Saturday, May 23, 2015

What's Different About Abortion

As the mad Christians in our nation fight to preserve their right to control the bodies of women, I wonder why it is that we have been -- for decades -- victimized by this plague of anti-democratic, anti-freedom, anti-privacy, anti-women wingnuts.  As those in the LGBT community gain freedom and acceptance, as African Americans insist that their rights are respected by law officers, women continue to have their rights violated and their privacy -- and bodies -- invaded.  Some of the most liberal of our lawmakers deem it success when they reach a compromise that only violates some women.

How can this be, when we are fifty percent of the American people?  How can this be when most of us of reproductive age use birth control, many of us have had abortions, and most of us believe that women have the right to make those decisions privately?

At the heart of this battle for reproductive rights is the right to privacy.  Whether or not women should use contraception or have an abortion is so incredibly personal.  But it has become the center of public debate because at its core it has to do with sex.  This debate is not about safety or even about life.  Pure and simple, this is about forcing women who have sex to bear the consequences.  And the vitriol is so intense that those at the far radical religious right claim that even a married woman must literally carry the burden of the act of sex.  The flights of fancy the anti-abortion brigade have taken to pretend this is about the value of life can easily be discounted by their near-unanimous opposition to gun control, universal health care and nutrition programs.

Why, then, are our forces so much weaker, our anger so readily ignored, our supporters so much more inclined to compromise our rights away?

Why are we not so enraged that we can't be ignored?

For one thing, we are women.  I truly hate to say this, but we have been raised to believe that we should sacrifice for the common good, we should be willing to compromise, even walk away from a fight.

And we have accepted that abortion is a bad thing, to the point where our staunchest defenders are willing to make convoluted arguments about how birth control isn't always used to prevent pregnancies.  We chase around the bizarre false scientific claims, arguing about what a fetus is capable of doing and feeling rather than merely insisting that what is inside of a woman's body is her own business, her own life, and it cannot be made into a separate life with separate rights in any way, shape or form.

We can look to movies and television for a sense of social progress.  It wasn't that long ago that I was pleasantly surprised to see a couple of mixed race portrayed without it being a part of the plot.  The same thing has happened with gay couples.  They no longer need to be making a statement about who they are -- they just are.

But when have you ever seen a movie or television program where a character just gets an abortion?  Damn, it happens in real life, why doesn't it ever happen in fiction?  Until it becomes just something that happens, we are likely going to be treating it like a complicated moral dilemma, perpetuating the guilt and shame we have been told we should feel at having to deal with possible pregnancy.  And passing it on to our daughters.

On the bright side, we can go to the fringes and find Amy Schumer, who I saw during a televised stand-up performance outright make a joke about getting an abortion.  I did a double-take, admittedly a little horrified, and then feeling incredibly free. I was in the generation that was liberated by George Carlin's "7 Dirty Words" comedy routine.  And yet, in 2012, we watched, stunned, as a Michigan representative was barred from debate after saying the word "vagina" on the House floor.

We certainly need to change the way we talk about our bodies and about abortion.  But I don't think that that is the main reason we continue to struggle with winning back our freedom.

Abortion is a temporary condition.  This makes it essentially different than sexual orientation or racial heritage.  And, despite the crazy talk by the right wing, nobody wants to have an abortion, any more than a person would want to have a tooth extracted.  Pregnancy is a condition that has a beginning and an end.  We may look forward to or dread being pregnant, we may delight in our pregnancy or it may make us ill.  But it is still not our identity.  So when we decide to have an abortion, that too happens and becomes the past.  If we have not been burdened by the taint of the abortion mythology, we are able to get on with our lives, as with any other medical process.

So when we won the right to reproductive privacy, we got on with our lives, naively assuming the courts had spoken and it was now law.  We didn't look back, and our daughters did not grow up with the fear and dread of an unwanted pregnancy.

And now we must go back to assuming that we are losing that right.

And we don't want to either lose it, or have to fight for it.

That, I believe, is the essence of why we are losing the abortion war.

1 comment:

  1. "The flights of fancy the anti-abortion brigade have taken to pretend this is about the value of life can easily be discounted by their near-unanimous opposition to gun control, universal health care and nutrition programs."

    So true and so insightful. The abortion battle is a fight by sexually repressed Christians who want everyone to be sexually repressed and sexually punished.