Tag Archives: personhood

The right to choose.

17 Oct
A couple of weeks ago I attended a pro-choice rally in the city. I’m pretty bored of rallies these days, and generally feel they don’t achieve much, but for this issue I felt it was essential to have a strong public presence because the anti-choice brigade have really been making themselves seen and heard, and pregnant women considering terminations need to feel that they have support behind whatever decision they make.

So it was your usual lefty rent-a-crowd — lots of socialists of various affiliations, a couple of ratbag anarchists, and your motley crew of others. I was surprised to find very few feminists from the university networks I’m aware of in the crowd, but I got the feeling that the action had largely been publicised among socialist networks without much involvement from campus women’s groups so maybe that makes sense.

Anyway, one of the chants I found amusing but somewhat curious went like this:

An egg is not a chicken, a seed is not a try, a foetus ain’t a baby, so don’t lay that on me!

And I guess I more or less agree with that. But not entirely. I’ve always found the abortion debate interesting because it’s a real train track argument — for one side it’s about choice, and for the other it’s about life. I don’t think the anti-choice side is necessarily wrong, because if you believe that a foetus is a baby (and what would settle that, either way?) then it follows that killing it is wrong, regardless of its dependence on its mother — after all most people would find infanticide unacceptable in all situations, even if there are circumstances which would complicate the morality (eg, if the mother’s life is in danger, if the pregnancy is the result of rape, etc). I mean, I’d guess that most proponents of safe and accessible abortion prioritise the mother’s choice over the foetus’ life, but generally people aren’t willing to engage with those terms of debate, and for good strategic reason. But still that doesn’t answer the question of when life begins, whether or not that matters.

I think what I believe is that it’s up to the individual. And that’s a contentious, complicated argument, almost impossible to defend in a political arena where all arguments must be reduced to slogans. The sides are split so conversations are impossible, except perhaps between individuals; collectively the field of action is reduced to banners and war-cries. But honestly, I think during any stage of pregnancy, a woman decides what the thing in her womb is, if and when she’s become a mother.

Because I think abortion would be murder, if it were without the consent of the woman in whose body it takes place. And I think that the argument “it’s not a life” can be dangerous for reproductive rights, too, used against women who society doesn’t believe to be fit mothers. I think feminists, at least real feminists who are for the choices of all women, even those we might not make ourselves, need to be conscious of that. When a young, poor, single woman exercises her right to choose, and chooses to take her pregnancy to term, the normalisation of abortion as not only acceptable but prudent practice can and will be used against her. A father unwilling to pay child support, or a rich entrepreneur arguing against welfare and for “opportunity”, will shut her up smugly saying “you chose”.

And even if feminists support all these choices, we have to know our words will be used against us, our choices will be used against us. So what does it mean to have the right to choose? When we still suffer the consequences of our choices. I think what constitutes choice for me is where all you would endure is your own regret, not the punishment of others who weren’t there, didn’t know, and can’t understand.