But given the GOP’s extreme antiabortion platform, which does not include exceptions for rape or incest, focusing on motherhood as a gateway to women’s hearts and votes seems misguided. After all, no matter how many platitudes are thrown around, this is the party that wants motherhood not to be a choice, but to be enforced.
In a way, Republicans are reflecting American culture, which assumes that all women want to become mothers. And the best kind of woman — the best kind of mother — is portrayed as one who puts her maternal role above everything else.
In 2006, the term “pre-pregnant” was coined in a Washington Post story about a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommending that all women of childbearing age care for their pre-conception health. The agency said all American women — from the time of their first menstrual period until menopause — should take folic acid supplements, not smoke, not “misuse” alcohol, maintain a healthy weight, refrain from drug use and avoid “high risk sexual behavior.”
The CDC was asking women to behave as if they were already pregnant, even if they had no intention of conceiving in the near — or distant — future. For the ﬁrst time, a U.S. government institution was explicitly saying what social norms had always hinted at: All women, regardless of whether they have or want children, are moms-in-waiting.
Telling women that what is best for a pregnancy is automatically best for them defines motherhood as a woman prioritizing the needs of a child, real or hypothetical, over her own.
Rebecca Kukla, a professor of internal medicine and philosophy at Georgetown University and the author of “Mass Hysteria: Medicine, Culture, and Mothers’ Bodies,” said at a recent seminar, “Do lesbians, women who are carefully contracepting and not interested in having children, 13-year-olds, women done having kids, really want their bodies seen as prenatal, understood solely in terms of reproductive function?”
She noted that this assumption — that all women will be mothers — has led to a “pre-conception” health movement, which “treats the non-pregnant body as on its way to pregnancy.”
Kukla told me that she experienced this when she once went to her doctor to get an antibiotic for a urinary tract infection, and he asked if she might be pregnant or could become pregnant. Yes, physicians have to ask to inoculate themselves against malpractice lawsuits. But Kukla’s doctor wouldn’t drop the issue and insisted on a weaker drug that would cause fewer complications during a pregnancy.