Tuesday, November 17, 2009

It's About Equal Opportunity

Reproductive choice, that is, and Jeffrey Toobin gets it in his excellent New Yorker article. All of it is worth reading but especially the end:

But, as Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg observed not long ago, abortion rights "center on a woman's autonomy to determine her life's course, and thus to enjoy equal citizenship stature." Every diminishment of that right diminishes women. With stakes of such magnitude, it is wise to weigh carefully the difference between compromise and surrender.

Indeed. The usual approach of pro-birth debaters is to begin with the assumption that a selfish and lazy and slutty woman gets herself pregnant and then decides to abort so that she gets away with the inconvenience of being pregnant. Honest. That's how the arguments mostly go. The pregnancy is parthenogenetic! The women "gets herself" pregnant, and abortion is just something she wants in order to stay slim and because it's convenient. Mmm.

An equally common anti-choice approach is to start from the idea of killing born babies and then go backwards, to show that women who abort a pregnancy indeed are cold-blooded killers. I debated a troll like that recently. He (yup) posed the question whether I'd be OK with a woman changing her mind in the ninth month of pregnancy and aborting a perfectly healthy fetus. And obviously if I wasn't OK with that he'd then repeat the same argument backwards until we'd arrive at the point where the egg "got itself" fertilized. Well, that was his plan, but he hit a problem which is my religion: echidneism. (That's the one where I'm the goddess, you worship me and buy me chocolates and act nice.)

We echidneites believe that the soul is in the sperm. So every nocturnal ejaculation is a mass murder, and all anti-choice demonstrations should be under guys' bedroom windows. With big signs showing the lovely faces of little sperm!

Why can't I stay serious, even with a topic like this? Let's try again. Let's apply this trollie's approach but from the other end. Suppose that we start with a fifteen-year old girl (a virgin) in El Salvador, a country which does not allow abortions under any conditions, not even if the pregnant woman will die, not even if she was gang-raped. Never.

If this girl gets raped on her way back from school she might become pregnant by force. Then she would have to carry the pregnancy to term, even if that meant she could no longer go to school. If the pregnancy threatened her life, too bad. The fetus comes first!

How can she protect herself from this? You might mumble that going out in El Salvador is dangerous in any case, and perhaps she should just stay at home. Who needs education, after all? Women should stay at home. Or she could ask her (Catholic) parents to put her on the contraceptive pill? Of course many pro-birthers in the U.S. argue that the pill itself causes abortions!

If all that is too extreme for you, consider that this girl will probably be propositioned by boys and young men. "Once won't do it!" "I swear I'll pull out in time!" "I'll never leave you if you get pregnant, I swear." "You don't love me if you won't do this." And so on.

If she gets pregnant, the boyfriend most likely disappears, her family might kick her out, her school might kick her out. And her dreams have died.

Every fertile woman living in a world without perfect birth control is vulnerable in this way, dancing on an invisible tightrope. To have access to a legal and affordable abortion is nothing more than a safety-net under that tightrope, and if we remove that safety-net we remove equal opportunities for men and women. It is ultimately that important for a woman to be able to choose the timing of her pregnancies.