I’ve been spending a lot of time on Twitter lately, and I’ve been keeping up with the posts on the #prochoice feed. And sometimes I can’t help myself from engaging with an anti-choice person whose stance I just can’t wrap my head around. (To be fair, I’m sure they have the same trouble understanding my views.) None of us are going to change our minds; most of the people posting there have firm views one way or the other.
I’ve read some of the links posted by so-called “pro-life” advocates. I’ve honestly tried to understand their point of view. The problem is, most of these people don’t believe in abortion under any circumstances, even when a woman’s life is in danger. Apparently, they recommend that doctors treat women for the medical condition and if the fetus dies in the course of treatment, so be it. That’s OK because it’s not abortion. They don’t seem to have any answer for what happens if the woman is treated and dies anyway–along with the fetus.
I carried out a thought experiment just to play devil’s advocate. Say a woman is three months pregnant when she finds out she has cervical cancer. If abortion is illegal, she has to choose to risk her life by delaying treatment or risk the fetus’s life by undergoing chemotherapy and radiation. If she chooses treatment, she knows the risks they pose to the developing baby: birth defects, low birth weight, premature birth. Breastfeeding is also not recommended for women who have had chemotherapy while pregnant. Radiation carries similar risks.
It’s possible the woman might come through the cancer treatment and give birth to a healthy, full-term baby. It’s also possible the child might be born with significant disabilities. There is no doubt the physical, financial, emotional and mental needs of such children are great.
So this mother who has just survived cancer now has a child with disabilities. If she has other children, they might not get as much of her time as they had previously because she has to devote so much of herself to the baby. It might put significant strain on her marriage. In the worst case scenario, she loses her job and gets divorced.
Yes, that’s an extreme case. I’m not saying it’s likely. I’m just saying it’s possible. What if the woman chooses to give the baby up for adoption? What are the chances of a couple taking in a baby who requires constant care? I’m all for adoption, and I know there are a lot of couples out there who would love to provide homes for unwanted children, but there are way more kids in foster care than there are permanent homes to take them in. Conservatives advocate for women to put their children up for adoption, but a lot of them don’t go the extra step of opening their homes to those same children. So where are they supposed to go?
I can think of a dozen other cases of girls and women who shouldn’t have to carry pregnancies to term. Think of a 9-year-old raped by her father, who is just not emotionally or physically developed enough to give birth. Think of a married mother of three who is raped. How does she explain giving that child up for adoption? Where does she get the strength to love it as if it were her husband’s? (Some anti-choice sites say giving birth to a rapist’s baby can actually be healing.) Think about a woman whose body is just not capable of carrying a baby to term. Heart and lung conditions can make pregnancy, which puts a lot of strain on the body, a risky proposition. Think about a woman who wants a baby but finds out in her sixth month the child isn’t developing properly and will die almost immediately upon birth. She’s supposed to carry that baby for another three or four months knowing she will have only a fleeting amount of time with him. Some women can do that. Some women can’t. And, bottom line, they shouldn’t be forced to.
Margaret Atwood’s “A Handmaid’s Tale” is a pro-choice activist’s nightmare in novel form. I have not read the book because just seeing the movie was disturbing enough. In the not-so-distant-future, women are separated into classes and treated as possessions. The Handmaids are one of those classes; they serve their masters solely for reproductive purposes and have no control over their bodies. They are the baby-makers who turn their children over to morally fit Wives upon birth. Wikipedia describes a scene in the movie that haunts me almost nine years later: “Forced to lie between Serena Joy’s legs and be sexually penetrated each month by the Commander, Kate longs for her earlier life.”
That’s basically the kind of world anti-choice activists are working toward: one where women are helpless to control their reproductive health and thus their lives. When I pointed out on Twitter that abortion will always be around, even if it’s made illegal, I got this response:
So it seems some anti-choicers aren’t interested in reducing abortions, just making them illegal. I had an exchange with another one who wanted pregnant women to risk their lives and ignore doctors’ medical advice if they develop complications:
I guess the moral of the story is, risk your life and you too could become the mother of a Heisman Trophy winner!
What it comes down to is a society that forces women of childbearing age (60 million in the United States) to be at risk of pregnancy for most of their lives is one that doesn’t respect women as human beings in their own right but values them only for their reproductive function. What’s next? Outlawing birth control?
Yes, there was a time in this country when birth control and abortion were both illegal, and the population didn’t die out. But that was not a fun time to be a woman. The Comstock Laws, passed in 1873, made even talking about birth control illegal; it was deemed “obscene.” Taking away both birth control and abortion (which conservatives seem determined to do) means women could be constantly pregnant. It should go without saying that’s harmful for both women and their families.
El Salvador is one of a handful of countries that prohibit rape in all cases, and according to the New York Times, it also actively prosecutes those who break the law:
El Salvador, however, has not only a total ban on abortion but also an active law-enforcement apparatus — the police, investigators, medical spies, forensic vagina inspectors and a special division of the prosecutor’s office responsible for Crimes Against Minors and Women, a unit charged with capturing, trying and incarcerating an unusual kind of criminal. (bolding mine)
The New York Times article is an excellent look at a culture that makes women criminals for having abortions. Is that the type of society we want the United States, founded on the notion that all men are created equal, to turn into? I also have to wonder about the consequences of taking away a right once it’s been established for years. What kind of message does that send about women’s place in society? If the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, they would be telling women we don’t deserve control over the most intimate aspects of our lives. A post at SocialistWorker.org sums it up succinctly: Under capitalism, women cannot be equal to men without having control over reproduction.