Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Abortion And Woman's Rights

I was reading a pro-choice post by Libby Anne. She thinks abortion is really about controlling women. That is not surprising. She is a radical feminist and thinks a lot of things are about controlling women. But her post makes a few points well. One is that a rape exception completely distorts the pro-life message:
A reader offered the following in a comment on a recent post on abortion:
“What I had really wanted to say is that, except in the case of a rape, the pregnancy had to have resulted from a voluntary decision on the part of the woman, and therefore she should take responsibility for it, and carry the baby to term.”
I’ve been encountering this argument with growing frequency, and it really bothers me. Just last week my awesome husband helped me understand why. Put simply, this argument lays bare the misogyny of the anti-abortion movement, and makes opposition to abortion a blatant attempt to control women. Let me explain.
As I see it, there are two main reasons people oppose abortion:
  • First is the argument that the zygote/fetus is a person with rights. I call this the “save the babies” argument. It is passively anti-woman in that it almost always involves erasing women from the equation and ignoring women’s right to control their own bodies.
  • Second is the argument that women shouldn’t have sex unless they’re willing to be mothers. I call this the “slut shaming” argument. It is actively anti-woman in that it involves shaming women for having had sex and seeking to impose a measure of social control on women.
Now the first argument is the only argument that matters. If the fetus is a person then all the pro-abortion rhetoric collapses. None of their arguments make any sense. Even the second sentence:
It is passively anti-woman in that it almost always involves erasing women from the equation and ignoring women’s right to control their own bodies.
That is just obscenely immoral. Only the most radical pro-abortion zealot could write such a thing. That even conceding that a fetus is a person with rights that we should not think about that person at all lest we be passively anti-woman. I doubt Libby Anne thought much about that sentence. She is just not the type to concede any point to the pro-life position.
In the last several decades pro-lifers have been distancing themselves more and more from this second reason and focusing on the first. But the second reason has not disappeared. Growing up in pro-life circles, I thought it was “save the babies” all the way. And I have to admit, I was taken in. I honestly thought abortion was about saving babies, not about controlling women. And I’m not the only one so taken in. As long as they focus on the “save the babies” argument, pro-lifers can claim that they aren’t being anti-woman (even if, by erasing women from the picture, they actually are). But when they start using the “slut shaming” argument, they don’t have any such excuse.
Notice the logic here. She was previously pro-life. She thought the fetus is a human with rights. She became pro-abortion. Now she does not think it is human. So what changed? Did human reproduction change? Did the definition of what is human change? Her politics changed. It became politically inconvenient to say the fetus is human so you simply start saying it is not. The trouble is the truth of the matter does not change with your politics. What was a human when you wanted it to be is still a human when you don't want it to be.
And that, quite simply, is the problem with the comment I quoted above.
If abortion is murder, the argument that women need to “take responsibility” for the “voluntary decision” to have sex by carrying the pregnancy to term is irrelevant. It should not matter. If it’s just about “saving babies,” then abortion is wrong because it’s murder, not because it’s a woman failing to “take responsibility” for having had sex.
You see how having a rape exception shifts the focus away from the child? If you want to win abortion debates you need to keep the child front and center. How the child came to be does not matter. What matters is the child is.

Will a pro-life society require more responsible sexual choices? Sure. Both men and women will need to take sex more seriously. But that is beside the point. Abortion does make some things easier. So what? It involves the killing of an innocent human being. What more do we need to know?
Women should not have to risk becoming a mother every time they have sex. To quote from a reader once again:
Women can’t live without sex during all periods of their lives in which they aren’t able to care for a child (they should be extremely careful with contraception during these times but accidents do happen).
Women need to “take responsibility” for what, exactly? Since birth control sometimes fails and I doubt this argument includes exceptions for birth control failure, I have to conclude that the argument is that when a woman chooses “voluntarily” to have sex she must “take responsibility” if a pregnancy results. In other words, if a woman chooses to be sexually active, well, she is assenting to motherhood. This used to be true, and was one reason women could not reach parity with men – they faced constant childbearing, with all of the difficulty, invasiveness, and risk it involved. But this isn’t true anymore, and those who want it to be true, whether they realize it or not, are hearkening back to a time when women “stayed in their places.”
And before someone says that women can just abstain from sex if they don’t want to become pregnant, let me point out two things:  a) in the case of premarital sex, this is a free country and you are not allowed to impose your personal views on another and b) in the case of marital sex, remaining celibate is silly, since sex is important to maintaining a healthy marriage (Getting married should not mean becoming a constant baby machine. I’m in my twenties, married, and the other of two children. My husband and I don’t want more at this point in time, or perhaps ever. Should we then be celibate until I reach menopause?).
Unless we women can control when and if to have children, we cannot reach equality. Being able to control our reproduction is, in my opinion, one of the most important advances in women’s rights in the twentieth century. And damned if I’m giving that up.
So many people want to condemn abortion and embrace contraception. But the separation is not natural. Someone who does not have a stake in keeping them separate typically sees them working together. If you want to have sex and not have babies then you need both. Accidents do happen. Of course the "constant baby machine" talk is a little silly. It might even be a bit anti-woman. There is NFP. But the reality is men and women should embrace the chance of becoming a father and mother every time they have sex. The chance may be small but the possibility of raising another child together should not only be accepted but cherished. That is what we say with our bodies when we engage in the act of sex.

There is a deeper problem with this. That is that gender equality should not depend on biotechnology. The equal dignity of men and women is something that exists in people's hearts and minds. Once that is there we can approach the differences between men and women with justice and prudence. Technology might have a role in the second part of that but it has no role in the first. To say women need contraception and abortion to have equality means we don't have quality in hearts and minds. It just means the inequality does not get manifest because the technology makes the issue go away.

So if technology goes back 100 years would we expect woman's rights to go back 100 years? Catholicism does not suggest that but hypothetically, if it happened would you expect women to lose the vote and to start being denied certain jobs and for wife beating to be legalized again and so on? If so, then the gains in equal rights for women are pretty shallow. We have not really changed people's thinking. I don't think that is true. I think we have changed people's thinking. That change will not go anywhere if we decide to reject abortion and contraception. The idea is not to turn back the clock. The idea is to keep and develop the good parts of classical feminism and discard the bad parts.

Woman's rights that exist only under the condition that women control their reproduction without denying men sex, that is not equality. Equality means equal dignity regardless. It means respecting a woman's fertility and not expecting her to make it go away. If you lose equality when you face the reality that a fetus is human then you never had it in the first place.

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