Thursday, January 25, 2007

Pro-choice v. pro-choice.

First, here are links to the most recent blog blow-up. Go read them.

All set? OK, then.

I'm going to leave aside the questions of who behaved badly and how and all that. What I thought was interesting about all of this was the different pro-choice positions that were displayed.

What does "pro-choice" mean? The most general definition that pretty much everyone who calls herself "pro-choice" would agree on is the belief that women should make their own reproductive decisions, specifically regarding abortion and birth control. In more recent years, the movement has begun to address larger issues of reproductive rights, including forced sterilization, forced abortion, access to good prenatal care, etc. However, the basic focus has remained on abortion rights.

When a woman says that she is pro-life but then declares that she believes that abortion should be safe and legal for all women and that it is a personal decision, I read her as saying that she finds abortion morally repugnant but that, at the end of the day, she is pro-choice. Because, in essence, she supports leaving the choice up to the individual woman.

This is no small thing. In fact, many women I've met share these feelings. What they feel is a serious concern about abortion, an uneasiness, a conviction that abortion is a tragedy. Some point out that they themselves would never have an abortion. And yet, at the same time, they still believe that women need to be able to make these decisions independently.

Some of these women may call themselves pro-choice and simultaneously express these misgivings. Some may not even call themselves pro-choice but may take the exact same position as the pro-choicers. The end result is the same: women who support women's rights to make personal decisions about our bodies.

What I got from Rootie's post was that she was, essentially, pro-choice, though she didn't want to use that label. But as long as she supports a woman's right to have an abortion, she's supporting choice.

But for Jane Awake, this was not enough. Jane felt that this need to qualify was part of the problem; it gave credence to the notion of abortion as murder and as necessarily a horrible (though sometimes necessary) decision. To Jane, using "pro-life" language, even while supporting pro-choice positions, is not pro-choice.

And to an extent, I can see Jane's point. When we talk about abortion in SD, we generally add a disclaimer along the lines of, of course, having an abortion would be a terribly difficult decision. Of course it would be a sad thing, but sometimes it's for the best.

The reality, of course, is that different people have different reactions, and for the record, none of my close friends who've talked to me about their abortions have ever regretted them. And none thought twice about having them in the first place, either. I'm not saying that no one has regrets or second thoughts - just that these things aren't part of everybody's abortion experience.

But see, this is scary. The "pro-life" side paints women as reckless, having abortions for fun and using them as birth control (which implies regular abortions and careless use of actual birth control). So if we say, "abortion does not have to be a big deal," we're playing right into their hands and being loose women with no morals (after all, we don't think killing our babies is a big deal!).

But if we get all moralistic and look down at the ground and talk about how sad it is that this is sometimes an option...well, that plays into their hands, too. And I can understand Jane's frustration.

Of course, many in the pro-choice movement do find abortion problematic and disturbing, as well. These women should not be forced to repeat rhetoric. They, too, are entitled to their feelings.

Some women say, "I would never have an abortion." I've felt that way. And, in fact, a couple of years after writing it publically, I was able to think up scenarios in which I am pretty sure that I *would* have an abortion. But perhaps more to the point, as Jane reminds us, many, many women say they'd never have abortions and then have abortions. The truth is, you don't know until you get there what you might do in a theoretical situation. Meanwhile, the "I'd never have an abortion" statement can act to divide women, and it infuses the whole thing with a sense of "I am morally correct and good, and I would never do such a horrible thing, but I guess I support your right to do it." Conversely, though, it can also allow someone who is empathetic toward other women but, for religious reasons, convinced that abortion is murder, to find a middle ground where she can be at peace between the opposing sides.

For many, saying "I'd never have an abortion but" is simply speaking the truth as they know it to be.

And then, of course, there are the women who have had an abortion (or three) and who have since become "pro-life," which means that when the chips were down, they got to make a choice, and now they are damn sure going to try to prevent anyone else from having that option. But I will say this: those women who say they've been hurt by abortion? I think we in the pro-choice movement ought to listen to them. Because, as one prominent abortion researcher (who has never found a link between abortion and the myriad ills the pro-life movement tries to link it to, and who spends her time debunking crappy pro-life "studies") said to me, if reputable studies ever *do* show that there are women who are suffering as a result of their abortions, then we need to research this so that we can treat them.

Not so that we can criminalize abortion.

Isn't that delightfully sane?

The bottom line for me is that my morals are not dictated by the "pro-life" movement, and I don't have to please them. I think we need room in the pro-choice movement for anyone who supports our goals, regardless of what they call themselves and of what language they use to talk about abortion.


Since I began working on this post, a discussion started up in the comments of one of my earlier posts, and I'd like to address it in this thread, as well. One person repeatedly made comments that suggested that the pro-choice movement is, and feminists are - and this is not her terminology, so if I have misunderstood, I hope she will clarify - essentially anti-reproduction.

With regard to the pro-choice movement, it is common for "pro-lifers" to understand "pro-choice" to mean "always choose abortion." This is because it is politically expedient for their movement to portray us this way. But it is also because it is difficult for some people to grasp that they can be both in favor of women making their own choices AND ALSO not need to want to abort their own - or all - pregnancies.

It seems a simple enough point that it should not need to be stated at all, much less clarified. But I have run into this again and again, in the form of slogans such as "your mother was pro-life" (which, in fact, she isn't); the implication here seems to be that, because she didn't abort *me*, she must be pro-life. This of course makes no sense. If the pro-choice motto were "always abort," there'd be no choice involved.

I also encountered it last fall when I met a pregnant woman - who was pro-choice - who did not want to sign the petition to put the abortion ban on the SD ballot. She gestured at her belly as a reason, yet in her other discussions, she seemed to support abortion rights for women. But for some reason, she felt a contradiction between supporting them publically and being pregnant.

And, I have run into this misperception many times from students, who often call pro-choice "pro-abortion" and have no inkling that very many of the women I've met in the movement have not had abortions, believe they never will have abortions, and think of abortions as a horrible thing (and now I'm back, nearly, where I started).

What I always notice, by the way, whether at marches in Washington, D.C. or at the clinic or on the picket line, is that, unfailingly, there are always mothers there with me, some with big maternity "choice" (with an arrow pointing to their bellies) t-shirts, and some who want their daughters to have better options than they did.

And I also wanted to point out, again for the record, that while there are some schools of feminism that have argued against "breeding" (particularly in the 1970s, but less so thereafter), there are also schools of feminism that are centered in the notion of motherhood as integral to the female experience. Further, women of color feminist theories have, for the most part, focused on woman as mother and in relation to family and community. Indigenous concerns about women's status are, in part, closely tied to the roles of those women as mothers of the next generation. Environmental feminism explores things like environmental racism (for example, the storing of depleted uranium on Native American reservations) and the effects of toxins on mothers and children. I can think of a couple of radical feminist blogs that are all about women as natural nurturers and mothers. And feminists who worship the Goddess and/or Gaia also celebrate women bearing life.

As far as I'm concerned, anyone who supports reproductive rights (which includes the right to reproduce) is part of my movement - no matter what she calls herself or how she talks about it.


Anonymous said...

Thank you, PF.

I'm one of the many pro-choice women who finds abortion troubling and worrisome. I am pro-choice not because I think abortion is made a big deal of by the enemies of reproductive freedom and it's really just a lump of cells and who cares, but because I think it's each woman's own moral dilemma to solve for herself. I know some women don't find their choice any kind of dilemma, and this confuses me. But again, that is their business, not mine, AND CERTAINLY NOT THE GOVERNMENT'S.

Among my feminist friends in the blogiverse (well, the LiveJournalverse) anyway, there are often big fads of defending abortion "without apology," which usually, to those friends, means to distance themselves from people who find abortion worrisome or regrettable. I remember one meme going around where they exhorted all of us to post "I'm pro-choice, and would have an abortion" on the theory that the common "but I would never have an abortion" is presumptuous and hides a judgmental attitude toward other women.

I have no interest in judging other women, and maybe I would have an abortion. But I could not bring myself to type that "I would." I'm not one of those people who thinks the worry and the shame come only from pro-lifers tricking people. I'm just not.

I think it's a good thing to free women who are making the choice to abort from shame and stigma. But I'm troubled by the idea that to do that, "real" pro-choicers are supposed to never express any uneasiness about abortion, distaste for arguments based on "persons" (hey, Ashley X isn't a person by conventional definition either, why should anyone care she was mutilated?), distaste for arguments that ignore that a fetus is HUMAN (I've heard them called "not even human lumps of cells" -- what are they then, fish fetuses?), etc.

To say nothing of the scorn heaped on women who say "Keep abortion safe, legal, and rare." What if a world in which more support for any choice existed really WERE a world in which abortion were rarer? I'm not sure if it would be, but... maybe it would.

Oh, and on women who have regretted their abortions: I don't find that unbelievable. I remember seeing a postcard on Post Secret one day from a pregnant woman who was haunted by her abortion and wondering (if I recall it right) if she deserved this one after "killing" the other. Or maybe it was that she lost a wanted pregnancy and saw it as deserts for "killing" the first. Something like that.

Anyway, as much as I wanted to hug that woman and tell her I don't think abortion is morally impermissible and that she shouldn't curse herself -- I don't see any reason to think her pain isn't real. To suppose for example that she found harmful religious groups who shamed her rather than that she's just someone with conflicted, pained feelings.

And rootietoot had an abortion, and, as she said "No one's harder on me than myself." Why should we act as though her pain is to be mocked, simply because we (rightly) want to stress that many women don't regret it?

Kelsey said...

As far as I'm concerned, anyone who supports reproductive rights (which includes the right to reproduce) is part of my movement - no matter what she calls herself or how she talks about it.

Agreed. I have my personal feelings about abortion (I'm a little bit more in the 'no apologies' camp), but I from a practical standpoint, we often hurt our own cause by getting caught up in theory and semantics while women are ACTUALLY losing their rights.

Discussion is good. We're allowed to disagree with each other and argue for our view. But the second we start kicking people out of our movement or alienating allies, we're in trouble.

blacksweatpants said...

"Conversely, though, it can also allow someone who is empathetic toward other women but, for religious reasons, convinced that abortion is murder, to find a middle ground where she can be at peace between the opposing sides."


It is unfortunately difficult to hope for a peaceful middle ground between the opposing sides when there is such conflict within these sides. Conflict can be, actually, productive (intended pun); it's the malicious conflicts of which you speak that are particularly disturbing.

Peace is about being the first one to stick out your neck, which is what bloggers are doing when they communicate their values and opinions with the world. We could reply to such efforts with a simple:

"Yes, thank you, blogger, for being so open. This is what I happen to think. Could you explain ____ more for me so I can better understand your position?"

See? A civilized exchange of thought shouldn't really be so difficult. Ah well. Back to my world of youthful naivete. It's more restful there.

Anonymous said...

"But perhaps more to the point, as Jane reminds us, many, many women say they'd never have abortions and then have abortions. The truth is, you don't know until you get there what you might do in a theoretical situation."

But the thing is -- take the women I mentioned who were on LJ saying "I'm pro-choice and I would have an abortion," ostensibly as an activist answer to "I would never have one but I'm pro-choice."

The thing is, they don't know they WOULD any more than anyone else knows she WOULD NOT. There are people who are convinced they would and change their minds. What about someone who decides "when the chips are down" to gestate, even if she always thought she'd abort?

If we're stressing that no one knows what she'll do when faced with a serious moral dilemma, fine. But I don't like the... half-acknowledging that for some women it IS a moral dilemma, and half acting like it SHOULD NOT BE one. If it is, it is.

I think there are better ways to say no one deserves to be shamed for making a choice than by insisting that that choice be seen as value-neutral and as something that is not a big deal.

For some people it's not, and for others it is.

aus blog said...

Those who say one thing but do another,they are really pro life but don't want to admit it.

Actions speak louder than words

I myself am pro life but not entirely, I believe common sense should provale, abortion should remain available, safe and legal to a few (about 2%)

People should be able to choose to use birth control, to avoid having to make another choice.

This would be a middle ground that all but the radicals from both sides should agree upon.

belledame222 said...

Thanks, PF.