Make or break: how abortion shapes the careers of female politicians

Abortion is a controversial topic that everyone has an opinion about. The option to terminate a pregnancy (or a life, whichever you believe) raises numerous ethical and legal questions that no one seems to be able to agree on. 

The perception of the word has a lot to do with what side of the argument people align themselves with. A part of agenda setting is presenting the opposing position in a negative light in hopes of persuading people to the more “positive” side (which is relative to what side you’re on). Using phrases that express a negative view of a positive word, like anti-life or anti-choice, places a negative connotation on the opposing point of view. If you succeed in placing your opposition in a negative light, then you can effectively add a sense of credibility to your own stance.

Most pro-lifers perceive abortion as a selfish, inhumane act. Generally, pro-lifers believe that life begins at conception, and to terminate a pregnancy is to terminate a life. For people who take the pro-life stance, having a choice is not an argument because they believe the choice lies with the baby. Rather than pro-choice, pro-life activists typically call the opposition pro-abortion or anti-life. This is intended to support the assumption that people who are pro-choice are heartless or self-centered in their decisions. Memes that go along with this notion tend to look like the ones below.





On the other hand, there are people who take a pro-choice stance on abortion. In general, people who are pro-choice tend to believe either that life does not begin at conception and is therefore morally sound, or that regardless of a individual’s beliefs the overall right to perform an abortion is protected by the right to privacy and freedom of religion and therefore should be made legal. Pro-choicers do not believe that they are arguing for abortion itself, but rather the choice to legally perform one. Rather than pro-life, pro-choice people tend to refer to their opposition as anti-choice or anti-feminism/women. This is intended to support the assumption that pro-lifers’ beliefs are based on religion and misogynistic influence. Memes associated with this idea tend to take this form:

But what do these messages do?

Regardless of what side you’re on, these messages have a similar effect on its audience. For people firm in their beliefs, the negative images of their opposition only serve to reaffirm their beliefs. Additionally,  the negative images of their own beliefs are simply written off as foolishness or ignorance.

But these messages are not intended for the firm of belief. They are made for the uniformed or the undecided person, because those are the people that can most easily be persuaded. For those on the fence of this issue, these images are intended to give the audience an undesirable feeling about the opposing position. By making someone feel guilty or dirty about what they’re seeing (or reading or hearing), a person’s on-the-fence beliefs can be redirected to a respective side. 

This isn’t new science. This method is used for almost every issue you can think of. However, the problem that occurs with the issue of abortion is that the judgment gets placed on the woman rather than the issue at hand. Pro-choice women are usually judged as selfish, cold-hearted women with a weak sense of humanity. Pro-life women are usually judged as close-minded, overly religious women with a lack of insight.

This is alarming for both sides because it places unfair stereotypes on women; how a woman stands on abortion can determine how that woman is viewed. This in turn places an unfair disadvantage on women in politics. From pro-lifer Sarah Palin to pro-choicer Wendy Davis, their views of abortion have shaped the way they are portrayed on a political platform.

This is concerning because it suggests that women only go as far as their uteri. If, despite everything else a woman politician can accomplish, all that concerns their character is what side they take on abortion, then there is a problem. There is a problem with the public opinion of female leaders and there is definitely a problem with how the media shapes a female politician’s character. Women are limited to that single belief and it is unfair communication.




6 thoughts on “Make or break: how abortion shapes the careers of female politicians

  1. Michael Heaton says:

    I loved this post. It definitely is troubling to see women in politics forced to emphasize political decisions based almost completely on their sex. If you haven’t had the chance to and you have a Netflix account, there is a really great documentary called ‘Miss Representation’ that is essentially all about the way women are portrayed in the media and how it directly affects their political value in a field dominated almost completely by men. It’s troubling to see people on both side of the abortion issue vilifying each other and implying that someone is less of a woman because of their stance on abortion. Hillary Clinton is constantly vilified for her pro-choice stance; and it’s worrying to me that, should she run for higher office, people might see her not as a force to be reckoned with politically and an outstanding leader but as a “baby killer,” as many on the right like to say.

  2. katfremin says:

    Loved this post. Putting my personal beliefs on abortion aside, I’ve always noticed how each one paints the other one in such a negative way. I’m glad you point women in politics out this way, because I hadn’t thought of it like this before – but it’s so evident. Definitely a problem that people don’t look at women in politics the same way they look at the men.

    • valencia0314 says:

      Thanks! I have to admit, it wasn’t easy putting my own opinions on abortion aside. But when I did, I realized there was a real problem not in the views but how those views negatively implicate women on both sides of the argument.

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