Today is Blog for Choice Day. The purpose of this movement is to protest the removal of abortion services from hospitals and medical clinics, and to reaffirm women’s right to access an abortion should she so choose. Bloggers are asked to write a post telling readers why they are pro-choice.
So, why am I pro-choice?
First, let’s get some terms straight. “Pro-choice” does not mean “pro-abortion”; it means supporting women’s rights to self-determination over their bodies. “Fetuses” are not “babies”; fetuses exist in the womb, babies exist outside of the womb. “Human” does not equal “person”; human is the biological name of our species, personhood involves moral agency. There; now let’s move on.
I believe that women’s reproductive freedom is an essential piece of the puzzle for women’s full and uninhibited autonomy. In our society, women’s value comes from their usefulness within a male-dominated system, created by men, for men’s benefit. The ultimate value of women lies in their ability to produce a healthy baby, to continue the male bloodline. In this regard, women are increasingly treated as vessels through the medicalization of pregnancy and childbirth. I’ve written about this before, here and here. In order for women to gain true equality and equity in society, we must be valued intrinsically, and not in terms of how we can be of use to men – or to our children. Part of this involves the freedom to determine if and when we choose to have children.
There is a deep connection between issues of reproductive freedom and issues of sexual freedom. I wrote about that here. Women’s sexuality has been and continues to be defined in terms of its relation to male sexuality and male sexual pleasure. This andro- and phallocentrism has caused a great deal of harm to women by denying us the recognition of full sexual expression in hetero sexual relationships, of oppressing lesbian women on the basis of their rejection of male-centred sexuality, and by assuming the importance of male sexual pleasure and dominion over women’s bodies, which leads to all sorts of physical and sexual abuses. It is this attitude towards women’s bodies as sexual objects for male possession that has prevented women’s autonomy as sexual beings and in terms of reproduction.
There is a lot of debate around the issue of abortion involving the question of when life begins. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – it doesn’t matter when life begins. Personally, I take the view that life begins at conception. The point isn’t about when life begins, it’s about when rights attach. This is the difference between “human” and “person”, as I outlined earlier – and make no mistake, this is the most important distinction as we can make on this issue. For me, the most important right to protect is that of the woman. This is her body we’re talking about. Fetuses are completely dependent on women’s bodies for nourishment, development, and survival. They offer nothing in return, biologically speaking. That means that this is a one-sided benefit, to the fetus – not a symbiotic relatinoship whereby both parties benefit by the presence of the other. As much as people hate it when I say this, it’s true: fetuses are parasites. They depend on the continued goodwill of the host, the pregnant woman. Actually, considering the defenselessness of newborn babies, some philosophers consider them to also be parasites, but this is where I draw the line.
Do living things deserve moral consideration? Yes, of course I believe this to be true. Obviously, I think so – I am a vegetarian. I believe all sentient beings (beings that can sense pain and pleasure) are deserving of moral consideration. However, what makes no sense to me is the special privilege we afford humans over other living beings. Why should we give more rights of moral consideration to human fetuses than we do to fully formed, born, non-parasitic animals like cows and pigs, whom we as a society kill readily and unnecessarily for our food supply? And certainly, it makes no sense to give more moral consideration to fetuses than we do to the fully formed, born, non-parasitic, rational moral agents with full rights and freedoms (at least theoretically, entrenched in human rights legislation around the world) that are pregnant women. Unless, of course, your goal is to control and subvert women.
My official position is that abortion must be legal at all stages of pregnancy, in order to protect women fully. Otherwise, we could have a situation where the woman’s life is endangered by continuing the pregnancy, and she has no legal right to self-defense. I fully support a woman’s right to choose an abortion at any stage of her pregnancy. Women must have the right to decide at any point to discontinue hosting a fetus, and the manner in which she continues to host a fetus. I am opposed to any legislation that aims to protect fetal health over the woman’s right to determine how she uses her body. It’s her body – she should have the ultimate choice over how to treat her own body at all stages of her life. If we own anything in this world fully and completely, it’s our bodies. We must have the right to do with our bodies what we choose. However, I will say that all evidence that I have examined shows that sentience begins in a human fetus between 17-20 weeks. At this point, I believe some moral consideration should be given to a developing fetus, since that fetus can feel pain. Note closely: I said moral consideration. I did not say women shouldn’t be allowed to abort after this time. I did not say that the fetus’ rights outweigh the woman’s at this point. I said moral consideration. If the woman still decides after the point of sentience to abort, I fully support her right to do so.
This is what the debate boils down to for me: to not support women’s right to choose whether to carry a fetus to term do not support women’s equality. It is illogical to declare a human fetus more worthy of moral consideration than the fully formed moral agent carrying that fetus. Doing so reduces women to our reproductive function, and makes us into vessels whose true value comes about through becoming useful vessels rather than empty ones. And this certainly does not create an environment of equality.
So, I hope that today, some of you will also Blog for Choice. At least, I hope some of what you read will help you consider supporting women’s rights to reproductive freedom.
Edit: Please take the time to read the following posts (I’ll be adding to this list throughout the day as I find more and more great posts on this topic): Sarah’s Blog for Choice 2006 at the Razzberry, Jill’s Why I’m Pro-Choice, Anti-Choicers Bring the Crazy. And the Misogyny. And the Racism, and Embryonic Personhood at Feministe, Amanda’s Blogging for Choice and Beyond Choice at Pandagon, Shark-Fu’s Blog for Choice – Pro-choice for Life at Angry Black Bitch, BrownFemiPower’s “Choice” Challenged, and Who Gets to Be a Legitimate Mother at Women of Color Blog and Sage’s Funeral for an Abortion at Persephone’s Box. For those of you who might think that abortion is an easy, convenient choice, or that anyone other than the pregnant woman herself is a better candidate to make decisions that affect the entire course of the rest of her life.