Monday, January 22, 2007

Blogging for Choice: Why I am Pro-Choice

I went in a little bit of a different direction from a lot of the a-listers (like Jill, Jessica, Shakes' Sis, and Amanda). Instead of a list of why it matters to be pro-choice in general, I went more personal. Why I, as a 21-year-old queer woman, a senior at Smith College in oh-so-liberal western Massachusetts, am pro-choice. So, this is me, blogging for choice.

This year’s topic is simple, yet crucial:
Why are you pro-choice?

Funny thing is, I didn’t even really think about the “why” until last November, when I was out in South Dakota with the South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families and PPFA, fighting against the abortion ban.

Gretchen, a good friend I made out in South Dakota who works for PPCT, just asked me straight out: “So why are you here? Why are you so invested in reproductive rights?”
It caught me off guard.
I’d never actually thought about it before. Having reproductive autonomy was just something I’d grown up believing was a right, was something everyone should be entitled to. I had to think back, to the development of my feminist ideologies and the history of my political consciousness.

I didn’t really understand the controversy around abortion when I was growing up. It wasn’t talked about, and I don’t even remember hearing about the monumental 1992 March for Women’s Lives.

In eighth grade, an English teacher (who changed my life, as English teachers tend to do), assigned a research/oral presentation project: we had to research a social controversy and then create an oral presentation, presenting both sides and the conclusion we’d come to. I didn’t really have any strong feelings about much back then, so I took one of the suggestions she’d given, and did my project on the controversy of abortion.

Not knowing anything about the abortion debate, I gave equal credence to rabidly “pro-life” materials as vehemently pro-choice materials. Both sides sounded good to me, and I didn’t find much of either side’s critique of the other side. (This was before I was very computer-savvy, and before the internet was the user-friendly monster it is today.) I didn’t come down on either side. I had no idea how I was going to close my presentation, because I couldn’t come to a conclusion. I found some more scholarly, less biased resources on how most Americans are in the “mushy middle” when it comes to abortion, and so I settled there.
It was an easy place to be, and one that wouldn’t place me in the middle of a huge controversy in my class. When I gave “my conclusion” on the abortion debate, I discussed how I didn’t think it should be “used as birth control,” but that in cases like rape or incest, it was only humane to allow it. Basically, I parroted what the “mushy middle” articles said without really understanding the core concepts. Because it was the easy position to take.
Abortion was still not much of an issue through high school. I was all about sex ed, though, and was livid when I was told by the adviser of SADD (which turned into Students Against Destructive Decisions shortly before I became president of it my senior year) that we couldn’t talk much about, let alone distribute, condoms or any real information about safer sex.

So it wasn't until my first Women’s Studies class in my first semester of college that I finally got fully introduced to the feminist perspective on reproductive rights, reproductive autonomy, and, to some extent, reproductive justice. I helped a friend procure an abortion – in the 22nd week of her pregnancy. She was living about 2 hours away at the time, but I found phone numbers and addresses for clinics near her, and when those clinics wouldn’t provide the abortion (it was later than their policies allowed, even though NY state law allows them up to 24 weeks), I found a clinic in another city that would. I put her in touch with one of my friends who lived in that city, someone for her to stay with. It scared me to do this, especially since her parents were very strict and very Muslim, and would have disowned her if they found out, but it felt like the right thing to do.

It also felt like the right thing to do when I and our goalie hitched a ride with my assistant coach’s parents into downtown DC, both of us still sweaty and unshowered, after our final lacrosse championships game (a consolation game, which we lost). It felt right when we were counted in the 1 million+ people that made that march the biggest march that Washington, DC has ever seen.

It felt like the right thing to do when I transferred to Smith and the first org. meeting I attended was for Vox, the student affiliate of Planned Parenthood. It felt right when I went to every Vox meeting and almost every event.
It felt right when I went pharmacy-to-pharmacy last spring, asking pharmacists to sign up to be able to dispense EC over-the-counter (this was before the FDA stopped dragging its feet, and after Massachusetts had passed an EC OTC bill). It felt right when I argued with PPLM’s Grassroots Organizer for western Mass and their legal counsel over the tactic to use to raise money for the SD Campaign for Healthy Families, when I argued against the focus on the lack of exceptions and against the (re-)creation of a bullshit hierarchy of circumstances.
It felt right when I ran in (and won) the election to be Vice President of Vox. It feels right working with my incredible fellow e-board (executive board) members and the rest of PPLM and PPFA, even if I do have disagreements from time to time with some administrative choices (which I won't comment on here).

It felt right when I signed up for the trip to South Dakota, when I got on the plane headed for Big Cock Country™ with another Smithie and a Hampshire student. When I got off the plane and saw the first pieces of luggage -- hunting rifles -- come out, I was slightly frightened, but it felt right. It felt incredible, and indescribable, and so, so right when I was at the victory party in the ballroom in Sioux Falls on election night.

It’s just always felt right to be pro-choice. And so I’ve never thought about why I feel so strongly about it.

When Gretchen asked me, I was at first at a loss for words.
So, naturally, I just started talking. This is what came out (paraphrased):
After all, the right to abortion* doesn’t really directly affect me. Sure, it directly affects my vagina-possessing friends who choose to engage in heterosexual sex, but I don’t willingly involve myself with organs that contain sperm, so it’s not a right on which I would rely on a regular basis.
Yet, my belief in abortion rights is firm, and is one I’m deeply passionate about.
(“I can see that, that you’re passionate about it. But why so much passion for something that you don’t deal with personally?”)
Because I do. And I have. I have dealt with it personally. I have never had an abortion. I have never even had consensual heterosexual sex.

And that right there is the kicker: the word “consensual.” Sure, the “pro-lifers” are mostly in favor of abortion rights for rape victims, but that’s problematic on more levels than I can even pretend to address. But for one: I, as a victim/survivor, should have no greater claim to abortion rights than the girl next to me who had consensual sex. If I have the right to abort, she should have the right to abort too. My experience of violation does not make me any more “worthy” of reproductive autonomy than the next girl. Because autonomy is not, and should never be, dependent on one’s level of sexual violation.
For another, our legal system is already broken when it comes to sexual assault. If these kinds of abortion bans were passed that allowed abortions for rape victims, it would only exacerbate the already hideous system. Right now, victims/survivors enter the legal system and, most often, get their leg broken. If a ban with rape/incest exceptions were passed, these victims/survivors would enter the system with a broken leg and it would be repeatedly beaten and re-broken with a bat, Tonya Harding-style. On a practical level, it would simply be unnecessary cruelty.

Without autonomy over our wombs, we can’t expect to have autonomy over any other aspect of our lives. If you don’t grant us autonomy over our internal organs, we can’t expect that these organs won’t be violated.

And that’s where it gets personal. That’s where I think my deep, deep passion comes from. The attempt to take control of women’s reproductive capabilities is too reminiscent of the attempt to take control of women’s bodies through sexual assault. Reproductive rights and reproductive autonomy is a microcosm of the larger struggle over the control of women’s bodies, a struggle that takes many forms and seeps into so almost every aspect of life.

(*While reproductive autonomy and reproductive justice certainly encompasses far, far more than the right to abortion, we were talking specifically about the SD abortion ban, so that’s what I focus on here.)

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