January 22nd marked the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the court case that legalised abortion and represented a huge step for women’s reproductive rights and health. In my experience, abortion is one of those things that most people have strong feelings about one way or the other. The entire debate surrounding abortion has been split into pro-choice versus pro-life, forcing people to take one stance or the other; you’re either completely against abortion, or all for it, and never the twain shall meet. Unsurprisingly, this binary creates problems by limiting how people think about reproductive justice and abortion, and preventing any kind of constructive dialogue by pitting the two sides against each other. My argument here isn’t a new one, but in light of this anniversary and the increasingly prominent debates about women’s reproductive rights, I feel it is an important issue to bring up.
Reproductive health – whether that’s talking about the pill, other forms of contraception, abortion, or the choice to be a parent – is a personal topic. Last I checked, no one really wanted to hear about what’s going on with my vagina and uterus, nor am I particularly inclined to tell them, so why all the fuss now? More importantly, what a woman does with her body and the choices she makes for herself and with her partner(s) are just that – personal choices that society has no right to comment on or control. To that extent, people have a right to take a stance against abortion, whether for religious or other personal reasons, just as much as people have a right to be fine with abortion. Whatever someone believes, it’s their personal choice and their prerogative to make that choice and decide with whom they talk about it.I was raised, and still am, Catholic, and so I can appreciate (if not entirely understand) the anti-abortion argument; all life is created by God, and therefore sacred. I get it, I really do, but they lose me at forcing their ideas on the rest of society. For one, not everyone is Christian, certainly not everyone is Catholic, and so you cannot expect that everyone is going to agree (hell, not all Catholics are even anti-abortion). Beyond the context of abortion, pro-life encompasses things like basic human rights to gun control – it really is about protecting the life and well-being of people. They’re just…a little old-fashioned. Now, before you ask, yes, I am also confused as to how restricting the agency of women counts as respecting their lives; the only way I can understand this is that a foetus is more important that a woman with a life and feelings and thoughts and consequences (which still doesn’t make sense, but that’s how I’m reading the situation). Basically, the pro-life position as it stands is that abortion is wrong, and women do not have a right to have a different opinion or any say in the matter.
The pro-choice stance, in my experience, is a slightly greyer category. The pro-life camp likes to assert that all pro-choice people are not in fact supporting the rights of women, but are supporting abortion, that we’d all go out and have abortions without a second thought, and generally lacking in some sort of moral fibre. I’ll go ahead and add it to the list of reasons why I’m supposedly going to hell. Based on my own feelings on the matter and conversations I’ve had with friends, I can say that this is not the case. My own opinion on the whole matter stems mostly from my lesbian identity. As a lesbian, I have a very different relationship with pregnancy (and also abortions) than heterosexual women. On an everyday level, I don’t have to worry about if I remembered to take my pill that day, or what happens if a condom slips or breaks. My period’s a week late? Oh, I hadn’t noticed; oh well. If I were to ever get pregnant or have kids, it would be a very conscious decision, based on a lot of thought, and a lot of time, effort, and money. I have a choice. I have a choice, and to me, it just makes sense that every other women should have just as much of a choice about what they do with their bodies. Why is it that the only reason I have this choice is because I can’t do things the “normal” way? It’s not fair, and it’s not right.
Having said all this, my position also means that I have a tendency to approach these things with a lack of gravity that they deserve. By that, I mean that I do not always recognise that for the majority of women – heterosexual and those in the queer community – accidental pregnancy and the subsequent choices and consequences are things that they think about and are faced with on a regular basis. Even though I’ve stuck my foot in my mouth on more than one occasion because of this, my different perspective (stupidity? insensitivity? immaturity?) has only fuelled my pro-choice beliefs. I do not have to make these decisions and so while being a woman, I do not in any way feel qualified to tell another woman what to do or how to choose. Most importantly – and this is the piece of the puzzle that I feel gets left out sometimes – is that when women faced with an accidental pregnancy do choose, regardless of what that decision is, they have potentially life-altering consequences and have not made that choice lightly. I could never imagine what it’s like to have to think about these things because, to be perfectly honest, it scares the shit out of me. At the end of the day, I don’t think any one of us is qualified to tell another woman how or what to choose, or how to live her life.
Now, here’s where I finally make my way back to my original point about the problem of the binary label system. As I’ve said, pro-choice is about respecting the right of individuals to choose. That includes the right to choose to be against abortion, personally or on a larger scale. Personally, I don’t think I could ever have an abortion. I can’t say that for definite; I just don’t know. But the fact is, regardless of what I would choose, I still call myself pro-choice to protect the right for women everywhere to be confused and scared and choose what is best for them.