By Katie Yoder
Abortion is a ready topic to joke and laugh about, according to comedians Margaret Cho and Lizz Winstead.
During The Margaret Cho podcast on May 26, Cho interviewed fellow comedian and Daily Show co-creator Lizz Winstead. They spoke about Winstead’s career and her organization Abortion Access Front, which “works to protect women’s reproductive rights.” In the course of their chat, Cho revealed her “favorite” abortion while Winstead shared an abortion joke.
Citing a recent abortion fundraiser that they had participated in, Cho laughed about the “troll-y” responses she received from pro-life Americans.
“I’m a feminist and a bunch of feminists were killed during abortions like, what about their rights?” she remembered one person telling her. “When you’re killing a fetus you’re actually killing women, so what about those feminists?”
Winstead also recalled her discussions with pro-lifers.
“When they’re like, ‘Life begins at conception, I’m like a. conception is not a medical term, it’s a term that comes from the Bible,” she retorted. “But b., like, I don’t subscribe to your premise on any level. And so, when you say, ‘What about, it’s a life with different DNA,’ and it’s like, ‘Cancer has different DNA.’”
But there’s at least one important difference here: cancer is a disease that kills; an unborn baby is a human that lives. Cancer extinguishes life. A baby embodies it.
Still, Winstead argued, an unborn baby or “potential life” didn’t have the same value as “life.” According to her, an unborn baby’s value depended on whether he or she was wanted.
“You get to decide the value of your own pregnancy,” Winstead said. “If the pregnancy that you have is a pregnancy that is unintended and not a pregnancy that you intend on carrying, then there is no mother, there is no baby.” But “if you are pregnant and you’re excited and you want to have a kid, you can put all the value on that pregnancy you want for yourself.”
She concluded later that the “full humanity and autonomy of people lie in the fact that you get to decide when and if you want to have kids and how you want to do that.”
At another point, Cho spoke about her “favorite” abortion.
“My favorite abortion was actually the abortion that I got in New York City which was the menstrual extraction,” she said. Menstrual extraction, or a type of abortion by vacuum aspiration, began before Roe v. Wade legalized abortion nationwide – as a way for women to perform abortions without the help of medical professionals.
“It’s super easy,” Cho added, “it required no anesthesia, no hospital stay – nothing.”
But today, she said, “There’s so much like put on a person when you go to have an abortion. Like you – you’re treated like a child. Like you’re treated like you’re going to be really upset,” she added.
Winstead agreed that abortion today is more complex.
“There’s so much stigma and there’s been so much societal feelings put on it,” she complained. “Automatically there’s an assumption that you’re going to feel guilt. You’re going to feel regret.”
But many women do, even though their stories are often ignored by the media.
According to Winstead, waiting periods for women before obtaining an abortion are the “most dangerous” because it creates a “mistrust of the decisions that women and people make.”
“It’s all designed to create a narrative around abortion that is ‘othering’ it into something that is not just a decision somebody might make in their reproductive life,” Winstead said of the restrictions.
She also didn’t buy the “premise that abortion is murder,” which meant, in her opinion, that she could joke about it.
“People are like, ‘How can you make jokes about abortion?’ I’m like, ‘Because it’s just – I make jokes about any procedure I had,’” she stressed.
“Like this guy one time said to me, ‘How many abortions have you had?’” she remembered. “I’m like, ‘I don’t know, I don’t save receipts.’”
Cho laughed, “That’s so great.”
Winstead remarked, “I’ve had three abortions. I don’t care.”
Toward the end, Winstead centered freedom on abortion.
“Full emancipation means that people are standing up for your rights because it’s a human rights violation,” she said. “Everyone needs to stand up for it and treat it for it is, which is believing that the full humanity of people needs to be valued.”
Winstead is right that there’s a human rights violation that threatens the humanity of persons. But it’s not the accessibility of abortion; it’s abortion itself.
Editor’s note. Katie Yoder writes for Town Hall, where this column originally appeared.