Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Discussion: Why are people trying to take my right to choose away?

Back in the 1950’s, well before I was born, and, actually, before my mother was even born, the Pill revolutionized contraception, finally giving women the chance to be in charge of their bodies’ reproductive systems. I didn’t grow up in a particularly religious household, and was always taught that I, as a woman, had as much freedom and rights as a man, that my body was mine, and no one else’s, and if I wanted to have kids, then that was my choice, if I didn’t, then that was my choice too. I grew up around a large group of like-minded people. Within this group some people have used some form contraception, others haven’t, and some have had children and will have more at some point in time. I have known people who have had unwanted pregnancies, some who decided to abort, and others who decided to keep the baby. I have known people who have had trouble having children and others who are adamant in never having children. Up to now this is all pretty normal, right? Where I grew up the doctors would prescribe the Pill from the age of 16 if you chose to want to take it, they would also prescribe it for teenagers with problem skin or with other hormone-related issues.

Basically, I grew up with the right to choose what I did with my own body. As females, this was never really a question: it was the norm. I grew up in countries where Church and State were separate, and where the leader of a political party was not in charge or pushing a religious agenda on state-run institutions such as healthcare, education and welfare. And yes, contraception should be considered as part of healthcare. One of the fundamental differences between a male and a female body is that a woman carries a child. A man cannot get pregnant; he can only get a woman pregnant. I know, this is not news to anyone, but it’s an important part of what I am trying to convey in this post. So, where I come from, there was never a question on whether you could obtain the Pill on prescription if you wanted it. The same goes for other forms of contraception (after discussion with your general practitioner and/or ob-gyn, depending on what country you live in). There was never a question about me feeling lucky that I lived in a country that advocated choice as a fundamental right for women, knowing full well that there are many other countries out there where women still do not have a choice. I never took my freedom of choice for granted.

I moved to the US 7 years ago, and am pretty happy here on a general basis. I don’t pretend to understand the politics of this country like I understand those of Great Britain and France, but I am getting there, reading through all of the bullshit and trying to get a clearer picture of it all. That’s what democracy is all about right? Everyone has the right to become a leader if the general population votes them in. This means that each potential leader needs to win the general population over with new policies that will bring about change. Positive change that is, things that will make life better for everyone. Maybe universal healthcare or better education. Maybe larger tax rebates for people below a certain tax bracket, maybe stronger laws to prevent banks from over-lending and creating a huge hole of debt. There are so many different subjects that I can think of that could always do with a good overhaul, or at least a change. So why on earth are two of the most talked about subjects leading up to election times contraception and abortion?! Why are these two subjects so high on many (Republican) candidates’ agendas? What is so importantly wrong with the way we obtain contraception that this needs to be changed?

Over the past 50 years or so we have come pretty far in making progress towards equal rights between men and women. There is still a way to go, but I still feel like I have grown up in a place where I have always felt I could do whatever I wanted, and could choose to do whatever I wanted. So now I am reading about people who want to take certain rights that I had always considered as given rights away from me. Or, at the very least, limit them, making it much more difficult to make a choice if I need to. If I want to have sex without becoming pregnant, then is it not my right to take the responsibility into my I don’t own hands and make sure that I don’t become pregnant? It is my body, and only I own my body and can decide what happens to it. If I am not careful and become pregnant and decide that I cannot, at this time, bring a child up in a suitable environment, is it not my choice to decide to remove the unwanted foetus from my body before it has a chance to grow into a child? And to do so in the safest way possible? Why do certain people want to make it into a state decision on what I do with my body? I read about people such as Rick Santorum and Rick Perry talking about making abortion illegal, even in the case of incest and rape; of making it extremely difficult to obtain birth control through your health insurance. How about forcing all women who already have to go through the trauma of choosing to abort a child to view a sonogram before they are allowed to go through the procedure? So what’s next? Forcing women to give birth to a child that was conceived through rape and being a mother to a child that will constantly remind her of a traumatic episode in her life? Kudos to any woman who can do this, but what happened to having a CHOICE in the matter?

If a woman wants to have 10 children and bring them up, then that is her choice. If a woman wants to sleep with as many men as she feels like without becoming pregnant, then that is also her choice. If a woman wants to wait until marriage to sleep with someone, then that is her choice. If a woman wants to give up her child for adoption then that is her choice too. No man, or woman for that matter, should decide what a woman is to do with her body, and make this into a law. In the past, before birth control was so widespread and abortion was still illegal it was so much harder to make the choice. Women would die at the hands of backstreet abortionists, or find themselves with a child before they even had the chance to live themselves. Instead of reducing our rights to next to nothing, why not be more efficient about teaching sex education at school and making the need for abortion and the emergency contraception pill less prevalent? Why not make it easier for women to use contraception, so that unwanted pregnancies are kept at bay? Why not look to the future instead of reverting to the past, and continue to provide women with the right to choose what they do with their bodies?

This country has been known to go into other countries with the aim of dismantling dictatorships and bringing democracy to an oppressed people. A decade ago, when the US went into Afghanistan there was so much talk about how women under the Taliban had no rights at all, and how their lives were dictated to them by men. The uproar that this caused in the Western world was normal, right? However, at this moment in time, at home, there are certain people who are looking to start reducing the rights of women in their own, free, country. These are the people that are already, or may soon be, elected into power. A little scary, no? In what way or form is reducing the right of choice in women going to make this into a better and safer country to live in?

If you are American, unlike me, then please make sure you vote. Apathy can only lead to a government that may not make the wisest of choices in terms of policies and some of these candidates have a few very scary policies that will affect us all if they ever go further than just words. In certain states women are already feeling the pain, so let’s not let it go any further? In the end it’s all about the right to CHOOSE. And this right of choice should never be dictated to anyone, man or woman.

This is an ongoing discussion, something that shouldn't be swept under the carpet. I fear that one day soon some hard-lined politician will make his way towards removing our choices, to be honest this is already happening (see Texas and Georgia for example). I've only scraped the surface here, but it's food for thought. It scares the shit out of me to be honest.

An excellent article by Soraya Chemaly on the same subject can be found HERE


Dylan Popowicz said...

Originally, the word tyranny, tyrant etc. (τυραννυς), referred to a democratically-elected leader and was seen as a reason to deny democracy, and to keep the aristocracy as a "buffer" against such a possibility (Hitler as the extreme exemplum) . . . so, so much for positive change (ho ho). I think though, the discussion is much more complicated than anyone ever makes it. Politicians are only using the words "abortion", "murder", "whore", "choice" for the sake of election, i.e.: we're not winning the race on purely politico-economical agendas, therefore, we'll reach for the emotional heart. This is the Marxist superstructure puppeteered by the sub. But, how does one go about getting the whole population to realise this at the same time. . . .

So, there's the political conversation, that is desperate because everything, every "right" (for both sides), seems desperately contingent. But, there's also a deeper philosophical question, and, even though I'm a MAN and will be chastised for saying this, I don't think there's an easy answer to the abortion question (though I don't see why there would be any major issue apropos the pill per se, just as there wouldn't be for vasectomies at this level).

But, clearly, the issue here is not the "deeper" one. It's the political subject. A messy one. Unfortunately, and I think the situation here is a good example of this, I don't think personal "choice" and democracy actually meaningfully coincide. The "General Will", something that no one, though they say they do, has any access to, stumbles on. The question, then, is whether or not this is an underlying problem for democracy or if it is one within our conception of freedom. I'm actually inclined to say it is the latter. We can march, picket, spread awareness of a cause through a social network etc., but when do the collective, subjects on all sides, come to an understanding of the situation? I think this is a more worthy goal, which is one that cannot be pursued by any mode of partisanship. This does, however, mean that we should support a wider array of sexual education, help all people to understand what a pill does per se, and all that. It also, means, however, that when people like Rush Limbaugh expose themselves as biggots, we don't focus our outrage on them--it is so much easier to do that, than to actually attempt a reasonable argument with a group of "pro-lifers", or whatever (even I'm displeased writing about this prospect. . .).

Limbaugh: his wife has to fake it beneath his sweaty, slobbering fat. Perry: would be first over the border to get an abortion. Romney: just wants a vote, and doesn't really care, though he probably would want pharmaceutical and insurance companies to make more money. As for Santorum: he means it, and I doubt he has any good reasoning as to why he means it, aside from: "'Cause the good book said so!".

Paradox said...

It's actually a lot more simpler than that to be honest, and it works in most other democratic countries (except for Northern Ireland where abortion is still illegal): the choice of what a woman can do with her reproductive organs is HER OWN and not decided by whoever happens to be in power. If Perry were a Tory candidate he would be laughed at in parliament. So how come it's such an important, and vote-worthy cause in the US? What makes a woman's body so important in getting a vote?
In any case, being pro-choice does not mean being for or against abortion or subsidised birth control. It's about having the choice to decide.

Dylan Popowicz said...

[Too long, two parts:]

[Before we continue, to be clear: I'm for (responsible) abortion, so don't bite me 'ead off!]

He would be laughed at indeed, though that's because only 30-odd percent of British consider themselves religious. And even so, what difference does it make: we can turn the tables and imagine a world where only Ireland allows for abortions--does this in anyway alter the validity of an argument for or against it? For the most part, religion is key (though I have met at least a couple of people who a-religiously disagree with abortion, and have to this date have been the only two who seem to have reasonable objections to it, whilst also refusing to impose their views on the people that are most affected: women (since their men)).

I know I'm going to be the "bad guy" here, but remember that I am on "your side". I just think the dichotomy of "her choice" versus "pro-life" divides more than anything. Women who vote on the other side of the fence also consider it a choice (that they then aggressively impose on the rest, which, see below, is the real issue). Yes, we don't want state intervention on our personal choices, yet we do when it comes to murder, robbery, rape etc.. I think it's one of those cases where we find ourselves stuck between Hobbes on one end and Locke on the other (just as Republicans, often blindly, do when they want laissez-faire capitalism on one hand, but a woman's foetus under complete control on the other). It's an important issue that, in my eyes, gets turned into a political slogan.

Your final comment is the crucial one though, and a very important definition: pro-choice means to give a woman a choice for or against abortion, contraception etc., not to force a certain position. The reason I think that we need to focus more on an open dialogue, and education per se is that most pro-lifers actually believe such acts are "murderous", and to use the word choice in their minds would be akin to saying that anyone can kill because they choose to (though of course I find it preposterous when they take this logic to the realm of contraception, as if a person's choice in stopping fertilisation in the first place really could hinder and alter the plan's of an all-loving, omniscient father (there's some misplaced religious hubris for you, and sacrilege masked with a religious face and garb, that is almost laughable)). If you can deconstruct the prevailing pro-lifer belief, all the better.

Dylan Popowicz said...

I hate to sugar-coat too much, but I really don't want to be misread: I understand that a woman is born into an unbalanced world, in which she is physically burdened with a greater responsibility--pregnancy. We only attempt to balance this natural difference by making sure that a father has to pay for child support etc., but I don't think anything can ever alter that imbalance. Do we really want to simply balance it out though? I think respect for the difference is the more worthy goal, as so few cultures have ever elevated the woman's "power" in this respect to the appropriate level (Simone de Beauvoir starts off her "Second Sex" critiquing the myth that masculinity is even more aggressive, powerful, active as a sperm versus the "passive" feminine egg, and thus through all forms of life--she rightly exposes this bullshit; the difference deserves respect, which it still doesn't, even in the most "liberal" of cultures. And whilst we're talking existentialism--what is more wondrous, which more life-affirming and creative: the chosen act of bring a life into the world, or the passive obedience of an alienating law, one that hover in a distant and untouchable place, that speaks: one ought to. . . ).

I honestly think that a way for the future is a society of vasectomied (not a word?) males, their sperm safely stored in a bank for the moment that life is chosen (this negates some of the romance of "conception" per se but I don't think it's really that romantic if you're actively pursuing it anyway). I've been considering this option myself for the last year or so. But to ever make this acceptable on a social level, one would have to negate thousands of years of male "potent" mythology (I'm reading an anthropology book of kinship at the moment, which really underlines this mythological status: picture, for example, boys in-initiation being secluded from mother and family in a "men only" hut, in which they ritually drink the older men's semen to be vitalised by their life force. . . ). Plus there's the scary idea of someone wiping out every bank in the world (sic-fi novel?).

Dylan Popowicz said...

I followed your link and then followed a link and then . . .

Ahem. I liked this:

Gloria Steinem: "The first problem for all of us, men and women, is not to learn, but to unlearn."

CJR said...

scary stuff.

something i also don't get is the different laws for different states...

I'm in England and I am afraid of what will happen if these... people... get in..

Paradox said...

Ha Dylan - I just read your last comment properly and realised that it does sound like a sci-fi novel!

You know... I thought a lot about this last night. A couple of thoughts on a few points you brought up...

Granted, there will always be an imbalance between male and female, not on an intellectual or mental level, but on a physical level; and granted, human nature is such that for some reason we love to dominate over one another, oftentimes using religion as a crux to do this. And this will not change (I mean, it hasn't over time, has it?). This doesn't mean that I still consider us all equally human, and all equally have the choice to do what we want with our bodies.

So I come to the other point that struck me... You brought up the fact that we don't want state intervention on our choice to abort an unborn child, but we do want it on murder, rape and robbery. If we didn't have state intervention on the latter we would live in a world of horror. But those latter points are crimes, I don't see abortion as a crime (I know many people do though). However, I don't need the state to decide whether or not I should carry the child of my rapist to term and bring it up in a loving environment. Does that make sense?
And yes, I do tend to react on emotions rather than clinical, statistical thinking, but I would rather fight for a change than analyse it to the core and wait to see what happens.

Dylan Popowicz said...

Yes, indeed, I wanted to make that point to clarify my position: I am most certainly for the pragmatic approach in cases like this, and so most of my commentary then becomes removed to a more abstract sphere that doesn't qualify for such an approach. But, I always feel it important to say the interesting, thought-provoking thing when I see the word "discussion", instead of simply affirming (this even includes saying the wrong thing, since error is a part of truth).

Anyway, the whole talk has moved away from the real important issue right now: the ignorant perspective on "the pill". Funny, just saw a clip in which Limbaugh defended himself against charges of sexism by reminding everyone that he once voted for the Miss America pageant (or was it Universe? I doubt it) . . . because that really means something for women. . . . (!!!!!!)

Thank you for the wonderful piece, and I hope that in the future the burden of responsibility is universalised (though this maxim spreads so far and over so many subjects).

Paradox said...

It does indeed - and thanks for your wonderful comments. I think we shall have a lot more to discuss in person in June!

Dylan Popowicz said...

I might call you a Republican again! Ho ho ho. . . .