One in three American women will terminate a pregnancy by age 45. Yet, few issues remain as contentious as abortion. Even those who support it qualify their position by saying it’s “a bad thing” or “an agonizing decision.” In a new book, feminist writer Katha Pollitt argues it doesn’t have to be this way. “Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights,” is an impassioned attempt to re-frame the debate. She claims that abortion opponents have gained ground in part because the “pro-choice” movement has failed to make its case. She calls abortion a “moral right” and a “social good,” saying it should be seen as a normal part of a woman’s reproductive life.

Read An Excerpt

Excerpted from “Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights” by Katha Pollitt. Copyright 2014 by Picador. All rights reserved.


  • 11:06:53

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. 40 years ago, Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in the US. Since then, about a million women a year have terminated a pregnancy. But the issue remains far from settled. In a new book titled, "Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights," feminist author Katha Pollitt traces the history of abortion in America. She joins me in the studio. You are welcome to be part of the program. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send us an email to Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Katha Pollitt, it's good to have you here.

  • 11:07:43

    MS. KATHA POLLITTThanks so much for having me, Diane.

  • 11:07:45

    REHMKatha, I was fascinated to learn that until after the Civil War, abortion was essentially legal in all states.

  • 11:07:57

    POLLITTWell, it was a little bit illegal in New York and Connecticut, I think, but in the rest of the country, it was fine. And this is amazing, because people think well, before Roe v. Wade, abortion pretty much didn't happen, and afterwards, all hell broke loose. But that's not true. For the first, you know, 80 years of our history, abortion was pretty much legal. It was legal when we fought the American Revolution. It was legal when George and Martha were married, when the founding fathers wrote the Constitution.

  • 11:08:35

    POLLITTNow, if they had wanted to leg -- to say, put a human life amendment in the Constitution, as some anti-choicers want now, they could have done that, but they didn't. That tells you something.

  • 11:08:47

    REHMAnd what it tells you is that men were pretty much not caring about what women did.

  • 11:08:55

    POLLITTIt was messy women's business, and men were well advised to just stay out of it.

  • 11:09:03

    REHMSo, one poll says a majority of Americans support Roe v. Wade. Another poll found most people don't actually know what the ruling said. So, refresh our memory.

  • 11:09:19

    POLLITTWell, yes, that last thing you said is fascinating, because everybody talks about Roe. And then you find out that only 62 percent of the people in the country can tell you what it is. And even fewer among younger people. So everybody is answering pollsters as if they know, but actually, as with other poll subjects, they're not so sure. And when they ask people, you know, do you support the Supreme Court ruling that made abortion, you know, illegal on demand, first three months of pregnancy, and so forth.

  • 11:09:53

    POLLITTPeople -- a solid majority says yes, there is not that much support for let's ban abortion. Which I always have to remind people. That's what the anti-choicers want. They kind of downplay that a little bit, because they know it's unpopular, but that's their goal. No abortion, like in Ireland or Nicaragua, or El Salvador.

  • 11:10:16

    REHMWhich is where it is totally illegal.

  • 11:10:19

    POLLITTCompletely illegal. Women -- there are women in prison in El Salvador. Women have died in Ireland because they couldn't get a termination until the non-viable embryo or fetus was dead. And they died of -- Savita Halappanavar was a famous case of that a few years ago. She died. She died because they wouldn't end her miscarriage.

  • 11:10:44

    REHMAnd what about doctors in those countries who carry out abortions?

  • 11:10:50

    POLLITTWell, in Ireland, you won't -- probably won't find that, because people go to the UK, but doctors are coming around in Ireland. In other countries, where abortion is illegal, there are more illegal abortions than there are here, per capita. For example, in Brazil, and there are doctors, if you're a wealthy woman, you can get a termination that's illegal but safe. But if you're a poor woman, you're really out of luck.

  • 11:11:19

    REHMSo, in this country, the accessibility, the availability of abortion is going down.

  • 11:11:28

    POLLITTIt is. And you know, this is one reason I wanted to write this book, was that, you know, it sort of has crept up on us. Beginning in states like North Dakota, that are not really on the media map, where there's one clinic. Now, there are six or seven states where there's one clinic. And one of them is extremely big and populous, Missouri, one clinic. And they've just passed a 72-hour waiting period. And that means, if you don't live in St. Louis, you're traveling to St. Louis, perhaps, from the other end of the state.

  • 11:12:03

    POLLITTAnd you have to find a place to stay for three days, you have to find childcare for your children, you have to take time off work. It ratchets up the cost and anxiety, and it places abortion out of reach for many, many women in that state.

  • 11:12:16

    REHMSo, how different is that from some, say, five years ago?

  • 11:12:23

    POLLITTWell, there have been a lot of clinic closings. There have been more since 2012, when the Republicans won all those state elections. There have been, you know, hundreds of abortion restrictions have been proposed. And more have passed than in, you know, any period before then. And we're really reaching a crisis point in a state like Texas, for example. Two years ago, there were 40 plus clinics. Now, there are seven or eight. That's a big difference. There is, you know, huge swaths of Texas that have no abortion access.

  • 11:12:59

    REHMSo, Katha, what you've said you want to do with this book is not only to reclaim abortion rights, but to reframe the debate. What's gone wrong with the debate?

  • 11:13:20

    POLLITTWell, I think we need to see abortion as a sort of normal part of the reproductive lives of women. It's something that has always existed. You know, anthropologists go back 4,000 years and they can find evidence of abortion. There are abortion -- there were abortions in Catholic Europe, there were abortions in tiny villages in Africa, where no one has heard of feminism. It's part of life. It's part of women trying to have children when they can take care of them. And trying to have a life for themselves.

  • 11:13:55

    POLLITTAnd it's actually good that people plan their -- plan their families. And since birth control is not perfect and never will be, we need to have abortion so that families can have the right number of children for them at the time when it's best for them to have those children.

  • 11:14:13

    REHMPart of what you argue in this book is that the pro-choice movement itself has not been vocal enough, has not somehow presented their positions with the right words.

  • 11:14:32

    POLLITTWell, I think the pro-choice movement has become very defensive, and so they've adopted a language that I think they may not realize is stigmatizing. For example, when you say, safe, legal and rare, you're saying, oh, there's too much abortion. Well, is there too much abortion? There are lots of people who want an abortion that can't have one. The Hyde Amendment prevents, in most states, poor women from getting coverage for their abortion, so there are a lot of women who have babies because they can't afford -- they don't have 500 dollars.

  • 11:15:07

    POLLITTBut there's also this, sort of, abortion is the most terrible decision a woman ever makes. It's the most difficult decision. Oh, it's just so tragic and awful. Well, that's really saying motherhood is the default position for women. A woman should be ready to have a baby whenever a stray sperm gets in there. And if she's going to have an abortion, she has to feel really bad about it. But we know that, actually, most women who have abortions, it's not a difficult decision. They know right away that's what they want to do, and most women have abortions as soon as they can.

  • 11:15:44

    POLLITTYou know, 90 percent of abortions take place in the first trimester. And they -- the main reason why they take place later is that women are putting the money and the travel and all the rest of it together. If abortion were more accessible, even more of it would be earlier.

  • 11:16:00

    REHMOn the other hand, what about abortion in the case after the first trimester, when a woman finds out her child, that she's carrying, may have serious problems?

  • 11:16:19

    POLLITTOr she may have serious problems.

  • 11:16:20

    REHMOr she may have serious problems.

  • 11:16:21

    POLLITTRight. Or the -- or her husband has just left her. Peoples' lives change. I think that, you know, the anti-choice movement has been very successful at making late abortions, which are much more disturbing to people than earlier abortions, making that seem like that's the norm. You know, partial birth abortion. That was a brilliant framing. So, the norm is it's a day before birth and you have an abortion. You know, which never happens.

  • 11:16:49

    POLLITTThere are, in fact, only four clinics in the country -- four doctors that are known to perform abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy. So, this is a tiny, tiny percentage of the abortions that are performed in this country. Only 1.5 percent are performed after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

  • 11:17:10

    REHMWhat was it in your own history that got you started on this?

  • 11:17:15

    POLLITTWell, you know, it's interesting. My mother had an illegal abortion in

  • 11:17:21


  • 11:17:21

    POLLITTIllegal in 1960 or 1961. And I didn't know about it. She never told me. And when I found out about it, I wished that she had told me, because, you know, I was a young, very romantic girl. You know, I probably was against abortion myself, you know, when I was in college. And when abortion was illegal, but I didn't pay much attention to this issue then. But I wish that my mother had been able to tell me what the life of women was really all about.

  • 11:17:58

    REHMDid she ever tell you, as you got older?

  • 11:18:04

    POLLITTNo. No. Well, my mother died before I was 30.

  • 11:18:07

    REHMI see.

  • 11:18:07

    POLLITTSo, she might have told me by now, but here's something interesting that my grandmother told my aunt, which was that my great-grandmother, who had either eight or nine children, and this is back in the old country, back in the Shtetl in Russia. She had an abortion and she died. She had an illegal abortion and died of it.

  • 11:18:26

    REHMKatha Pollitt. Her new book is titled, "Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights." And, of course, we'll take your calls. 800-433-8850. Stay with us.

  • 11:20:00

    REHMAnd welcome back. Feminist writer Katha Pollitt is with me. She is the author of "Virginity or Death!: And Other Social and Political Issues of Our Time." She won the National Book Critic Circle award for her first collection of poems. Her new book "Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights." Katha, you said that your mother did not tell you she had an abortion. How did you find out?

  • 11:20:39

    POLLITTWell, after my mother's death, which was a long time ago in 1979, my father sent away for his FBI file and hers because he was a big radical and he thought there would be a file. And in fact there was. And this was in her file. It said, you know, Mrs. Pollitt in the spring of 1960 was under the care of a doctor for gynecological problems. And I asked my father what this was all about and he told me. And what that tells you, in addition to lots of other things, is that the FBI was actually monitoring stuff like this. They knew.

  • 11:21:15

    POLLITTAnd I used to think that the FBI agent was being very chivalrous and courteous. You know, he didn’t want to use the word abortion but he knew, you know. So that's how I found out.

  • 11:21:25

    REHMHow did your father then say, if he did, how he felt about your mother's getting an abortion?

  • 11:21:35

    POLLITTWell, he -- she had not told him. She had done this without telling me. And I don't really know what the story is on all that and I fully support her right to do that. But it does tell you something about life that, you know, is private for them. I really don't know.

  • 11:21:55

    REHMWhere do you stand on when life begins?

  • 11:22:01

    POLLITTWell, you know, I think that's the wrong question. I don't think it's about when life begins. Obviously a fertilized egg is not dead, it's alive, right. But I think the question is, when does it become a person? And that is a social issue. For example, in Judaism -- and remember the Jews wrote the Old Testament that people rely on to say that abortion is -- you know, God is against it -- it becomes a person when it takes its first breath. That's when it acquires the...

  • 11:22:42


  • 11:22:42 know, the social rights of a person. And that doesn't mean that, you know, Judaism says you can have an abortion the day before birth. They don't say that because there are lots of other considerations. But what a person is is a very special piece of the whole thing. And I think that it is really hard to see a fertilized egg as a person since it has no brain, it has no head, it has no history, it has no consciousness. It has nothing that we -- that a person has. It has no social relations. It has no history. It has -- it just is a fertilized egg.

  • 11:23:19

    REHMHow should we be talking about abortion?

  • 11:23:24

    POLLITTI think we should see abortion as something that is essential for women's health, women's rights, women's equality. And the flip side of that -- and here's where the idea of reproductive justice comes in -- is that when a woman wants to have a baby we should help her, you know. And that's the other piece of it that people say, you know, oh, you had sex. You have to have a baby. They don't -- once you have the baby, oh, you had sex, now you have a baby. So forget you.

  • 11:23:54

    POLLITTYou know, it's not like everybody is rushing to help that woman. And I think that's really terrible because, you know what, most women who have abortions now are already mothers, 60 percent which is another reason why all this, we have to make them see the ultrasound stuff is so ridiculous. They've already seen an ultrasound. They've given birth. It's not like they think there's a cantaloupe inside them.

  • 11:24:18

    POLLITTBut, you know, the extent that women are having abortions because they're poor, we need to make that less of the only option out there for them. And, in fact, what you see is that the anti-choice movement is a lie politically with the very people that have cut everything for women and children. The very people that won't extend the Affordable Care Act, you know, to their states that, you know, won't accept state Medicaid, which will benefit very disproportionately single mothers and people of color. Those are the big anti-choice states.

  • 11:24:59

    REHMDo we have any real sense of who's getting abortions these days?

  • 11:25:06

    POLLITTOh, yeah, yeah. We have a sense of that. And one thing we know is that 60 percent have already had children. It's more poor people. It's more women of color. It's the people who don't have access to good health care and who don't have access to steady birth control and good sex education and...

  • 11:25:30

    REHMAnd from the website posting, someone says, "I believe comprehensive age-appropriate sex education would reduce the number of abortions to the point where it would not be a political issue."

  • 11:25:53

    POLLITTWell, it would certainly help to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies. And that is the only thing that will really, in the long run, reduce abortions. But I don't think we have -- we can oversell it because in fact birth control isn't perfect. People aren't perfect. College-educated women in blue states have abortions. I mean, every kind of woman has abortions. Women have abortions when they're 15 and when they're 45.

  • 11:26:24

    REHMHere's another posting from Shawn. "What is the percentage breakdown of abortions performed number one to save a woman's life, the mother's life, number two because of rape, number three because of incest or number four because of none of the previous reasons but because the mother does not want to give birth to the baby?"

  • 11:26:55

    POLLITTWell, that's a fascinating question. If you add to that what he said, you know, rape, incest...

  • 11:27:02 of the mother.

  • 11:27:02

    POLLITT...the life and health of the mother, you know, and catastrophic problems with the fetus, you know, it's hard to know exactly. But let's say it's about 10 percent. So that does -- that means -- and I talk about this a lot in my book, that yes, what abortion is mostly about is women wanting to time their pregnancies at a time when they can be good mothers to those babies. Mostly that's not when you're 15, mostly that's not when you're still in school, mostly that's not when your husband has just walked out on you. These are all perfectly valid reasons in life. The idea that you should just become a mother no matter what, while society refuses to help you, this doesn't wash in my view.

  • 11:27:51

    POLLITTAnd the way the caller phrased it makes it sound like, oh, that's just selfish, you know. If you're not going to die you should have the baby. I don't agree with that. I think you should have a baby when you're ready to have a baby.

  • 11:28:06

    REHMDo you think by virtue of this book you're going to change people's minds?

  • 11:28:12

    POLLITTWell, you know, every writer I think hopes that -- I have been writing an opinion column for a long time. And the world is still much as it was before so -- but what I hope is I don't think I'm going to persuade people who think abortion is murder. It should never happen. God is against it. I think those people have their own very distinct and complicated world view that is probably impervious to someone as far from the outside of it as I am.

  • 11:28:45

    POLLITTBut I do think there are a lot of people who are just kind of in the middle. They don't want abortion to be banned completely but they think there's too much of it and they think women are sluts and they think America's going down the drain and somehow this is connected with all the sex they imagine people are having. You know, there's just -- it's just a sense of a kind of a protest against modern life and their sense that people just aren't being responsible.

  • 11:29:14

    POLLITTAnd the problem with that, besides that it isn't really true, is that there is really no way to enact that belief, that inchoate sense of dissatisfaction with women's reproductive behavior. There's no way to enact that in law without harming immense numbers of people. We used to have -- back when abortion was illegal, some hospitals had abortion committees made up of doctors, that a woman who wanted an abortion could apply to. Well, they were just notoriously cruel. They were class-based, they were race-based. You know, if you were a relative of one of the doctors, sure, you got your abortion.

  • 11:29:59

    POLLITTSometimes the price of getting that abortion was sterilization. You see, you terrible person, you didn't want to have that baby. We'll make sure you never have any babies. We don't want to go back to that but that's -- once you start thinking of it in terms of the reasons that you approve of and the reasons you don't approve of, you're down the path of denying very large numbers of women this very basic right. And that means more illegal abortion and more suffering.

  • 11:30:25

    REHMBut how do you approach the prochoice population and say to them, you're kind of taking this in the wrong direction? You're not using the language that could be more persuasive.

  • 11:30:46

    POLLITTWell, I wrote this book, but I think, you know, there is some good news, which is I think that younger women, the youngest cohort of prochoice activists are very much resistant to the stigmatizing language of it's the hardest decision and safe, legal and rare and all that. They are bringing it to the other side. And I think that that's a really good thing.

  • 11:31:12

    REHMYou know, it's so interesting because several years ago when RU-486 came out we thought the abortion debate was going to be over. Same thing was said when the pill came out years before that that there would be that self-protection, that self-regulation. Why hasn't that happened?

  • 11:31:40

    POLLITTWell, I think it hasn't happened because in a general way there really are no magic bullets for very big social problems. There are a few, you know, and people don't get small pox anymore. And women -- you know, the birth control pill and other modern methods of birth control really have changed life for millions of women. But something like the abortion pill RU-486, which is very widely used in Europe, where despite, you know, having a much better health system and much better social welfare, there's still lots of abortion, the problem with it is that the original idea was that your OB/GYN or your GP would be able to prescribe it. But states quickly passed laws making that impossible.

  • 11:32:27

    POLLITTAnd mostly the abortion bill is under the same regime and costs as much as a surgical abortion. And it's getting harder and harder to get that too, to get the abortion pill. So everything that -- the new things that could make things much better immediately get plugged into the old system of repression.

  • 11:32:51

    REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." As you can imagine, we've got lots of phone calls. Let's go first to Meredith in Mount Lebanon, Penn. Hi, Meredith. You're on the air.

  • 11:33:12

    MEREDITHHi, Diane. It's so nice to talk to you...

  • 11:33:14

    REHMThank you.

  • 11:33:15

    MEREDITH...and your guest. I'm just so happy that you are having this segment. It's so important. I am a reproductive rights activist and artist in Pittsburgh. Last week we had a very successful fundraiser for Planned Parenthood Pac with Cecile Richards at the Andy Warhol Museum. We had a War on Women art show. And we had a lot of young people there. And one of my worries is that this isn't in the forefront of young women's minds of what can be taken away. So we were very excited to have so many young people there last week.

  • 11:33:51

    MEREDITHI had that comment to make and also with regard to, I think your viewers have to understand how dire the situation is with women being imprisoned around the world. You think that that couldn't happen here. there's a woman here in Pennsylvania in Montour County who's in prison right now for helping her daughter obtain abortion pills online because the clinic was over 75 miles away.

  • 11:34:15

    MEREDITHAnd with the Draconian laws here passed by Governor Corbett, you know, she had to do a 24-hour waiting period. He didn't extend Medicaid coverage. Of course Medicaid doesn't cover abortions because of the Hyde Amendment, and also there's a special rider in the insurance law here that insurance cannot cover abortion. So I just wanted to bring that up and have your guest comment on that. And thank you for this book.

  • 11:34:41

    REHMAll right. Thanks.

  • 11:34:43

    POLLITTI have -- thank you for calling. I think young women are waking up. I think as long as it was, you know, North Dakota, which is so far away and we never hear about it, it was easy for women to say, well, abortion is there for me. I'm here in Pennsylvania. But now we're seeing clinics closing in Pennsylvania and all kinds of restrictions ratcheting up. And I think people are becoming more conscious.

  • 11:35:10

    POLLITTThe story of the mother is -- who bought the abortion pill online for her daughter is just so tragic. And you know what's really tragic is that she was turned in when she went -- when the daughter went -- who was fine, by the way, but wasn't feeling well -- and went to the ER. And the medical people there turned her in. And the justice system spent two years trying to figure out what to charge this mother with because, you know, it didn't really fit the actual laws of the state. And so they were very determined to make an example of this mother who was only trying to do what her daughter wanted and what was best.

  • 11:35:55

    POLLITTAnd, you know, what if -- you know, if there was an abortion clinic in her town they would've gone there. So this whole situation was really engineered by the anti-choice movement which has cut back on, you know, accessibility so much in that state.

  • 11:36:12

    REHMHere's a tweet from Holly who says, "Since abortion was legal at the founding of the country for 80 years, thereafter how did women accomplish it?"

  • 11:36:28

    POLLITTHow did -- I don't understand. How...

  • 11:36:30

    REHMHow did women accomplish abortion after it was no longer...

  • 11:36:35

    POLLITTOh, that's a fascinating story. So abortion was made illegal after the Civil War because some things came together. One of them was, doctors wanted to get gynecology and obstetrical medicine in their own hands away from lay healers and midwives. The other was that women, middle class white women were becoming more independent. As long as abortion was something that you just had because you already had ten children, you were going to die the next time you gave birth or your daughter was pregnant and it was a source of great shame, but as long as women were firmly repressed it was legal. When women started to get a little more independence, then everybody got upset.

  • 11:37:24

    REHMKatha Pollitt. Her new book is titled "Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights." Short break, right back.

  • 11:39:58

    REHMAnd we'll go right to the phones as we talk with Katha Pollitt about her new book. It's titled, "Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights." Let's go to Michael in Birmingham, Alabama. You're on the air.

  • 11:40:19

    MICHAELHey. Thanks for taking my call.

  • 11:40:20


  • 11:40:20

    MICHAELI was curious about the -- I know you said earlier in the show that having an abortion is an agonizing decision for any woman. And I couldn't agree more. I mean, being a man, it's certainly a decision I've never had to make and I don't think any man has or ever will really have the opportunity to make that decision. But I see so many male political and, you know, sociological leaders being involved in the debate, and I was just curious, amongst the professionals, maybe even political community, how men's opinions are viewed by, you know, strong female leaders like your guest today. And others who fight for the abortion rights.

  • 11:41:04

    POLLITTWell, thank you for that really interesting question. I just want to go back a little bit and say, you know, I didn't say having an abortion is an agonizing decision for most women who have it. I said it wasn't an agonizing decision. It might be a scary decision, given all the things people believe about abortion that aren't true, like they're gonna die. But, I think for most women, it's a very practical decision, and they make it quickly. And they do not, you know, think about it 10 years later and think, you know, I feel so awful now.

  • 11:41:40

    REHMHe's also asking about your feelings that many men are making these decisions for women.

  • 11:41:49

    POLLITTI think that's outrageous, frankly. I really do. You know, there is no decision involving a man's body that only, you know, that women are in charge of making. And yet, even on television, when you'll see a debate about abortion, it's usually, you know, at least as many men as women. Sometimes it's only men. And I really think that it's a decision that women, that really should be in women's hands.

  • 11:42:14

    REHMHere is an email from Katherine who says, in 2013, I was told my five-month-old fetus had severe abnormalities. And probably would not end in live birth. If it did, it would not survive more than a few hours. I've always been pro-choice, but this difficult decision just solidified my position. You never know what you'll face in life until you're in that situation yourself. And it needs to be the pregnant woman's right to decide what is best for her health. I chose to end the pregnancy. I do not regret that choice, but am thankful I was able to choose.

  • 11:43:09

    REHMOn the other hand, here's an email from Mindy, who says, as a woman who is pro-life, and politically moderate, I am offended by the recent shift in abortion rhetoric by pro-choicers, including your guest, from pro-life to anti-choice. It's a linguistic reframing to make the two positions seem like positive versus negative. Each time I hear someone choosing a label for me, it feels like a cheap shot. I also feel your guest glosses over the nuanced beliefs of many pro-lifers in saying they want to eliminate all abortion. The details of my own views have shifted over time. But they are certainly not black and white.

  • 11:44:12

    POLLITTI think that Mindy represents a lot of people. I'm not going to apologize for not using the propaganda language, pro-life. Because I don't think it is pro-life. I think it's anti-abortion. And, you know, there are some pro-lifers who are pacifists, who are against capital punishment, but you know, there are political allies in the Republican party, which is the party that has branded itself as against abortion. They're not pro-life. Sorry. But I will say that there are a lot of people who call themselves pro-life who are actually quite moderate in their views.

  • 11:44:52

    POLLITTAnd it is true that it's complicated. And I respect that. I was thinking of the political movement, not individuals.

  • 11:45:01

    REHMLet's go to Melanie, who's in Charlotte, North Carolina. You're on the air, Melanie.

  • 11:45:08

    MELANIEThanks. I have a question for the guest. I appreciated what you said about how it's not really a debate about when life begins, because I agree that multiplying cells represent life. But I thought it was interesting your perspective on personhood, when personhood begins. Because I do think that's debatable. But I guess my question has to do with humanity. So, if the DNA of cells in the womb are a human, then how does this not become a human rights issue whenever that human really doesn't have any say, you know, in the decision? So, I guess I'd just like to hear your thoughts on the humanity aspect and the human rights aspect of the...

  • 11:46:00

    POLLITTWell, you know, what you're saying is very interesting. Because let's take a fertilized egg in a woman, and then everybody goes, oh, it has human rights. And it's a person or whatever. Let's take that same fertilized egg in a petri dish and it's really only -- it's the same thing, right? And yet, many, many people who are very disturbed by abortion support stem cell research, although the official movement does not. They support fertility treatments. You don't find, you don't find screaming fanatics outside a fertility clinic, saying baby killer. And yet, babies, babies quote end quote, are killed all the time in fertility clinics.

  • 11:46:37

    POLLITTAnd there are, you know, half a million in freezers all over the country, you know? So, I think that's where you see that the buried, what's buried in the debate about abortion really is ideas about women, that even when people don't realize it. That it's really about what women owe the fertilized egg, not what the fertilized egg really is.

  • 11:47:03

    REHMLet's go to Brian in Orlando, Florida. Hi there.

  • 11:47:10

    BRIANHi Diane. And Katha, thanks for your good work on this subject.

  • 11:47:15

    POLLITTThank you.

  • 11:47:15

    BRIANI wanted to -- I am a clergy person. I do a weekly public radio program here in Orlando with an imam and a rabbi. And we've dealt with this subject. We try to bring a moderate voice to the conversation. And it's interesting that in the traditions we talk about, there is a great deal of support for women making this choice. My question and concern has to do with how this has become a political issue. It is clearly an issue of women's health. It's an issue of a woman's right over her body in regard to health. It should be made with her doctor if she wants to bring in a religious leader and family members, that's her choice.

  • 11:47:59

    BRIANBut how did this become a political football in regard to this and you've talked about, you know, men don't have to answer to women, but men don't really have to answer to anybody about reproductive choice and rights over their body. How did this happen?

  • 11:48:16

    POLLITTExcellent question. I think it had to do with the creation of the religious right and the alliance of the religious right with the Republican party, that these were mobilizable voters who could be gotten all excited about issues like gay rights and abortion and women's rights. And, you know, Harry Potter as witchcraft in the public library. And all -- you know, a whole range of issues is what we call the -- you know, the cultural issues, although abortion is not really a cultural issue at all. It's an issue of social justice and equality, in my view. And health, as you say.

  • 11:48:54

    POLLITTBut this was a very conscious political alliance that was made, that once you make them, it's hard to unmake them.

  • 11:49:02

    REHMAll right. To Terry, here in Washington, D.C. You're on the air.

  • 11:49:07

    TERRYRight. Hi Diane. Hello to your guest. Thank you so much. I basically just want to make a comment. I was a Roman Catholic nun from 1963 to 1968 and when I came out of the convent, I was 23-years-old. And this is before Roe v. Wade, so I used to argue with feminists in shopping malls about don't you know this is murder. And then as I began to pay attention, I realized a very simple thing. When abortion is illegal, poor women die. And once I got that, I realized it doesn't matter what my personal belief is. I need to make sure that anyone who wants to choose abortion has the legal accessible way to do it.

  • 11:49:48

    TERRYAnd that's what changed my mind. And so I just wanted to make that point. And I think it's very possible to have a personal belief about what you would or wouldn't do and yet acknowledge the fact that this is a health need. And a justice need and a right to need. And it's all mixed up with the politics, so we just have to keep working our way until all the old fogies die out and the young people can take over. And I'm 69, so I can say that.

  • 11:50:16

    REHMAll right. Thanks for calling.

  • 11:50:18

    POLLITTWell, I wish you many more years of happy life.

  • 11:50:21

    REHMYeah, I should say.

  • 11:50:22

    TERRYEverything you said is just so true. You know, Henry Hyde, the author of the Hyde Amendment, which bans Medicaid -- federal Medicaid payments for abortion, was asked, well, you know, you're only punishing poor women. And he said, yes, I know, and I would love to get the rich women too, but I know I can't. They will always be able to get abortions. So, I'm just going after the people I can. And he thought that was a good thing. But you're pointing out, you know, what a bad thing it is.

  • 11:50:55

    REHMHere's an email from Donna. How can I help to get the message out to voters about the need to maintain access to abortion clinics? When I became a single mom with three teens to raise, I had an abortion in Pennsylvania in 1980. I was unemployed, on food stamps, trying to obtain a college degree. And working at the same time to support my family. I was very fortunate to have a doctor that classified it as a D and C. You know.

  • 11:51:42


  • 11:51:42

    REHMSpell that out.

  • 11:51:44

    POLLITTThat's a dilation and curettage.

  • 11:51:47

    REHMAnd perform it in a hospital. My insurance paid for the total bill. Since I'm 71-years-young, happily married, obtained a college degree, have a beautiful baby boy when I was 41, I felt scared and afraid to tell others about the abortion. But I never regretted having it. Sort of underlying your point that women do this and feel strongly about it.

  • 11:52:22

    POLLITTThey do. You know, that's a wonderful, wonderful email. The writer wanted to know what she could do. And I think there is a lot that pro-choicers can do, and I think we need to sort of have -- we need to have a grass roots movement like the anti-choicers have. You know, that is a grass roots social movement. It is not just coming from a few people at the top. It's not just the, you know, the Pope. So, I think that we need to get much more active in our communities. And at the lower levels.

  • 11:52:57

    REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Harley, from Pittsburgh, writes, you speak continuously on your opinion that women should not be forced to have children if they're not ready to have families. Could you please speak on the issue of adoption, which is another choice, and eliminates the issue of having to raise the child if the mother is not ready.

  • 11:53:31

    POLLITTWell, adoption is, you know, for people who want to do that, if you want to have a baby and give it away, fine. But, I think that that's not a solution for everyone, even as an individual. It's a very serious thing. You know, talk about people regretting things. A lot of women who give up their children, or place them for adoption, however you want to phrase it, they feel bad later. It's not always a happy story. And the other thing is that it is not a solution to abortion. Because every year, there are a million abortions. There are not going to be a million adoptions.

  • 11:54:05

    POLLITTThe idea that a million women a year should be, you know, baby machines for other people is just a tremendous oversimplification and it's really kind of cruel.

  • 11:54:16

    REHMAnd let's go to Scott in Miami, Florida. You're on the air.

  • 11:54:22

    SCOTTThank you very much. I have a quick comment. I found that the anti-abortion folks have been very successful at steering this debate towards the question of the humanity of the fetus. I feel like the debate is just absolutely centered on that question. But I find the question to be completely irrelevant. I think the question should be whether a woman has a right to decide what to do with her body and to decide what or who is living inside the body. That's the relative question. But the relevant question, and I find that we don't talk about it very often.

  • 11:54:50

    POLLITTWell, I agree with you, and to me, you know, when people say we need a compromise on abortion, I say, you know what's the compromise? Roe v. Wade is the compromise. Because what Roe v. Wade says is it's the woman's choice in the first three months, and after that, there are concerns for her health that are relevant, but in the last three months, the fetus has acquired some rights. And there, abortion can be banned by the states, except to preserve her life and her health. So, you know, already, there is the idea in Roe v. Wade that the fetus acquires rights as it develops.

  • 11:55:22

    POLLITTSo, you know, it really is a compromise. And I think it's a workable political compromise. And we should, we should, but we should see it as a compromise.

  • 11:55:32

    REHMAnd finally, to Linda in Boone, North Carolina. You're on the air.

  • 11:55:38

    LINDADear Diane, thank you for everything you do.

  • 11:55:40

    REHMThank you.

  • 11:55:41

    LINDAI very much agree with the last statement that was made, and my question is, if I do not believe in the humanity or the personhood of the fetus, why should I have to practice somebody else's religion? It's so frequently presented as a religious issue.

  • 11:56:01

    POLLITTYes. It is presented as a religious issue, as if that's a good thing. But, you know, religion, actually, is very, is complicated here. For example, a lot of people don't know that when abortion was illegal, but people were st -- at the end of the 60s, people were starting to think, maybe it's too illegal. A lot of denominations, including the southern Baptists, came out and said yes, we need more liberal abortion laws. So the southern Baptists, who are very powerful in the anti-abortion movement, along with the Catholic Church, but the southern Baptists idea that it's a person from the moment of conception.

  • 11:56:41

    POLLITTAnd now they're saying -- you know, you'll find southern Baptists who will say, oh yeah, birth control pills, that causes abortion. You know, the IUD causes -- everything causes an abortion. This is all new. And this is, I think, a reaction. I do think there's a big piece of this that's a reaction to feminism. It's a reaction to the sexual revolution. They don't like it. These are patriarchal religions and women are not supposed to be this independent.

  • 11:57:08

    REHMBut yes or no. You don't believe that Roe v. Wade will be overturned.

  • 11:57:17

    POLLITTI think, you know, who knows what the future brings? A lot will depend on the Supreme Court and on political activism.

  • 11:57:23

    REHMKatha Pollitt. Her new book is titled, "Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights." Good to talk with you.

  • 11:57:32

    POLLITTThank you so much for having me.

  • 11:57:33

    REHMAnd thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.

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