Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Abortion and Animals Part 1: How PETA gets it wrong

Today, I am pleased to announce that we are beginning a new series called: Abortion and Animals. I got together with ProChoiceGal from, and with us both being passionate pro-choicers and passionate vegans, we have decided to do a series of collaboration posts. It may not seem so at first glance, but veganism and reproductive justice do have quite a few similarities. I was thrilled to come across another pro-choice vegan activist, and I am excited to explore the ties that veganism and reproductive justice have with one another along with ProChoiceGal.

So, a quick introduction of my co-blogger who goes by the handle ProChoiceGal. ProChoiceGal first caught my eye when she wrote a very impressive and thoughtful post about veganism and pro-choice connections. ProChoiceGal has been vegan for about a year (she acknowledges that this might seem like a short time, but she knows she'll stick with it ;), she’s a pre-med student/majoring in health sciences, and she has a passion for reproductive rights and animal welfare. Welcome to the Abortioneers, ProChoiceGal!

I am sure some of you might be wondering what kind of connections and intersections exist between animal welfare and reproductive rights movements? I think because I am so deeply involved in both of these issues the parallels are very apparent. One of the biggest examples that come to mind is PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), and they will be the focus of our first blog in this series.

PETA is an animal welfare organization which has caused a stir in the feminist community more than once. They have been accused of everything from racism, to sexism, to fatphobia, to transphobia. It goes without saying that PETA is controversial. Today, we are going to address some of these issues in the form of a Q and A.

Q. PETA has been known for using women's nude or near-nude bodies to get their message across about the evils of fur. Do you ever feel like they are justified in their tactics? Is this a case of the ends justifying the means?

PCG: In PETA's fight to get people thinking about animal welfare issues, one of their main "weapons" that they have used has been sex. Sadly, I think they're missing the point. In many of their advertising campaigns, they have reduced women down to things as opposed to living, sentient being who deserve respect. PETA seems to forget that humans are animals, too. When you ignore human rights and human welfare, you are inevitably ignoring aspects of animal rights and welfare, as well. In short, no, I don't believe that PETA is justified in doing this.

VV: No, I do not think they are ever justified in their tactics. Essentially, PETA uses sensationalism and a shock factor to get attention. They exploit women and reduce them to “meat”, which seems a bit hypocritical. I love animals and live a very intentional life in order to protect as many as I can, but there have to be more creative ways to bring attention to animal welfare than exploiting women and their bodies. The ad campaign using naked women’s bodies renders these women silent and voiceless, which puts them in the same situation as voiceless animals who are also exploited to turn a profit.

Q. PETA has a brief section on their website where they address abortion. Here is what they write:
PETA does not have a position on the abortion issue, because our focus as an organization is the alleviation of the suffering inflicted on nonhuman animals. There are people on both sides of the abortion issue in the animal rights movement, just as there are people on both sides of animal rights issues in the pro-life movement. And just as the pro-life movement has no official position on animal rights, neither does the animal rights movement have an official position on abortion.

What do you think about this statement?

PCG: I understand why PETA wouldn't want to take a direct stance on abortion; it would alienate a good portion of their supporters. However, I do believe that it is important for vegans to recognize that, again, human rights are essential to animal rights and animal welfare. A huge part of veganism is about respecting sentient beings and their bodily autonomy. Vegans should respect that for all animals, and that means being pro-choice. Still, I do understand why PETA would not take an official stance on abortion.

VV: I find it interesting that this even comes up on their website. I am curious what prompted them to make an official stance on this, and I suspect it may be that anti- abortion groups tried to align themselves with PETA to show their support for all forms of life and then PETA needed to respond that they are neutral. Ok, so first off, PETA’s statement is annoying because they use the term “pro-life”. I also strongly agree with PCG that PETA claims to respect bodily autonomy of all sentient beings, yet they do not show this respect for women. I think their neutral stance is one more example of them trying to please as many as possible in order to achieve their end goal, yet in the process they have alienated many feminists.

Q. In response to Dr. George Tiller's assassination, PETA proposed these ads in Wichita, KS. What are your thoughts on this campaign?

PCG: The ads themselves are not so bad, in my opinion. The fact that they were a response to Dr. Tiller's assassination, however, absolutely disgusts me. I feel as if they exploited such a tragic event in order to further their own cause. It was, at best, inappropriate and at worst, downright hateful.

VV: As a Jew I was thoroughly disgusted when they previously exploited the Holocaust in these ads. Well, just in case I thought PETA couldn’t piss me off any more, they did with their ads in response to Dr. George Tiller’s assassination. I want to know who thought up these ads and why they ever thought these would be appropriate. I keep stressing how they think their ends justify their means, but this was insensitive on so many levels. These sorts of polarizing advertising campaigns give vegans and animal welfare organizations a bad name.

Q. Considering all of this, do you believe that feminist vegans (or just vegans in general) should withdraw support for PETA?

PCG: I do believe that we should withdraw support for PETA. PETA has, time and time again, promoted all kinds of bigotry without apology. I believe that we should show them that, if they're okay with promoting bigotry, then we are okay with ditching them and supporting vegan organizations which do not do so.

VV: I am mixed on this. I know I was pretty negative about PETA in my answers, but there are some parts of their organization I respect and support. Personally, it was a PETA pamphlet that got me to switch from vegetarian to vegan almost two years ago. Unfortunately, they are one of the best-funded vegan organizations so they can dictate and control what gets out in the media about the movement. They also make the news a lot! In fact, they often create ads they know will not make it into actual media just so they can get news attention about an ad that was too radical/racy/offensive to be on TV.

For me, I don’t give them any donations and I don’t direct people to them if they are thinking of going vegan. I would love for them to exist but in a much more feminist and non-sensationalizing way, but maybe I’m just too much of an idealist.

Thanks for reading and please let us know your thoughts about our first co-blog! You can look forward to future posts from Vegan Vagina and ProChoiceGal on topics such as factory farm footage Vs. fetus posters, vegan birth control methods, and vegan sex toys! We would also love to hear your ideas for future posts.


  1. A thousand times yes! I'm trying to have those same conversations on my blog, recently talked about veganism and consent.

    This is a conversation that's been a long time coming on the blogosphere.

    And yes, co-sign everything about PeTA. They will never, ever, get a dollar of my money or a minute of my time.

  2. @CuteRedHood--Thanks for the positive feedback and support! You are definitely right that these are important conversations and we're glad you are involved in the discussion.

  3. This was awesome and insightful. I am excited to read about the vegan sex toys. I personally have moved towards using toys that are not battery operated as to reduce unnecessary consumption in my life, different issue but still related! ;-)

  4. This reminds me of when I was a teenage animal rights activist, and my mom pointed out to me that some of the tactics used by some animal rights activists are disturbingly similar to those used by the fetophiles (my term, not hers) who call themselves "pro-life." I came to realize that harassing or attacking people one disagrees with is not a good way to get them to change their minds. Anyway, great post! Lots to think about.

  5. Thank you for this! I really learned a lot!

  6. Would you be willing to come speak to my school about this issue? I am a member of law Students for reproductive justice and find this topic to be very interesting.

  7. @Tara--thanks for the request, but unfortunately due to confidentiality issues I am unable to make public appearances...(but that's awesome your chapter of law students for repro justice has an interest in this)

  8. I don't personally like PETA because I don't think being confrontational is a way to change peoples' minds. But I take issue with the assumption that women posing naked are being "silenced" and "reduced to meat." These are adult women who voluntarily chose to do what they did; far from being silenced, they are participating in a PR campaign. I think it's degrading to assume they were being victimized.

  9. Sara-

    PCG here! It's true that these women are choosing to participate in these campaigns, but I believe that these campaigns go much further than just the people who participate in them. I believe that the media has a big effect in attitudes and the treatment towards women today, so when you portray one woman as a piece of meat, you are effectively portraying *all* women as things rather than people. We are, of course, not trying to silence the women who choose to participate in these campaigns. I just find PETA's strategy of over-sexualized advertisements degrading to women in general.



This is not a debate forum -- there are hundreds of other sites for that. This is a safe space for abortion care providers and one that respects the full spectrum of reproductive choices; comments that are not in that spirit will either wind up in the spam filter or languish in the moderation queue.