Just to make clear, in case there was any doubt, I am emphatically pro-choice. I do not believe that “life” starts at conception or that aborting an embryo can by a rational omnivorous person be said to be murder (I give more leeway here to vegans, though not if they swat at flies or squish spiders, not even the giant poisonous ones they find crawling up a leg — only if one can consider squishing a gnat murder will I allow you the moral standing to call abortion murder, though I’ll still fight you if you wish to impose your beliefs on others).
I am pro-choice to the point that when I finally got pregnant, after over a year of trying to conceive, I told myself every day for the first trimester that I could have an abortion still. A lot of people look at me askance when I say that, to put it mildly, but it wasn’t for lack of love of the potential person growing inside me nor even due to an excess of ambivalence — of course I had doubts and concerns, but it was an unequivocally wanted pregnancy — but rather that the reminder of the choice I had reassured me every day that I had options, that I chose this, that I could still make another choice if it was too much. The fact that I chose, actively chose, every day for three months, to keep the pregnancy helped carry me through the long months ahead when bearing the baby was the only path available. It later brought me joy to remember that each day for those early months I chose to welcome this potentiality in to my life. Far from being pathological, contemplating abortion of a tried-for pregnancy was a practice in falling in love with my baby-to-be.
Anyway, all that is to say I am most definitely pro-choice. So when I read Twisty (at I Blame the Patriarchy) say that expressing a desire to reduce the number of abortions is inherently an anti-feminist stance, I do something of a double take (ok, perhaps that’s not exactly what she said, but that’s how I read “More abortions, fewer abortions — what’s the diff? The numbers are irrelevant.”).
I can see how an anti-abortion, pro-choice position could be non-feminist, where abortion is seen as taking a life but is a lesser evil than those which happen when abortion is illegal. Any time the focus is on the embryo or fetus and a comparative analysis of being terminated pre-consciousness v living a life unwanted, the stance is non-feminist (though not necessarily anti-feminist).
But I do believe there is a feminist stance that says fewer abortions are better than more. My reasons for that position, as passionately pro-choice and abortion neutral as I am, are woman-centric:
- First and simplest and at the root of all the other reasons, if a woman doesn’t want to bear a child, she shouldn’t have to get pregnant in the first place. Contraception and sex positive education should be universally and freely available. All humans should know about fertility awareness and all women who want to should be helped to chart their cycles. Men who don’t want to wear condoms or become a parent should have vasectomies. All adolescents should be taught how to have fabulously enjoyable orgasmic sex without risk of pregnancy, starting with themselves (don’t want your daughter to get pregnant? forget the lectures and the condoms, have a beloved aunt take her toy shopping). No one should feel forced to have sex for money or touch or food or safety or grades or housing or any other bullshit reason the patriarchally constrained choices offer her today. And rape, of course, needs to go buhbye, with all women taught assertiveness and self-protection and all men taught to not be sexist raping asses, and with a legal stance of assumed non-consent for women (second half of the post: brilliant idea I wish were mine; now that I know of it, though, I’m bringing it up every chance I get). There are a hundred thousand ways we can make abortion less necessary starting with avoiding unwanted pregnancy, and none of them have to do with moralizing or shaming or “abstinence promotion” and all of them start with the radical idea that women are people.
- Next up on my list of feminist reasons why fewer abortions would be better: abortion, either chemical or surgical, is not exactly easy on the female body. While assuredly safer than pregnancy and birth, even just a couple weeks of pregnancy followed by termination takes a physical toll and carries real, if minute, risks. While the anti-science anti-abortion Bush-funded propaganda linking abortion to cancer was patently bullshit, that doesn’t mean that pregnancy and termination are toll-free either. There’s the nausea, exhaustion, and pain of early pregnancy (unmitigated by the joy and excitement of a chosen pregnancy), the blood loss of expulsion, and either the risk of surgical uterine/cervical scars or flooding the body with artificial hormones, both of which get more and more dangerous with repeated use. This is in no way meant to scare women away from abortion (again, it’s still easier on your body than a full pregnancy and birth, and I say that as a rabidly pregnancy-positive, birth-positive, crunchy-granola aspiring homebirth midwife, who has a tendency to open up whoopass when people start spouting misogynistic bs about the ickiness and terror of childbearing), but just to point out that once again it is women’s bodies bearing the burden of patriarchy’s fuckups, women’s bodies wracked if not wrecked for men’s pleasure.
- Then there’s the financial issue. While as feminists we should be working on universal health care for all with abortion 100% covered and 100% available, in the meantime abortion (if you can get it) ain’t cheap, at $350-1000+ a pop, unless one is privileged to have insurance that covers it (compare this please to the cost of a one-time vasectomy at $500-1000+, which could prevent untold numbers of abortions, carries none of the stigma of abortion, is a vastly simpler procedure, and is more likely to be covered by insurance). Even if women earned as much as men, as long as the burden paying for terminating an unwanted pregnancy falls to women, we’re going to be at a disadvantage. Paying for an abortion can mean the difference between paying the rent and having to find someone to stay with; it can mean the difference between being able to afford this semester of college or not, between applying to grad schools this year or not; it can mean the difference between getting the hell out of dodge or having to stay in a town with the dickwad who spewed his wad and fucked you over in the first place. Of course we need to give away abortions free, but until we get to utopia, damn right I’m going to say there need to be fewer abortions; not more babies, but fewer pregnancies to start with, because one way or another it is women who are literally paying the price of our PIV-sex obsessed culture.
- Last and probably most controversially in feminist culture, there need to be fewer abortions because having an abortion usually sucks — not in a “post-abortion-syndrome” way, but just in a that-shit-ain’t-easy way. I have not yet been there myself (though if I had gotten pregnant when the Boychick was less than a year, I would have been at my local clinic that very day, and I’m not sure what I would do if that happened now; termination would certainly be on the table for consideration), but having watched others go through it, having miscarried an unwanted, unknown pregnancy myself, having listened to feminist women discuss the destiny of their frozen fertilized embryos, my conclusion is that it sucks; not for everyone, not every time, not horribly, but I do not believe that it is only “pro-life” propaganda that makes it, for some, an emotionally difficult experience. I do believe that the guilt around the choice to terminate is a cultural patriarchal construct, as most woman-guilt is, and to be sure an abortion can also be simply an entirely joyful decision, but it’s such a complex one that there is no one way women will ever feel about it. There is no wrong way to feel and no right way to feel, and anyone attempting to invade women’s minds to dictate to them what they “should” feel during or after the event needs to be bitchslapped as hard as anyone attempting to invade her body, whether that’s the religionists telling her it’s murder she must carry the guilt for or radfems telling her it’s simply nothing and any effect it has on her is merely her weakness to patriarchal bullcrap. Some women feel joy at an abortion; some women mourn their potential baby; some women feel easy relief; many women feel all of the above and more. But as long as any woman is drained by the experience; as long as any woman dislikes it; as long as any woman would make another choice under less patriarchally insane circumstances; as long as any woman would rather have not had to face this choice: I am going to say we should work to need fewer abortions.
I am pro-choice. I believe feminists need to work toward a world with assumed non-consent, where health care, day care, family-friendly employment, contraception, sex-positive education, and abortion are universally available and accessible, where every family doctor, general practitioner, gynecologist, nurse practitioner, and nurse midwife is trained in and offers safe abortions; and I believe that to the extent this or any step toward this reduces the number of abortions without increasing the number of unwanted, unchosen babies, this is to be celebrated. There will always be abortions, because there will always be contraceptive failures, changes of situation, and changes of mind. But we don’t need to be anti-feminist “babyists” to believe fewer abortions is a good thing to work toward.
Note: This is not the place to debate abortion. One does not have to agree with me, nor even be pro-choice, in order to comment, but posts that are exclusively moralizing, actively anti-choice, or exist only to register one’s disagreement with a pro-choice stance will be deleted. All other comments are welcome and invited.