Choice is the issue on which I cut my feminist teeth. It started when, while watching the nightly news, my mother asked me if I thought women should be able to have abortions. I was probably 12, but it seemed pretty basic to me then that a woman should be able to decide whether or not she wanted to be pregnant.
Last week, S and I went to a panel discussion called “Abortion Apathy? Young Feminist Bloggers Speak Out About Reproductive Justice,” organized by the Reproductive Health Access Project. The panel consisted of Shelby Knox, Jasmine Burnett, Amanda Marcotte and Aimee Thorne-Thomson. I tweeted the whole thing, so you can read the highlights there (https://twitter.com/#!/chaneldubofsky).
On the panel, Amanda Marcotte pointed out that it’s clear that its not about fetuses or life-it’s about sex and bodily autonomy being for people who have class privilege. As in, if you can afford to pay out of pocket for your abortion/contraception, awesome! You can have it. (For now. Sort of. In some states. With restrictions.) If not, and you rely on Planned Parenthood or other federally funded (ish) programs, forget it. Poor women: no abortions for you, and limited access to contraception.
The reproductive justice movement is about understanding and applying a lens of intersectionality-that is, the theory that oppressions don’t exist separately, but connect with and rely on each other. As long as we’re in the business of criminalizing the bodies and the sexuality of women, this will disproportionately impact women of color, young women, and poor women.
What if you’re thinking, “If you don’t want to be pregnant, why don’t you just not have sex?” Watching too much “16 and Pregnant” has also caused me to also have this sexist knee jerk reaction, but only does that overlook the fact that birth control exists and is largely effective when used correctly, but places sex squarely and exclusively in the context of marriage and solely for the use of procreation, as opposed to something done for pleasure and intimacy. As S said when we discussed this, “Once you think that, there’s no room for an individual freedom argument.” (Oh, hey, law school. You are useful.) Essentially, you’re punishing women for having sex, saying that even when they take steps to keep from getting pregnant, they should have to pay for expressing sexuality by being pregnant when they don’t want to be.
I wasn’t alive before Roe v. Wade, I have no memory of the days of illegal abortion, and, as far as I know, I’ve never been pregnant. This is not about babies. What’s at stake within the choice issue is the question of self determination for women-and, by extension, for everyone (yes, even men). The strategic removal of a woman’s bodily autonomy is the ultimate expression of misogyny, of women’s bodies being viewed and treated as public property.
I should say that it’s hard for me to write about this, in a way that’s different than it’s hard to write about other aspects of feminism, or even about depression, because it makes me angry to the point of inarticulation that I could wake up one day in a country that has control over my body and sexuality (you know, more than it already does). I don’t know how to make people angry about this, to galvanize folks around reproductive justice, if they aren’t already. For me, it’s always been clear that you should be able to decide your own reproductive status and future (to have children and how many, or not to have them at all) without coercion. It’s the most basic right, and no, I won’t concede that the right to be born is more innate, because, again, this is not about fetuses, or babies. It’s about asserting control over women and their sexuality and a deep mistrust and fear of women’s instincts, power and self determination.