Anti-choice rhetoric hasn’t really evolved in the past few years; it remains steadily offensive and dramatic. In 2018, Pope Francis compared abortion to hiring a “contract killer,” a parallel he drew again in May. In April, lawmakers in Alabama included language comparing abortion to the Holocaust, Joseph Stalin's gulags, China's "Great Leap Forward," murders by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, and the Rwandan genocide in the Human Life Protection Act, a near-total abortion ban that passed in May, but was blocked from proceeding by a federal judge in October.
But anti-choice advocates aren’t the only ones who’ve made clumsy connections between abortions and… things that aren’t abortions. The most recent rhetorical stumble came from actor and activist Jameela Jamil, who compared people with uteruses to landlords in a since-deleted Instagram post:
Jamil lightly defended her comment on Twitter, saying that she was just using a “technical analogy” that she knows “is not socialist” to “to highlight the concept and laws of ownership, which we (bizarrely) passionately apply to property/land and not to a woman’s body somehow.”
The political and cultural conversations around abortion have not, historically, been renowned for their nuanced, level-headed nature. The medical procedure (which, by the way, almost one in four American women will have had by age 45) is the source of immense controversy, wherein the right to bodily autonomy and the actual scientific definition of life are pitted against moralizing and accusations of “baby murder.”
In 2013, Rewire.News identified and debunked a few of the anti-choice movement’s go-to anti-choice talking points, including Mike Huckabee’s assertion that abortion is “like slavery,” because it was an issue of “morality,” and the common comparison between abortion and assault.
What Jamil’s defense really underscores is how woefully inadequate and objectifying any abortion-related comparisons, even the positive ones, wind up being. Take the George Carlin quip comparing abortions to omelettes, or this often-repeated quote from writer Frederica Mathewes-Green, who eventually reversed her pro-choice position anyway: “No one wants an abortion as she wants an ice-cream cone or a Porsche. She wants an abortion as an animal, caught in a trap, wants to gnaw off its own leg.” By turning women into chickens and game animals and, even, landlords, we reinforce myths about why people have abortions and distance ourselves from the reality of the debate, which is that if abortion is made illegal, people will get abortions anyway, and (members of marginalized groups will disproportionately) die trying.
To her credit, Jamil has also been vocal and unapologetic about her own abortion, which is invaluable in normalizing the experience and lifting the stigma that surrounds it. But her comments this week are a good to remember that there’s no need to rely on infantilizing or dehumanizing metaphors to convince people known to be acting in bad faith that individuals deserve bodily autonomy and the right to get a safe and common medical procedure when they need it.
Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.
Follow Katie Way on Twitter.