Lynn Paltrow on the Strengths and Weaknesses of Pro-Choice Lawyering

12 Sep

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Lynn Paltrow, Executive Director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, is a genius. In her latest article for the New York Univeristy Review of Law & Social Change, she talks about missed opportunities of pro-choice litigators. A few snippets below:

On the limitations of only litigating on abortion:

If “pro-choice” advocates keep responding to efforts tore-criminalize abortion only by arguing for the legality of abortion, then we accept a narrow image of women as “people who have abortions” rather than as people who sometimes have abortions and far more often have children and take responsibility for raising them and caring for them and the homes they live in.

On the importance of fighting for women as both mothers and people who have abortions:

By recognizing that Roe and the debate around it also affects mothers,  “pro-choice” activists can more effectively challenge the existing framework that falsely suggests that  there are two kinds of women: those who have abortions and those who have babies. If pro-choice advocates acknowledge that the vast majority of women who have abortions are the same women who have babies, they have the opportunity to reframe the debate. They will also find many more potential allies to work with to ensure not only the right to choose abortion, but also to advocate for the social and economic conditions necessary to enable pregnant women to make real choices.
On the importance of human rights framing and challenges of “thinking like lawyers”:
As discussed below, the efforts of anti-choice activists keep public debate focused on abortion rather than other important issues of our day. Their false claims about science and history, if repeated often enough and left unchallenged, become more likely to be believed and relied upon by judges and policy makers. Furthermore, the more we permit anti-choice activists to frame the issue as a question of abortion’s legality and morality, rather than as a question of the rights and dignity of pregnant women and mothers, the more dominant this frame becomes in the public debate. The pro-choice movement’s stunning non-response reflects two concepts that are relevant to this Page to Practice Symposium. First, thinking like lawyers blinds us to a wide variety of advocacy tools that are as important as, if not more important than, legal arguments. Second, thinking like prochoice lawyers blinds us to the larger political issues at stake in the ongoing effort to overturn  Roe v. Wade and deny women their civil and human rights.
You really should read the whole thing. Then tell us what you think!

One Response to “Lynn Paltrow on the Strengths and Weaknesses of Pro-Choice Lawyering”

  1. Ae3nn September 29, 2011 at 7:45 am #

    As a childfree woman, I have some concern over the proposal to counter anti-choice advocates on the grounds that many women who have abortions become mothers. By including abortions in the province of motherhood, there is the risk that in promoting the image of the mother who may have an abortion, there will be a distancing from women who are not (and will never be) mothers, and a reinforcement of the stereotype of childfree women as bad/wrong/unnatural.

    Yes, many women who have abortions go on to have children, or already have children. Other women who have abortions don’t and won’t have children. The identification should not be made with “mother,” but with everywoman. To do otherwise undermines another aspect of reproductive freedom: the choice not to become a mother.

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