This was originally written in response to pythia_akrypta’s post on the South Dakota anti-abortion law issue. Like pythia, my feelings on this issue are so complex and conflicted that I feel a similar difficulty towards putting them into words. Because of that, this post will be very rambly, and I can’t guarantee that my arguments are going to be well-organized. I’m doing this to talk through the conflicts and confusion I feel, and as such this post will be as messy and complex as I feel the entire situation is.
In no way do I agree with legislating women’s bodies in the way currently being attempted by the SD legistators, especially given all the sex, race and class issues that are conveniently glossed over. But my interest in gender issues not about the categories of male/female. I am not a powerful woman…I am a powerful *person*. Don’t diminish my power by placing me in a category of personhood that has been and is constituted as powerless. My gendered agenda is about extending our definitions of what constitutes human, and how to juggle recognizing the irreducible individuality of beings while still regarding them all as equally human.
Given that this is my critical agenda, I feel a certain level of hypocrisy when I deny the humanity of a fetus. Pragmatically, I consider a fetus to be similar to a parasite, and as such I privelege the rights of a human “host” over the rights of the fetus. But I also recognize that there is a disjunction between this and my larger philosophy. I am not saying that there aren’t other dimensions to the argument against abortion (such as the issues surrounding the conflation of sex and procreation), but I have to accede that on one level pro-lifers are arguing something that I support, which is the extension of our boundaries of what we consider “human”. At that level there is little difference between their demands for humane treatment for fetuses, and my expectations for human treatment for animals (chimpanzees, for example).
Yes…I did just compare a human fetus to a chimpanzee.
While I recognize this disjunction in my own views, and have not yet been able to rectify it, I also recognize the disjunction in the views of the pro-life movement, and this is where (one level) of my disagreement with them emerges. At the extreme of that philosophy, the humanity of the fetus should be recognized over the humanity of the human “host”, and the “host” should have no say in the matter save where their own life is in danger. I do not agree with this moral imposition.
While we do not have consensus on the humanity of a fetus, we do have (at least nominal) consensus on the humanity of a post-birth person. We diminish the humanity of post-birth people all the time…just look at Iraq or New Orleans. The imposition of laws that remove a person’s right to make choices concerning their own body is a diminishment of their humanity. I would not force a person to have an abortion to save their life. It is their choice to determine the humanity of the fetus in their body, and whether they value that life over their own. Equally, I would not force a person to get pregnant. Again, that is a personal choice that I believe individuals must be free to make based on their own philosophy. This is why I support an individual’s right to decide their relationship with a fetus that is hosted in their body, including the humanity of that fetus compared to their own.
It would be my hope that someday we could all extend our perceptions of what it means to be human. This event hinges on a lot of pragmatic changes that would need to take place, including issues of overpopulation; imbalanced distribution of resources (often along racial/ethnic lines); and racial, gender and class inequalities, to name just a few. There is validity to the argument that legal abortion has elements of racial cleansing…the realities of current socio-economic imbalances mean that people who seek abortions are often poor ethnic minorities. There needs to be a worldwide saturation of free birth control education and accessibility so that we can entirely disassociate sex from procreation. Face it, if the only people getting pregnant were people who wanted to get pregnant, then abortion wouldn’t really be an issue. This is the main reason that I adore Planned Parenthood and think Pro-Lifers would better employ their time working towards this end (assuming that the prevention of the murder of an unborn fetus is really their end, rather than the regulation of women’s bodies and sexual lives).
We in no way have any of this yet. I am a highly educated person who was exposed to extensive and reliable birth control education at an early age. I have access to many resources not available to a lot of other people, and I still have difficulty getting regular access to reliable and convenient methods of birth control. While I think the issue of choice is important, and while I think that this issue has as much to do with policing women’s bodies and sexuality as it does with any issue of fetal humanity, I also believe that my efforts are better spent creating a world where abortion is no longer an issue because people are given the education and resources that would allow them to make their choices before they ever become pregnant. That’s a Pro-Choice world I can live in.