I am a feminist. I am 22. And I have thus far (fingers crossed) never been pregnant (I haven’t wanted to be).
That said, I am increasingly annoyed by the space available to anyone who wants to think about or discuss the idea of abortion. Apparently one can only take one of two polemic positions: pro-life or pro-choice. And by implication if you are one, you cannot be the other.
So choose, people. Do you want to be a gory baby-killer? Or a religious patriarchal misogynist? The choice is yours.
"If you are not for me, you are my enemy."
This is exactly the kind of polemic stand that people all over the world, who take a stand on any issue, are being labeled into. If you're not American/ Indian/ Liberal________ (insert nation-state or ideology of your preference), you're a terrorist/ fundamentalist/ communist/ anarchist/ the antichrist (all of which, are apparently much the same thing!).
It's an effective way to demarcate territory and blacklist your opponents, cleverly shifting the focus from the issue at hand to the other person's alleged allegiance to the enemy. Dissenters are being branded as traitors to the ideologies they sought to add insight to and forced into categories whose ideologies they often object to as much as the ones they were criticizing in the first place.
Only the Sith deal in absolutes. (Umm... isn't that an abso... hehe, nevermind...)
Where were we? Ah, yes. The middle ground, eroded by misinformation and deliberate distortion, seasoned liberally with rhetoric and charisma, has been reduced to a tight-rope, which few can walk without swaying and eventually falling into the abyss on one side or another.
This is a tightrope I attempt to walk. This is a narrow isthmus of land, I attempt to reclaim as a genuine space. The middle is a legitimate position in and of itself, not merely the refuge of a few reluctant to take a 'controversial' and extreme position. This is not to refute the fact that many do, in fact take the middle as an escape route... but it is my intention to point out, that what is often mistaken for unwillingness to take a stand is often a far more nuanced, considered and difficult choice. That of taking a new stand, of charting uncharted territories and breaking the hegemony of binaries.
Coming back to the issue at hand. Pro-life and Pro-choice. Where is the middle ground?
Yes, I was raised Christian. And no, I do not believe that Christianity is the only way to God/ salvation/ nirvana/ eternal life/______________(fill in the biblical/other religious cliche of your choice).
Also, in case you missed the first line of this article, I am a feminist.
And, yes. I don't think abortion is a good idea.
Apparently this is a controversial thing to say as a woman and more importantly as a self-proclaimed feminist. What I don't understand is why.
Let me clarify, here, that I am not suggesting making abortion illegal. I am aware that more often than not such a move only adversely affects women, who for whatever reasons resort to dangerous ways of inducing miscarriage... but I am suggesting that abortion is not a particularly good idea. And I am advocating the creation and popularization of alternative avenues. (Hint: Adoption)
I am aware that arguments against abortion teeter dangerously close to arguments for patriarchy and the control of women's sexuality. Even if they are not intended that way they can be used that way. (A little like the way sexual harassment legislation can be used to victimize and harass men)
I am also aware that forcing women who have unwanted pregnancies to carry them to term is like asking, to quote Arundhati Roy's phrase, 'the hungry to go on a hunger strike'.
And therefore, I don't agree with those who insist that abortion be illegal.
But I still don't think abortion is a good idea.
Let me explain.
Am I against non-maritally sanctioned sexual union? Certainly not. Go ahead. Have any kind of sex that tickles your fancy. As often and with as many partners as you like, with or without social sanction...
Am I against women having control over their bodies? Again, certainly not. It's your body. Anything that's non-consensual is just not okay, as far as I'm concerned. And everything that is, is entirely up to you.
And yes, I am aware that pregnancy is not exactly a consensual phenomenon even if the sexual act that lead to the conception may have been.
Am I against the use of birth control? No, of course not. I think it's one of the best things about life today. We can avoid getting pregnant if we don't want to! How can that not be a good thing? Use condoms. Or if you like, don't. It's up to you. Just be sure you and your partner/s know what you're doing and what the consequences could be. Also there's that other wonderful invention, the i-pill, which is slowly being cleared of charges of its alleged ability to prevent implantation and thereby of being an abortifacient. (Courtesy Jezebel's article)
I am also aware that contraception is not exactly cheap, and 'safe' sexual freedom can become the monopoly of the upper socio-economic classes. But abortion is not cheap either. Both medical and alternative varieties of abortion are financially expensive... not to mention the expense to your physical and mental health.
But I am against aborting a foetus. Why? Because I don't believe that anyone, man or woman has the right to decide whether another creature (particularly a human creature) lives or dies.
(And yes, I am a hypocrite. I eat meat. But while I don't believe in the supremacy of human life over other lives, I care more for babies than chickens or goats.)
Am I putting the rights of the foetus over the rights of the mother? If that's how you want to see it... perhaps I am. I see it more as putting the right to life above the right to freedom of choice and life without stigma.
Perhaps it's the chicken and egg question? Which comes first? Life or choice and life without stigma...? I think I figured that one out.
How much of a difference does it make whether it's inside your body or outside? Here's a fascinating article by Australian ethicists, Giubilini and Minerva, who argue that infanticide is as ethical as abortion.
Frankly, I don't know. And I don't believe we can ever know... what gives any of us the right to draw the line?
A refreshingly rare and clever poster by the 'pro-life' lobbyists in America.
On the other hand, what if the woman was raped? What if she's already had 12 children and can't afford to feed another? What if the foetus is known to have severe disabilities which will not only 'ruin' it's life but also those of the parents? What if she knows it is a girl and wants to save her child from the tortures she has been through? What if the pregnancy threatens the life of the mother? And what if the woman is simply not ready to have a child at the time... and if she was unable or unwilling for whatever reason to use contraception or the 'pill'...?
These are hard questions. And there are no simple answers.
In all of these situations (with the notable exception of the one where the pregnancy threatens the mother's life), a simple answer would be to put up the child for adoption. Of course, orphanages and adoption services are not what they should be, and the psychological implications of this level of rejection are hard for any child to bear... but do any of us have the right to take away the possibilities (few as they may be) from the child?
Of course this 'solution' requires that the woman go through the physically arduous nine months... and in my opinion more importantly, the terrible social stigma... so again, it is not for me to decide. It is indeed, entirely the woman's own choice. Nor do I feel that I would, in her place, decide to take the pregnancy to term.
What, therefore am I saying? I am suggesting that we pause in our ethically and emotionally charged arguments for and against abortion and concentrate on:
a) improving awareness and availability of birth control,
b) improving quality and availability of orphanages and adoption centres, and
c) providing support systems for women who don't want children, irrespective of reason, but are not comfortable with abortion either.
Sensitive nuanced advocacy both suggesting going through with an 'unwanted-pregnancy' and encouraging adoption, would not be amiss in this scheme. And at a more long-range level, awareness programs to reduce and eventually do away with the stigma afforded pregnant women outside socially sanctioned spheres.
Perhaps my arguments seem to take away agency from the women and make them victims. It is certainly not my intention to do so.
And I'm not so naive as to believe that were all these systems in place, and all stigma for non-socially sanctioned pregnancy successfully eradicated, that all women who found themselves in such a situation would joyfully go through pregnancies to give children they never wanted to have, a chance at life. Neither am I suggesting that the 'solution' I've proposed here is the ultimate answer.
But like I said before, I put the right to life, above the right to freedom. Surely one is a precondition for the other.
And let us await with great enthusiasm the invention and perfection of the artificial womb! (And then debate it's pros and cons when it comes along as a different challenge to women's rights...)
In the meanwhile, as we work our way towards this grossly overpopulated paradise... what if I get pregnant when I don't want to?
I don't know. I honestly don't know what I'd do... I believe I could face the social stigma, but I don't know if I'd be okay with forcing my parents to face it. So fingers crossed... here's hoping no one who doesn't want to, gets pregnant. And all hail the condom and the i-pill.
And if it does happen... I hope to have as much courage as the biological mother of a person I love deeply.
Further reading: Sharanya Manivanan on Abortion
Images copyright of whoever originally put them up/ created them. They have all been stolen via google images.