicers do for fun: We abort fetuses, then throw parties!

Only, it wasn't exactly a celebration of an unplanned pregnancy, it was a fundraiser to help 22-year-old "Maggie," a college senior, pay for the abortion. Author Byard Duncan explains that for a donation at the door, friends were invited inside to "partake of baked goods, beer and dancing." One attendee even brought along a 3-year-old boy. Duncan observes, "Even though I thought the presence of a young child at an abortion party was a little bizarre, nobody else seemed to acknowledge (or care about) this contradiction." He eventually asks the kid whether he feels "welcome," because -- get it? -- why would he feel welcome at an event that's all about hating children! Surely only inflaming already irate antiabortion readers, he describes how someone "had taken a red bed sheet and hung it below a light fixture to resemble a giant womb" -- just above the dance floor. It's like they're dancing on the fetus' grave.

What to make of all this? Part of me is inclined to examine my supreme discomfort with the idea of a lighthearted abortion hoedown in light of my strong pro-choice beliefs. A much larger part of me, however, suspects I'd be falling victim to what seems a calculated  and manipulative caricature of this particular party. So, I decided to toss it to some of my fellow Broadsheeters for their take.

Mary Elizabeth Williams: I can't speak for the author's intentions, but the story reads like it was calculated to provoke the most apoplectic reactions of the right. The wimmins are celebrating baby killing, and men aren't welcome!

Is that the sound of Bill O'Reilly rubbing his palms in glee I hear? I don't see any evidence that abortion parties are sweeping college campuses, yet the fact that the story is titled "My First Abortion Party" implies more to come.

It's too bad the piece itself is so amateurishly written, because we never really get a sense of "Maggie" or her friends as individuals. Instead, he seems to be taking pains to depict them as sufficiently boy-averse that even the preschooler guest declares the scene "too cool."

It's hard for me to get my head around throwing a fundraising party for any medical procedure, but then again, I'm not a pregnant Indiana 22-year-old. There is an air of calculated outrageousness to the whole thing -- Maggie's blasé attitude, the womblike atmosphere of the fete, the tone of the story itself. There's enough outrage in the world already, so I don't really feel like taking the bait.

I'd rather just use my energy to continue to champion the right of women -- and their partners -- to have safe, affordable, accessible options.

Lynn Harris: While for many women abortion is of course a serious and complex undertaking, the prospect of not being pregnant -- and having the right to not be pregnant in the first place -- may put some in a party mood; that's legit. So I'd want to be careful about saying everyone should handle the decision (one that was to this woman, a very clear and simple one) with funereal solemnity -- there's a degree to which that further stigmatizes the procedure.

That said ... party? Tacky. Not necessarily because it's glib about abortion, but because it's glib about friendship. If you don't have the money for the procedure and we all know that many women don't, perhaps an among-friends "fundraiser" would be more gracefully conducted with a personal PayPal account and a delicately worded e-mail or quickie Web site whose URL is shown only to a select group. Not because the abortion itself should necessarily require such hush-hush discretion, but because, man, asking your friends to pony up at a party is putting them in a weird, public position. Because while we generally tend to hang out with folks of similar political stripes, that doesn't mean we know how each individual feels about abortion. (Like, maybe there's someone who believes it should be legal but would not have -- or abet -- one herself? Is she going to feel pressured to attend or contribute, like a "bad friend" if she doesn't? Of course the ultimate decision is the "bad friend's" problem, but I'm saying it's not right to put her in that position to begin with.)

And just for the record, I'm fairly certain that some members of the anti-choice movement think feminism is all one big abortion party to begin with.

Kate Harding: I can't get past the fact that so much of this article echoes anti-choice framing about liberal, pro-choice women. We hate children (hence the presence of a child at the party is a "contradiction" -- seriously?), we don't value men's feelings and opinions, we actually turn "male" when we get angry ... what MB said, basically. 

As for the party itself, I agree with Lynn that it rubs me the wrong way from an etiquette standpoint, but not just because being asked to subsidize an abortion might make some friends uncomfortable. More generally, when did house parties become fundraisers? In my day, if you couldn't afford to offer dinosaur ribs and libations to all your friends, you threw a BYOB potluck -- you didn't charge a freakin' cover to get into your living room. I just fundamentally don't like this idea that we're all entitled to hand our friends a bill for the pleasure of our company. (See also: People who get pissy about insufficiently expensive wedding gifts.) But if you're going to collect donations at a party, I don't necessarily have a problem with it being for an abortion in particular. I do think it's important to acknowledge that not everyone sees every abortion as a tragedy. And that having an abortion as a young woman does not mean you're an evil child-hater. (She's having an abortion but still hangs with friends who had a baby? Whaaa? Sorry, I'm still stuck on that.) As Lynn said, not being pregnant at 22 can indeed be legitimate cause for celebration. If fundraising parties are common among your peers, why not?

Ultimately, I think it's one of those things that forces you to examine your theoretical principles against your actual principles. It would be lovely if everyone who shared my basic political beliefs would also behave exactly as I would in every situation, so I'd never have to feel uncomfortable about anyone making "us" look bad. Unfortunately, I live in the real world. I hate that this story is only going to reinforce anti-choice and anti-feminist stereotypes, but as a pro-choice feminist, I can't condemn it as anything other than arguably tacky.

Amy Benfer: I absolutely and emphatically agree with all that has been said here: The piece feels like the worst-case scenario of anti-choice propaganda; I've got plenty of problems with the alleged anti-male bias (which doesn't ring true to me); and I think a discreet Pay Pal account is way more appropriate than having to throw an abortion kegger.

But this just underscores something wrongheaded about abortion policy in the first place: To wit, why does a 22-year-old college senior have to throw a kegger, invite all her friends, and make a public spectacle out of her personal choice in the first place? Shouldn't she just be able to cover the $400 procedure under her college health plan just like she would do for a tonsillectomy? As we pointed out earlier in Broadsheet today, the abortion scandal of the last 30 years is that we have allowed policymakers to chip away at our laws, making it the most difficult for women who need abortion most -- young women and poor women. And it looks like we might be gearing up for the same fight under the new, improved Obama health plan. It reminds me of that old lefty bumper sticker: "It will be a great day when the schools have all the money they need and the Air Force has to run a bake sale to fund a B-52 bomber." It will be a great day indeed when a college senior doesn't have to throw a kegger to fund her abortion.

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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