Blog for Choice Day – 2012
Today is Blog for Choice Day: the 39th anniversary of Roe v Wade in the US, the court case that established that women had a legal right to abortion (until the point of fetal viability).
The legal right to abortion, including safe and ready access, is a key element of civil rights everywhere for people with female reproductive organs (henceforth referred to as ‘women’ – fully acknowledging that there are people who identify as women who do not have female reproductive organs, people who identify as men who do, and those who do not identify as either who may or may not have them).
This right is as critical as having access to contraceptive options, thorough sexual education, and infrastructure that supports healthy pregnancies. Any person should and must have full bodily autonomy, and this is only possible if they are fully aware of how reproduction works, and have the means to control it without fear of judgment or reprisal.
It is not just in the US where this right is called into question, to the point where it endangers or ends the life and health of women. Abortion is one of the safest medical procedures going (safer than giving birth), and yet around the world, “nearly half of all abortions worldwide are unsafe, and almost all unsafe abortions occur in the developing world” (via feministing)
Usually, the objections to reproductive rights spring from a moral tenet, often via religious beliefs (which, as we know, are so often scientifically verifiable) that abortion or birth control of any kind amounts to infanticide, that the only morally correct sex is that which is performed with the intent to reproduce within a religiously sanctioned union of some kind, and that women are obligated to carry to term, birth, and raise any fertilized eggs that happen to implant in their uterine wall, or indeed maintain an ectopic pregnancy at great risk to their health until on the verge of death, should a fertilized egg implant elsewhere.
Implicit in this idea, too, is that pregnancy and childbirth and child rearing are a kind of divinely sanctioned punishment for any non-reproductive sexual behaviour. And who wouldn’t want to be raised by an unenthusiastic genetic parent(s) who consider them a penance from God?
There are plenty of arguments to be made about the moral correctness of abortion – pointing out for example, that many people who get the procedure already have children, and are making the decision based on availability of resources, and a lack of support for the raising of children in general – but this ignores the heart of the argument, to wit, it is the owner of the uterus/ovaries/fallopian tubes who gets to the decision.
The state does not have the right to dictate decisions that affect the health and bodily autonomy of its residents/citizens. It can suggest, it can make widely accessible things that are likely to improve the health and wellbeing of the country (e.g. flu vaccines, birth control – thank you NHS), but it cannot and should not actively legislate within the borders of the human body.
The purpose of the state and legislative structures are to manage the resources and interactions of a millions-strong community. Sex and pregnancy have nothing to do with anyone or anything other than the people having sex or providing the egg/sperm. A fertilized egg is not a citizen in need of protection from person in whom it exists. The person in whom a fertilized egg may implant, however, is a citizen in need of protection against those who would presume to dictate what they do with their organs.
If pro-life activists really wanted fewer abortions, they would support access to contraception and sexual education – two things that are statistically proven to reduce abortion rates. But they don’t, because what they are really interested in is limiting the choices available to women so that women’s sexual behaviour is in line with what they think is appropriate.
Without bodily autonomy, women are not free, and to imprison women in their own bodies – that is the real crime.
UN states told they must legalise abortion (Guardian)
Arguments in favour of abortion (BBC Ethics Guide)