Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Roe v. Wade. Forty Years.

I'm supposed to write about Roe v. Wade.  Others are doing it much better, noting that the decision was divisive, that the rights of pregnant women have certainly not improved in the last twenty-or-so years, noting that access to abortion increasingly depends on where a woman lives, how much money she has and what access she has to health care in general.  Because the latter correlate with race and ethnicity, access to abortion varies by income, race, ethnicity and geographical location.  Weirdly, so it did before Roe v. Wade.  For example, the rich women were always more able to get abortions than the rest of American women.

Then we also get musings of this sort, in the New York Times, of all places:

Somehow, motherhood had slyly changed us. We went from basking in the rights that feminism had afforded us to silently pledging never to exercise them. Nice mommies don’t talk about abortion — it is relegated to the dark and dirty corners of our conscious, only to emerge favorably in the voting booth. Yes, we believe in a woman’s right to choose. No, we don’t actually believe she should use it in the face of women choosing to have their children. This is the feminist mother’s greatest taboo.
The feminist mother's greatest taboo?  Based on the writer's own feelings, she makes a statistical assertion, the kind that usually requires a little bit of research.  I would think.

Why do I criticize this piece?  Partly because it's published as a click-magnet, but mostly because the level of analysis in it really is pretty low for an august place like the NYT.  The arguments slide very close to the idea (heard even from one Justice on the Supreme Court) that women must be protected from themselves because once they become mummies they no longer want abortions.  Of course the majority of women who have abortions already have children. and of course so do the two friends the writer gives out as examples to all readers.  Examples of bad feminist mummies?

That's what I mean by low-level analysis.  A piece which ignores facts, generalizes from a sample of one to all feminist mothers and so on, this piece gets published in the New York Times parenting blog.

Never mind.  What I really wanted to write is this:  I believe that Roe v. Wade started on the wrong foot by being based on privacy as the fundamental concept.  I get the reason for that, but the true reason for abortion rights from a feminist point of view is that they are an essential part of the rights of a woman to control her fertility, at least until we have no-fail-automatic-and-safe birth control for all. 

If women are not allowed to have that control, men and women can never be equal.  Anyone who has followed the extreme US forced-birth arguments in the last year knows that those folks want to make abortion unavailable for rape victims and many of them want to make the contraceptive pill unavailable for women in general.  In the kind of world the forced birthers want no woman could protect herself from an unwanted pregnancy, because rape wouldn't be a sufficient excuse for the termination of pregnancy and the list of contraceptives those folks frown upon include all the ones women control.  And in that world any fertile woman would have her life plans considerably restricted and influenced by others.

Thus, Roe v. Wade should have been based on equality of the sexes.  Because it is not, it can be chiseled away using arguments such as the personhood proposals for egg-Americans.  Because it is not, what one woman thinks of other women's choices is regarded as a valid argument to be presented on its fortieth anniversary.  And because it is not, women as actual or potential aquaria for embryos and fetuses is a valid argument in the debates about abortions and even about the kind of health care not-pregnant-but-fertile women should receive.