Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Pro Life Feminism,Today and Yesterday

I used to get sick and tired of being told the shibolleth that one could not be a feminist if one was not pro choice, often in the form of ill informed rants. Next time pro choice feminists want to invoke the legact of Susan B. Anthony and other feminist foremothers on any issue they should take into account what their views actually were on abortion. The legacy of Susan B. Anthony may live on, but it does not live on in those who trash her legacy by creating a party line for not only all feminists but for all progressives generally.

They may argue that Anthony's (and Wollstonecraft's etc) views were in the context of their time, and that they should not be a blueprint for the views of feminists today. They are entitled to do this. What they are not entitled to do, in my opinion, is to make supporting what Alice Paul termed 'the ultimate exploitation of women' a party line, and silence any dissent on the issue in a neo Stalinist manner.
They are not entitled to insist we celebrate this 'ultimate exploitation' as a civil liberty that we must rejoice in.

If the views of the early feminists should not be a blueprint then neither should 'pro choice' be one either. Let the individual look at the facts and reach her (or his) own conclusion. But this is precisely what the femintern stops it's adherents from doing. It is taken as a truism that one is not a feminist unless they support the fight for 'choice'. Abortion is often mixed in with other issues, it being taken for granted that to be a progressive is to be pro choice.

I am in fact a social libertarian on nearly every issue - I support the decriminalisation of prostitution, am pro porn and support the legalisation of drugs. But my rights end where somebody else's begin as far as I am concerned. As I grant the foetus human status abortion is not my right.

I would not ever demand, if my position were the ascendant one, that everyone agrees with it in order to prove their progressive status. I therefore wish that my opponents would stop making it a litmus test.


belledame222 said...

Interesting. I was wondering if anyone out there took a position like yours.

I count myself pro-choice; but in a way I can see your POV better than I can that of the people who would abolish all sex work, refusing to believe that any such can -ever- be consensual, but are at the same time all about "my body belongs to me" when it comes to reproductive rights; assuming one counts the fetus as a person, it's a lot harder to make the case that it has "consented." Of course, that is the big "if," isn't it.

(similarly, I eat meat, but in some ways am more sympathetic to the animal-rights folks than I am to certain other people).

I am...ambivalent about the notion of the fetus as separate individual from the mother. I think that it is in fact an ambiguous situation: are they two or one? I think it's kind of both and neither (well, depending on what stage the pregnancy is at), which is, all else aside, really weird, existentially.

I don't think I can get behind an organization or movement that wants to recriminalize, particularly if it doesn't also staunchly support birth control and education. well, actually there's no particularly there, if the goal is really recriminalization. All I know is that no one has an abortion just for kicks; and it's about more than just stymied career or education possibilities. Unwanted, it can be a profoundly invasive and horrific experience (whether the unwanting is the result of incest/rape or not); I can't imagine forcing any woman to go through any such thing. I think it's far better to 1) do everything in one's power to make sure the unwanted pregnancy doesn't happen in the first place and 2) once it's happened, to stop it as early as possible, as I am far more inclined to see a late-stage fetus as a person than a very-early stage (embryo, zygote, fertilized egg).

and, again, though, i really don't think that women who -do- get to a late stage of an unwanted pregnancy are going to be doing it simply for shits and giggles.

I am however more sympathetic than I used to be to people who just plain find it morally repellant.

Don't know what else to do with it, really.

the truth is--we all of us have blood on our hands one way or the other. by the mere fact of survival, really. and we all make our decisions as to which kinds of life-taking and soul-stealing are acceptable and which aren't.

not an easy position to sit with, is it.

Liz said...

Hi Belledame,

Thanks for seeing my point of view. I tend not to argue for criminalisation as I simply don't think it would work, it would not stop abortion just drive it underground. I am simply outspoken about finding it morally repellent and wanting to stop it, if not by using the law then by other (i.e compassionate) means.

I totally agree with you about those who would abolish all sex work, never believing it can be consensual yet have the hypocrisy to defend abortion and claim bodily autonomy in that regard. It is not just the matter of the foetus not consenting - if a woman is unable to consent to sexual activity then how the hell can she consent to something as grave as abortion? It beats me. I have a big issue with those people, I have debated with a few of them online and think that they follow a dogma rather than think for themselves. I do in fact know a few women who have been coerced into abortions by partners, another friend of mine did so due to addiction and poverty (funny, but similiar reasons why some women engage in non autonomous prostitution - poverty, addiction, or a manipulative or exploiting male!). Yet these issues are rarely addressed by these people via abortion yet they hype them up when it comes to sex work. Abortion is not always a free choice any more than sex work always is. These people are simply being selective, and I suspect the position is somewhat class based, abortion being a thing a middle class, career woman would perhaps do more readily than sex work if her career or education were thwarted. Whereas sex workers are stigmatised and these 'respectable' women want them to remain so. I was told by one of these hypocrites on a board that 'abortion is a medical procedure to stop an unwanted pregnancy, prostitution is degradation, invasion, and abuse!'. That may be her opinion (in which case I suggest she doesn't engage in sex work) but it is not in my eyes! It is a subjective matter and I wish these people wouldn't project their mentality and pretend it is universal. Personally I find the idea of abortion far, far, more degrading than sex work, and it is an invasive procedure besides, in a factory like environment. What made it far worse was that this person was in favour of the criminalisation of prostitution, so she did not only project her mentality outwards but wished to make it into law. I have no problem with people objecting to prostitution just so long as they don't support making it into law - you can still have the pragmatic approach of decriminalising it to make it safer for women, and supporting rights for sex workers while still not being 'pro prostitution'. Women are endangered by criminalisation, so these people would do much better by both supporting decriminalisation and fighting the social conditions that give rise to non autonomous prostitution. But then I don't take their rhetoric at face value anyway - I believe their objection has more to do with the good woman/bad woman Victorian mentality, and they wish to keep sex workers stigmatised so to preserve their own sense of prurient morals. All that empty rhetoric about 'violence against women' is just that - empty. These are the same people who would kick up a stink if I claimed abortion was 'violence against women' - a position I don't argue if the abortion is consensual. I just argue that it is morally wrong.

I do believe that abortion can hurt women and is not really in our best interests, it does often work to the advantage of men who want to shirk responsibilities. But this wouldn't be enough to make me illiberal as I am about it, what it finally comes down to is my view of the foetus as person.

As to a few of your other points - I find abortion repellent whatever stage, yet late ones do, I admit, unnerve me more. I am of the view that life begins when there is hearbeat and brainwaves, and I'm not against emergency contraception that just may stop a zygote from implanting, I think objections like that often tend to be religious and are taking it too far. Abortion is not only degrading at any stage, it is also morally wrong. I understand that a late term foetus will feel far more than an early one, but so will a 12 year old child compared with a year old one, a year old one compared with a day old etc. What it boils down to is levels of development - and is it right to kill a human being at any stage?
I understand that very early on it may be a shades of grey issue, but once a foetus has all of it organs and can respond to stimuli abortion should not be allowed past this point, in my view. So while I don't argue for criminalisation I do argue for reducing the upper time limit, at least.

The foetus is 'part of the mother' in as far as it is dependent on her via the placenta, but to all other purposes it has it's own blood system, organs, dna ect so is on that level another person, albeit one living inside and on the body of another human being.

Pregnancy as a result of rape I can imagine must feel invasive, and I don't think abortion is morally wrong on the grounds of rape (although were it me I'd rather try to carry the child to term!) So in rare and extreme cases ultimately when the rights are weighed up the mothers will triumph - but most abortions do not happen when the mothers life is in danger ( and if it be possible both lives should be attempted to be saved )or on the grounds of rape.

I am with you about birth control. Feminists for Life did have a pro birth control policy but they ditched it to appease conservatives (groan!). I am, however, of the opinion that if I am adult enough to consent to sex I also must be aware of the possible consequences and must hence take responsibility. Taking responsibility in my view does not entail the right to abort my unborn child. Forcing pregnancy on a woman would only be the case if the pregnancy is a result of rape, not of consensual sex where the possible consequences are known in advance.

However, I grant you that most women who have abortions don't do it lightly, but there are a minority who are flippant about it. I came accross one on a board and there are a minority of wealthy women (and men for that matter) who do see it as a form of birth control, or at least a back up to it. I wish to fight against this mentality. Naomi Wolf recognised it's existence in an essay she got a lot of flack for, see http://www.priestsforlife.org/prochoice/ourbodiesoursouls.htm

It can be argued that women who think this way would not make good mothers anyway - in which case they should be more responsible when they have sex in the first place and use adequate birth control!

Late term abortions are often a case of very young mothers in desperate circumstances, in which case they should be given help and support to carry their children to term. When it is due to fear of their parents these issues should be addressed via social services or other bodies.

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