Monday, June 12, 2017

The Trouble with Abortion

I am just finishing the book, Divided We Stand, by Marjorie J. Spruill.  It was a tough book to read, but important.  The book exhaustively documents the fight for women's rights versus the fight by right-wing republican women against those rights.  I would say it is the never-ending battle between liberals and conservatives, or good and evil, but honestly, it hurts too much to admit it.

It feels to many of us these days like we are losing the war.  Whether the war is for science and education, health care, workers' rights, voting rights, minority rights, and of course, women's reproductive rights.

And, as with every battle we are fighting, it comes down to words and communication.  Fact versus lies.  And the constant planning that goes into that fight.

We don't seem to be very good at the words.  And at disseminating them.  We are late to the game and always struggling to catch up.  We are always defending ourselves, making excuses, equivocating.  We Democrats want to get in and work for people, but we aren't very good at convincing them why, or what exactly we are going to do for them.

Abortion is the most difficult battle, because it is not pretty.  You can be proud to be gay and proud to be Black.  You can brag about being in the forefront of technology and the war on cancer.  You can celebrate lives saved since the ACA was enacted.  But how do we make abortion a positive?

It took years for the women's movement to wake up and start saying "pro-choice" rather than "pro-abortion."  Meanwhile, the right wing was "pro-life."  And we let them get away with being "pro-life," even though they were also, and continue to be, against aid to women and families, affordable health care, a living wage and workers' rights, and pretty much any program that would actually be "pro-life."

And then there are the graphics.  I recall, sometime in the 80's, driving on the highway and looking up to see a van with a fetus painted on it and some ugly anti-abortion slogan.  We see them on billboards when we drive along southern and mid-western highways.  And don't even imagine that the graphics are accurate.  In 2012, this photo claiming to be of a 12-week-old fetus circulated around the internet.

Turns out, it was a hand painted resin doll.

If you have had the dubious fortune to attend or hear a legislative session when the wackos have been bussed in, you have no doubt been regaled with how God has given us the gift of life and we have no right to murder his creations.  More clever yet is when the right wing can find an actual literate woman who can testify to her choice to have her baby, and how wonderful that has been.  Especially when the argument is whether to "save the life" of a "child" with severe, life-threatening deformities.

Our South Carolina lawmakers dragged that one out in 2015, on their way to passing the abhorrent "Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act."  Not only was the woman testifying that she made the choice against the recommendation of her doctor, but lo! and behold! her teenage daughter was there to testify, as proof of God's intent.  And, because our lawmakers are still forced to pretend that there is separation of church and state, this wonderful young woman was there to talk about God her own self.  And she wore some sort of pin with a baby and God message for all to see and photograph.  It was inspirational.

And then later in the hearing, a woman who chose the late-term abortion of a severely at-risk fetus testified.

At the time, The State carried not only a photo, but video, of the wonderful child.  The second woman's testimony was relegated to a couple of statements at the end.  And what else was there to do?

Recently, an anti-abortionist argued that she was forced by her boyfriend to have an abortion, and she wanted to make sure that didn't happen to anyone else.  So, she argued, she felt it was her obligation to force women to have babies rather than change a system in which a man could force a woman to have an abortion.

An abortion is a right, but it is nothing we want to brag about.  And that is the quandary.  There is no way we can dress it up, any more than we can dress up cancer.  So we have let those who wish to take that right away from us attack us with horrible words, about killing babies, about how fetuses can feel pain, about how they can pleasure themselves in utero, control the issue.  They may have no facts to back them up, but, boy howdy! do they have the imagery.

Meanwhile, lately, with the anti-abortion activists stooping to ever lower lows, women -- and men -- are beginning to step up and fight back.  More women are coming forward to admit that they have had abortions, there are more important books written on the subject (Pro by Katha Pollitt and  Life's Work by Dr. Willie Parker) and young women are getting angry about the efforts to shame and control them.  Comedians like Amy Schumer have brought abortion out of the shadows with absolutely outrageous jokes about it.

Fact:  Abortion is a safe and minor surgical procedure.  Nobody wants to say it for fear of being thought callous, but it is like having a tooth pulled.  It becomes a Big Deal when we bring all our emotional baggage to it, which we usually do.

Fact:  It may be a minor procedure, but it is not fun, and not a choice we enjoy making, even if the government were to pay for it, which it doesn't.  We don't look forward to getting a tooth pulled either.

Fact:  Choosing an abortion may be the best option.  Or it may not.  But as Dr. Willie Parker says, every woman has the right to the facts, and to make the choice herself as best she can.

Fact:  As those sanctimonious right wingnuts make it more difficult for women to have an abortion, more women are dying.  While Texas legislators keep data about its rise in maternal death rate cloaked in secrecy, it has just been found to have the highest pregnancy related death rate in the developed world.  The same people who claim to be "pro-life" are on the forefront of taking away health care.  Women who choose to be pregnant are at risk.  Women who would get an abortion if they had a real choice are at risk.

Fact:  Women are perfectly capable of making decisions about their children.  They are also perfectly capable of making decisions about whether to have children.  It is ironic that lawmakers on the one hand have decided it is up to them to control women's reproduction because they don't believe women are capable of making the right choice; meanwhile, they wash their hands of anything they might do to help women struggling to raise a child.

Fact:  God did not choose to punish women for having abortions.  Women who have abortions can get pregnant another time.  My two adult children are proof enough that my choices were sound.  If I believed in God, I would say that He approved.

Fact:  God did not appoint lawmakers to monitor or punish women for their reproductive lives or choices.  Really.  Lindsey Graham is not more capable of deciding whether my daughter should have a baby than she is.

Fact:  Fetuses don't feel pain.  They don't masturbate.  They don't pray.  When we choose to have a baby, we also carry a lot of very romantic sweet notions about that developing fetus, that all has to do with its potential, not what it is.  There is nothing romantic or sweet about having a baby without affordable health care, or a baby born that will die minutes later, or having a baby that you are neither emotionally nor financially capable of caring for.

So, there are a lot of negatives in the above arguments.  But on the other side, we might just want to consider the positives.  We who choose abortion do it for selfish reasons.   Those reasons may include being able to finish college or take care of other children.  We may choose not to have a child we can't afford to support, or have the time to care for.  We may not want to have a child because we don't believe we would make good parents.  We may want to devote our lives to curing cancer or teaching.  We may choose an abortion just because it feels right.

In all those cases, we need to stand up and be proud of our choice.  Come out of the closet.  God doesn't condemn you, and who cares if Donald Trump does?  And we need to protect our words, and work hard to communicate our rights and beliefs.  Don't let people who are anti-abortion get away with saying they are pro-life; I guarantee, they are not.  Don't let them get away with using terms like "pain-capable" or "partial birth" or "dismemberment abortion," which latter is the most recent step on the slippery slope.  Fetuses aren't babies.  Women don't carry babies, except on their hips for a couple of years.

I am so proud of the women who are fighting this fight.  Many of them could be going about their lives assuming it isn't going to happen to them.  Abortion isn't something you grow up looking forward to, and pretty much by definition you don't plan for it.  So fighting for that right has to be more than the right to have an abortion.  It is about the right to determine our own paths, privately, freely, without government interference.  And it is about fighting for that right for all women.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent commentary! Here's a link to a blog post I wrote several years ago on the topic: