Consent is a big deal in the pro-choice and women’s rights movements, particularly when it comes to sex and bodily autonomy. Sometimes antiabortion supporters will use consent as a way to deflect a woman’s right to an abortion and the rights over her own uterus by arguing that if a woman consent to sex then she consents to pregnancy. More specifically, that the woman consents to gestating a pregnancy that may result from the sex she consented to—“penetration is consent to gestation”, if you will.
It shouldn’t have to be explained, but consent to sex is not consent to gestating pregnancy. For clarification, this isn’t to say that sex doesn’t carry the risk of pregnancy or that there is zero correlation between sex and pregnancy, which is what many antiabortion supporters assume pro-choice supporters actually believe when they say “consent to sex isn’t consent to pregnancy”. What is truly being argued here is that an agreement to have sex isn’t an extended or implied agreement to carrying any pregnancy to term that may result from having sex.
The definition of consent is “permission for something to happen or agreement to do something”. If the woman does not agree with gestating a pregnancy, then by definition she has not consented to gestating a pregnancy.
The antiabortion movement wants to treat consent to sex like a binding legal contract or a User Agreement with fine print regarding pregnancy that would be glossed over by the average person. “Consent to sex is consent to pregnancy” is basically the antiabortion movement saying “You’re not allowed to have an elective abortion because you accepted any possible pregnancy upon consenting to sex. Did you not read the terms and conditions?” This logic would sound ridiculous if applied anywhere else. For example, telling a lung cancer patient they should be denied treatment if their cancer was the result of smoking—“Smoking is consent to cancer”. Or telling a traffic accident patient they cannot receive treatment for their injuries because it was implied they accepted the risks of driving when they sat behind the wheel.
Sexual consent is an agreement to participate in a sexual activity. One way to describe the rules is with the acronym FRIES:
*Freely Given: “Consenting is a choice you make without pressure, manipulation, or under the influence of drugs or alcohol.”
*Reversible: “Anyone can change their mind about what they feel like doing, anytime. Even if you’ve done it before and even if you’re both naked in bed.”
*Informed: “You can only consent to something if you have the full story. For example, if someone says they’ll use a condom and they don’t, there isn’t full consent”.
*Enthusiastic: “When it comes to sex, you should only do stuff you want to do, not things that you feel you’re expected to do.”
*Specific: “Saying yes to one thing (like going to the bedroom to make out) doesn’t mean you’ve said yes to others (like having sex).”
Nowhere does it state that engaging in consensual sex means you automatically consent to a pregnancy. But for argument’s sake, if sexual consent is connected to pregnancy consent, then consent to pregnancy should have to abide by sexual consent rules. If consent means you’re willing and wanting to do something rather than being pressured or expected to do something, those things must be present to consent to a pregnancy. If consent is reversible, women can change their mind about a pregnancy. If consent is specific and not implied or assumed, then saying yes to sex doesn’t mean saying yes to pregnancy and women can specify she doesn’t agree to gestate any pregnancy that may result from the sex that’s been mutually agreed upon.
The thing about pregnancy is women can get pregnant from non-consensual sex because biology and reproduction aren’t contingent upon consent. If “consent to sex is consent to pregnancy” then a lack of consent means automatically not consenting to a pregnancy in cases of rape. Right? Well, no. There have been rape victims that willingly chose to carry pregnancies resulting from their assault, indicating that sexual consent and consenting to pregnancy are completely separate from one another.
If a woman doesn’t consent to sex and therefore is raped, wouldn’t that mean a woman—a rape victim—has the right to an abortion should that rape result in a pregnancy she doesn’t consent to? No, according to the antiabortion movement. In the past, much of the antiabortion movement was in favor of abortion exceptions in cases of rape and incest, believing that it was cruel to force victims to go through pregnancy and birth. Currently, antiabortion activists and politicians see exceptions for rape as misguided because abortion is viewed as murder no matter if the circumstances of conception were consensual or not. So antiabortion supporters don’t really care about whether or not a woman gave consent, but are certainly willing to use it to pressure and shame women into gestating unwanted pregnancies.