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Archive for May, 2010

Hi everyone! I’ve been away for six months, so to celebrate let’s do something cheery and Talk Abortions. Recently there was a thread about abortion on Feministe, which discussed a terrible man in funny robes excommunicating a health-workin’ nun for giving the green light to an abortion that was medically necessary to save the life of a woman with some awful gravidly-aggravated disease. Obviously this excommunication was a cruel and stupid thing to do, but the comments section of the post illustrated perfectly my distain for most feminist/reproductive justice conversations about terminating pregnancy. Being this unimpressed by the level of arguments offered by feminist blogs is unusual for me. Usually even if I disagree with the post, there are a few commenters who come along and save the day with cutting insight, or pictures of cats playing the piano.

As far as the issue gets discussed by my internet feminist contemporaries, it usually centres on two arguments: firstly, that fetuses cannot be considered persons and are therefore exempt from the usual considerations having to do with mur-diddly-urder, and secondly, some gnarled and incomplete yelling about bodily integrity that doesn’t mention the fetus at all. Both of these are stupid and wrong.

You are probably furrowing your brow with some indignation right now, and I do not blame you. I too am shocked by the cavalier way in which I am dismissing the foundational arguments of decades’ worth of passionately shouted slogans. HOW INFURIATINGLY UNGRATEFUL, you are saying. HOW RUDE AND DISMISSIVE. IF I’D KNOWN SHE WAS SECRETLY A PRO-LIFE MISOGYNIST I NEVER WOULD HAVE COME HERE AND PUSHED HER PAGEVIEWS INTO DOUBLE DIGITS.

But the thing is, I am frustrated. I’m frustrated because I am pro-choice. I am pro-abortion. I want abortion to be legal, safe, and free. I want all doctors to know how to perform abortions. I am in favour of abortion on demand, and late term abortion. I am, like many women, absolutely scared shitless of not being able to have an abortion. Even typing that sentence makes me want to rush out and get a D&C just in case. STAY OUT OF MY ENDOMETRIUM, ZYGOTES, WITH YOUR SNEAKY LITTLE UNDERDEVELOPED GRABBY-HANDS. I just made a face so threatening and horrible that I bet zygotes everywhere are inching back up the fallopian tube from whence they emerged.

However! I also think that fetuses are people from the moment of their conception. Now, I have carefully situated this statement directly after the part where I told you I was pro-choice, because every time I say it out of the blue people assume I am some kind of brainwashed Mormon who has twelve Sister Wives and an assload of laundry to wash. By hand. Down on the banks of the compound’s baptisin’ stream.

And really, I have extreme difficulty with anyone who thinks this isn’t the case. Of course fetuses are people. All humans are people. Tiny humans are people. Humans with flippers are people. Humans without immediately recognisable cognition are people. There is nothing inherent in a fetus, at any stage of gestation, that renders it a non-person. They don’t just magically attain peopledom when they hit air, and the idea that peopledom is rendered by some gestational developmental stage is also stupid because it reduces all humans who lack those qualities to the status of nonpersons. I remain unconvinced that any developmental stage used to assess personhood in a fetus is present in every adult human.

In addition to being factually incorrect, pretending that fetuses aren’t people strengthens pro-life arguments. Every time someone uses the phrase ‘clump of cells’ or ‘wad of goop’ to describe a fetus, a pleasurable shiver runs down the spine of an abortion clinic picketer, because it shows that they are successfully defining the scope and terms of the debate. It is a lot easier to win arguments when you are using emotive terms like ‘unborn child’ to your own advantage. Try it in your next friendly debate, even if it’s not about abortion. ‘Well you may be right about the per capita GDP of Venezuela, but fuck you, baby killer.’

Which brings me to the second abortion argument, the ‘it’s my body, it’s my choice’ argument. This is, on the whole, a better argument. Everyone should be able to control the medical procedures they undergo, particularly women, whom the medical establishment has a history of letting, you know, die. This goes triple if you’re a woman who’s a couple of rungs down on the ol’ kyriarchy. For some reason people with lots of social privilege think it’s ok to sterilise those they consider beneath them. I mean to me, the tiny dominant group neutering everyone they think inferior kindof sounds like the plot of an interesting dystopic film where they then figure out that they’ve all got some kind of disorder that causes them to die, leaving the normal, less awful people to inherit their wealth. That I think this is a function of being a white woman living in Australia because some women think being forcibly sterilised is something that could actually happen to them. Like, tomorrow. Which I’m sure just adds a crunchy layer of awesomeness to interacting with the medical establishment. Ever. Jesus everything is terrible.

Anyway, yes, making medical decisions is something that we should all be allowed to do. Unfortunately, if you have accepted my first premise, the peopledom of fetuses, we can no longer justify abortion with reference only to the body of the mother. There is another person inside her. Obviously the woman and the fetus have a unique relationship, and I do think it’s far to call the fetus a parasite, in a totally biologically descriptive sense of the word. The fetus is using her resources without contributing much of anything back to her own health. They’ve turned up in her lounge room, eaten all her Doritos, and now they want to redecorate the whole place in upholstery denim.

Now, if an adult came at me with some kind of diabolical weapon that instantly conferred upon me the conditions and risks of pregnancy, I’d feel justified in killing them, if that were the only way I could save myself. If a tiny cute toddler in an ice-related rage tried to shank me with the same weapon, I’d kill them in self-defense. Of course this is assuming that all pregnancies are sneak attacks. Some are not. Apparently young people nowadays are just too shy to talk about contraception. Even if you’re a lady who just likes the peen too much to put a wrapper on it, even if you’ve got a high degree of choice and privilege in this situation? Consenting to unprotected sex is not consenting to pregnancy. Much the same as, when you’re an American Apparel employee, working for them is not consenting to being sexually harassed by Dov Charney! Even if you know that activity A may lead in some cases to result B, consenting to A is not consenting to B.

Unless you are wearing American Apparel, which I will interpret as a sign of consent to me punching you in the junk.

So this is the correct formulation of the argument from bodily autonomy: no person is allowed to use my body without my consent. No person is allowed to force me to continue supporting the person using my body. That is what we like to call ‘sexual slavery’, and it is frowned upon in polite societies. Fetuses are people too, and they are therefore subject to our rules about asking nicely before you put someone under nine different kinds of considerable risk and stress.

And that is how I justify abortion! This formulation is neat. It allows you to justify all abortions, not just the abortions of nice white girls who got attacked in the dark on their way home from Chastity Club. Axiomatically, if you were pregnant, your abortion was justified. There is no need to make women prove they’re in emotional, physical, or financial danger, because if you are pregnant, someone is using your body without your consent and you should be able to stop them. Sorry, fetuses! Sorry, Right to Life movement, for rendering your name and slogan irrelevant! Sorry, incorrect pro-choicers, for laughing at you when you say fetuses aren’t people! Maybe all of you should get together for a drink, okay? Or, you know, maybe not.

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