Monday, January 22, 2007

Why I Am Pro-Choice

So many different levels on which this one could be answered. There is the little girl who heard a story about her grandmother's best friend, a long time ago, a friend who aborted her pre-wedding pregnancy with some implement found on the farm, because getting pregnant before marriage made a woman into a whore and a slut and she would be ostracized for the rest of her life. Instead, she was buried in her wedding dress before the scheduled wedding date. The story was told to the little girl for a different reason, perhaps, but what she took away from it was the idea that a world that puts such pressure on women is horribly wrong. And she wondered why there was no pressure to ostracize the man. - There might be a lesson here about how feminists are created, too.

Then there is the teenager who read a book where doctors let a pregnant woman with cancer die without painkillers, because those painkillers might have hurt the fetus. And the same teenager went out to parties and realized that in a slightly different world, with those stern pro-fetus values, she herself might get raped and then made to be pregnant for nine months and to give birth, too. And she might die because of this and have no legal defense.

Fast forward to the young feminist who read lots of legal books on abortion, lots of arguments against and for, lots of impassioned pleas on both sides, scientific evidence and quasi-scientific evidence. What she saw was that some anti-choice people were sincere in their belief that a person is created at the point of conception. But she also saw that many of those who expressed this belief also liked the idea of killing people just fine, provided that they were out of the womb and that the killing was done by men in power. And there were many in that camp who really liked the idea of taking the power over fertility away from women as a group, and there were those who also liked the side-effect of removing most freedoms from women's lives by banning contraception. Kinder, Kirche und Kuchen people.

Closer to the present time. Add color to the film at this point. The goddess in the chrysalis stage realized the immense problems that would be created by the decision of the anti-choice crowd that persons are created at conception. Think of those Russian dolls where there is always another doll inside the one you open. Well, this is what this decision would do to women who are pregnant or able to become pregnant. We would all become potential containers for Real People, and our every step would have to be monitored to defend the unborn and the yet-to-become-unborn. We would have to eat raw oats and sit with our ankles crossed while Beethoven is played in the calm room with integral signs painted on the walls. Because if we don't do these things we are guilty of endangering the Real Person. The decision how we are going to deliver a child could become one over which we can go to prison. Someone else might have to decide for us because of the Real Person inside us.

Note that this is not just about abortion. It is about all fertility, about pregnancy and about delivery. Once someone makes the decision that the embryo is at least as important as the woman with the uterus, well, we are going to build the adversarial approach between the two, and doctors, lawyers and politicians will all walk into our uteri, with little suitcases full of rulebooks.

This may sound exaggerated to you, and it is, in the sense that I've taken the anti-choice position to its logical endpoint, the point it would reach without any resistance from the rest of us. We see the beginnings of this in those court cases where women are imprisoned or restrained for using illegal drugs or for refusing the recommendations of the medical profession as to the preferred form of giving birth. These decisions are based on the adversarial assumption and they exist to protect the fetus, not the woman. She is seen as a criminal, not someone who needs help herself or perhaps better information. That many of these cases fly below our radar screen is because the women involved are poor and/or illegal drug-users and often belong to a racial or ethnic minority. But the same principles would one day be applied to a white woman who doesn't want to undergo a Caesarian section. Our race or our class would not save us from this destiny.

In short, I think that most of this debate is about the control of fertility, about the control of the size and the makeup of the next generation, and different women face different types of pressure in this. Some women, white ones in this country, are urged to have more children. Other women, minorities in this country, are urged to have fewer or at different times in their lives. But all women will see their own say over their lives reduced by the anti-choice forces should they ever come to power.

Being pro-choice is not just being pro-abortion if the woman wants it. It is also treating a pregnant woman as a full human being and not letting her body or her decision-making be possessed by those she doesn't want to allow in. This does not mean that no other considerations ever prevail, but the principle of the woman's full personhood must not be violated. So I think.

I chose to treat this assigned essay question for today's anniversary of Roe v. Wade from a personal angle. But on most days I don't think about it this way. I see the larger and larger contexts in which all this would play out in our lives. Practically all levels of equality of the sexes require that women can control their own fertility. If that is taken away from us we can never be truly equal in anything else.