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Gloria Steinem and Jameela Jamil: There’s ‘No Democracy’ without Abortion

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP

Abortion is necessary for a thriving world, according to two influential women who recently spoke to Harper’s Bazaar about feminism.

Last month, the magazine published an interview between actress Jameela Jamil and feminist icon Gloria Steinem. Their conversation went largely unnoticed by media outlets, but it shouldn’t have – mainly because of the absurd claims the two made. Among them, they insisted that abortion is necessary for democracy. And, they warned, some people control reproduction as a tool for sexism or racism, like white evangelical Trump supporters.

From the beginning of their interview, Jamil and Steinem focused on abortion.

“I, similarly to you, feel very passionately about a woman's right to choose,” Jamil told Steinem. Earlier this year, Jamil publicized her own abortion as the “best decision” she had “ever made.” 

Jamil stressed that abortion should be available, and not just for emergencies. 

“People have abortions, sometimes a woman just wants her liberty, and we have to normalize that it's okay just to make that choice for yourself, because your life is as important as a newborn life that doesn't even exist yet.”

But for a woman, abortion is never just a choice “for yourself” – because while a newborn life may not exist yet, an unborn life does.

For her part, Jamil made no acknowledgment of the pro-life position. Steinem agreed with her about the importance of abortion and added that her eyes were opened to the need for a women’s movement when she attended a “speak-out about abortion” event.

“It took me a while to understand that the first step in every authoritarian regime is controlling reproduction, and that means controlling us,” Steinem said. “Unless we—men and women—have power over our own bodies and voices, there is no such thing as democracy.”

The irony – that abortion violates the bodies and voices of millions of baby boys and girls – was lost on her. The irony that abortion itself can be used to control reproduction was also left untouched.

Steinem went so far as to make a Hitler comparison. 

“[E]very authoritarian regime that I have ever read about, including Hitler's rise to power, every regime starts with controlling reproduction and that means controlling women's bodies,” she stressed.

Jamil inserted her own reasoning: “It's because it's the one thing that men cannot do that we can do.” Steinem clarified, “Yes, we have wombs.”

At another point, Steinem repeated that there is “no democracy if women don't control their own physical selves.” And, according to her, there also wouldn’t be a healthy Earth.

“[P]art of the reason for the environmental crisis is forcing women to have children they wouldn't otherwise choose to have,” she insisted, admitting that abortion doesn’t just affect the woman.

While speaking about women of color and feminism, the two again brought the discussion back to reproduction in countries like India.

A “major reason that patriarchal systems control reproduction is to perpetuate visible racial difference in racist society or caste,” according to Steinem. “Thus, racism is factored in that.”

She didn’t mention that abortion itself is often used to also control women – and end baby girls’ lives simply because they are female.

Instead, Steinem continued, “if you cannot control reproduction, then people fall in love and marry each other, and the visible lines of difference among and between races begins to disappear” so that “sexism and racism are intertwined and they cannot be uprooted separately.”

But abortion, a central point for Steinem’s feminism, can be used to do exactly that – to allow for a sexist society to petuate by destroying baby girls or even a racist culture to continue by ending the lives of the unwanted.

Jamil pointed out that Steinem recently argued that “there's a fear that not enough white women are being born” and that “there's a need to control abortion to make sure that more and more white women are born.”

Steinem blamed that fear on white nationalists and religious Americans. 

“For instance, the white evangelicals are supporting Trump solely on the issue of abortion,” she said. “It has to do with their racism.”

Jamil’s reasoning conflicted with Steinem’s. Instead of ensuring more white people are born, they needed more African American people.

Jamil added that “there's an added insidious layer here, where they are also choosing areas where you have a lot of African-Americans, and where they are controlling abortion and being able to take that away” from women who “perhaps financially don't have the same kind of privilege as others.”

A lack of abortion hurt them, she said, or “It's this extra way of creating a structure of poverty amongst an already marginalized community.”

Steinem agreed, and also connected it to the economy.

“When there is a need for cheap labor, the ways for women of color to control their own reproductive lives are restricted,” she said.

Had either Steinem or Jamil spared a moment to consult with one of the many national pro-life organizations, they would have heard a simpler answer motivating the opposition to abortion. It has nothing to do with their theories, they would hear. But it has everything to do with recognizing the intrinsic dignity of every human person – a person whose life begins at conception.

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