Sometime last year in the comment section of a Planned Parenthood Action post, an anti-abortion supporter used gardening as a means to defend the antiabortion idea that “consent to sex = consent to pregnancy.”
“I agree having a child begins with creating a child. You don’t plant a garden and then when a plant starts growing you destroy that seedling. You make a decision to have a garden before you plant the seeds.”
This wasn’t the first time I had seen this particular anti-abortion gardening analogy and it most likely won’t be the last time I see it. Now that my garden is planted for the summer, I remembered I had begun to dissect this analogy last year, which is why I had copied and pasted the now deleted comment.
For Christian anti-abortion supporters, it probably makes sense to use gardening as a means to explain something as the Bible compares people to fruit trees. As a gardener with over a decade of experience, I wonder if this antiabortion gardening analogy was thought up by a supporter that has never tended a garden before. “You don’t plant a garden and then when a plant starts growing you destroy that seedling” implies that gardeners always see their planted seeds and transplants to fruition and therefore women must see their unwanted pregnancy to term and “bear fruit”, but this simply isn’t true. In fact, gardeners kill many living things in their garden, including things they purposely planted.
Many gardeners make plans to destroy seedlings resulting from seeds they plant. Tiny seeds like carrots and lettuce are difficult—if not damn near impossible—to plant one by one so many gardeners will sprinkle such seeds over the ground without worrying about proper spacing. Gardeners might broadcast larger seeds if there’s a large area to plant. Additionally, not every seed will germinate regardless of size, especially with older seed, and thus some gardeners who are more particular about spacing or start plants indoors may plant more than one seed per hole to better their chances that there will be a plant in that spot. Unfortunately, gardeners end up with crowded seedlings once those seeds that have been planted so closely together germinate. The solution is to remove (and ultimately destroy) seedlings that are too close together until you’re left with seedlings that are at the proper spacing. This is called “thinning” and it is a gardening basic that’s described in gardening books and most packets for seeds that don’t require being started indoors in colder areas with shorter summers.
Sometimes gardeners will plant things with the intention of having those plants stay in the garden and later they come to the realization they actually don’t want it in their garden. For a personal example, a couple years ago I planted moon flowers because I thought they looked pretty on the seed packet picture. The white flowers were indeed pretty, but I discovered its vines are incredibly invasive and they will wrap themselves around anything they can get their little tendrils on. The original moon flowers had gone to seed—meaning they had completed their life cycle and created more seed—and two summers later I’m still ripping out moon flower vines out of my garden plot at the community garden. Yes, I had wanted these flowers for my own viewing pleasure, but I had planted them ignorantly. In order to protect the overall health of my garden and my plans for the vegetables I had planted, I had to destroy these new moonflower seedlings. If I had let them live, they would have continued to wrap their vines around my other plants until they choked the life out of them.
Some perennial plants grow in clumps and can become overcrowded, resulting in poor plant growth. The solution is “dividing”, which requires digging up the parent plant and dividing it into smaller sections. In plant terms, this can be quite brutal as sometimes the root ball easily can’t be teased apart and parts of the plant have to be hacked away with a knife or spade, but doing so will improve the health of the parent plant. The smaller portions that are removed from the parent plant can be planted elsewhere, making plant division a good way to propagate plants without having to plant more seed. But not every gardener wants the new plants created from the original parent plant. Case in point, I divided my massive and overcrowded chive plant this year, but had no need for more the smaller chive plants that resulted. Instead, I threw the smaller plants into the community garden compost. I essentially did the plant equivalent of how anti-abortion supporters view abortion by ripping smaller plants away from the bigger plant and left the smaller plants to die.
Even if gardeners tediously plant their seeds one-by-one at the perfect spacing and everything they plant is wanted, gardeners will still have to deal with weeds. Think of weeds as the unplanned pregnancy of gardening. The only true way of avoiding weeds is to not have a garden. For those that don’t want to abstain from gardening, there are several methods to prevent weeds such as physical barriers like mulch, landscaping fabric, and tarps as well as chemicals that either kill weeds or prevent their seed from germinating. But like contraceptives that prevent unplanned pregnancies, these weed preventing methods are not entirely foolproof. Usually at some point, regardless of whether preventative methods are used, gardeners will end up with weeds. Like an unplanned pregnancy, the individual gardener will have to decide if they’re fine with them existing in their garden and taking up precious nutrients or if they’re going to get rid of them by ripping them out of the ground or dousing them in weed killing chemicals.
Gardeners go beyond plants and kill other living things. Look at any garden center that pops up in every big box store during the summer and you’ll find at least half an aisle dedicated to chemicals that kill or deter a wide variety of living creatures and diseases that invade gardens. Much like weeds and unwanted pregnancies, it’s up to the individual to decide on what they feel is the best way to handle them. Some gardeners wish to avoid the more toxic chemicals completely or until natural methods prove ineffective while others have no qualms about immediately spraying their plants with Sevin at the first sign of an infestation. There are times plants become too infested or diseased to be worth saving and it might be best destroy the plant so it doesn’t infect the healthy plants in the garden or the soil they’re growing in. When you’re in a community garden like I am, there are times where several gardeners have the same pest problem, but each will have different ways of dealing with it. Last year, I was pissed that the influx of rabbits had mowed down my pea plants to the ground level yet never sought to destroy them—even affectionately calling any bunny I saw “Usagi” and scolding them—while another gardener came with a BB gun with the intent of extermination.
Perhaps, the only part of this anti-abortion garden analogy that’s accurate is that gardeners make the decision to have a garden before planting. People make the decision to have a garden because they have plans for the fruits, vegetables, and flowers they put into the ground. There isn’t a garden that grows perfectly and gardeners will have to deal with gardening related issues—possibly even ones their own actions have caused. When faced with issues that would interfere with those plans, they have to make decisions on how best to handle them just as women weigh out their options when faced with an unplanned pregnancy or even a wanted pregnancy where problems were detected later.
Gardeners do destroy seedlings—even ones they planted themselves—so maybe using gardening as an argument against abortion wasn’t the best idea.