Thought Trafficking


June 11, 2009, 7:19 am
Filed under: living

I’m not eager to foray into social commentary – I’m far too ambivalent for such, and I don’t feel that I am as well-versed in current events as I should be. But after attending a pro-choice rally this evening, a vigil for Dr. Tiller who was recently murdered, I feel the need to say something.

I was uncomfortable at the rally, not because of anyone there particularly, and not because of what we were there for. It’s difficult to put my finger on the source of my discomfort. My position on abortion and choice is a fluctuating one: I absolutely believe that a woman’s body is hers, and the right to choose is hers, and that legal, safe abortions need to be readily accessible. These services are absolutely necessary. It is the discourse, the event that I am uncomfortable with. There is a heavy focus, at pro-choice events, on refuting pro-life arguments (and that needs to be done) that I find myself wanting to hear more around the issue, and not just about it. The main topic the availability of abortion and I don’t disagree with that, it’s just that there also seems to be more left to say. As though ambiguity is a weakness.

There are a few memories that turn up when I think about abortion. The first is a documentary that aired on CBC Radio’s Ideas, way back in the way back, I think that I was in junior high at the time. The woman making the piece had documented her own feelings on being pro-choice and having a miscarriage. So much of the debate between pro-choice and pro-life is centered on whether or not the fetus is a person and the question of when does a fetus become a person. Her dilemma, as I remember, was this: If I am pro-choice and I miscarry, how do I mourn? How do I feel about the idea of mourning an entity whichI  may or may not consider a person? I may not remember this accurately, as it was probably ten years ago now, but as I remember she was very conflicted. Bound up in this pregnancy was hope, expectation, love, everything that is ideally present when you decide to bring another person into this world.  A pregnancy that is the result of rape, the product of miseducation or coercion is a very different situation. I can’t even say what kind of situation, because I would not know; I have never been pregnant and I have not had to make the very difficult decision to have or not to have an abortion. I don’t feel that I really have a right to speak about this, in all honesty. But here I am.

Two women in particular spoke about their abortions, one who had had a safe abortion here in B.C., and another who had had an illegal abortion in the maritimes when she was 16. They both stressed the importance of availability, especially to young girls, of abortion services. The rally banners stressed that FREE abortions needed to be readily available, and someone had written BEAUTIFUL on the sidewalk, in chalk, and there were multiple ‘zines on women’s health and reproductive options available. What I wished is that someone had talked about sadness and responsibility as well. Because, and here’s where I am tentative, I don’t think of abortion as an option to counter carelessness.

(To be clear, they did cover a number of important topics: reasons that a woman would need to have a late-term abortion, the horror that is illegal abortions and the complications that result, and the need for doctors who will support these women in their decisions, the need for clinics where they can be safely performed. All of these topics are extremely important.)

For her birthday six or seven years ago, I got my mom a book called Cunt. It had been recommended by an acquaintance as a good read for someone who loved the Vagina Monologues (as my mother did, at the time). I have never actually read this book, but talking with mom about it later she expressed some hesitation about the section of the book on natural birth control, because the woman in question had had two abortions when these methods failed. No method of birth control, ever, is infallible (after all, sex is what makes babies), but there are choices that one can make to avoid getting pregnant, and some are more reliable than others. Our bodies are responsibilities, what they can do is our responsibility.

By this I don’t mean that every egg fertilized should be carried to term, and I definitely do not mean that women having abortions are irresponsible. It is hard to write this without feeling like a journalist trying to present “both sides” of global warming. But I do experience a twinge when I see the words FREE and BEAUTIFUL next to ABORTION. Or maybe I want to see more words beside those first two. Is it possible to express hesitation without seeming to demean anyone else’s choice? Many people honestly do not know what they would do if they became pregnant tomorrow, either their own carelessness or by violence. I do not know what I would choose and I am utterly grateful that I am in a place where there are options open to me. Often, however, that discussion often does not go beyond the topic of access to abortions, rarely addressing what making the choice means. I wish that responding to the anti-abortion/pro-life movement could mean responding by acknowledging the how difficult such a decision is, not only defending the means.

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3 Comments so far
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Re: the rally

To be fair, the ‘zine they had on abortion was hardly light hearted. I bought it and am reading it right now, and the stories can be very sad. I think the idea that women who have abortions are irresponsible or flippant about their decisions is a bit of a misconception.

Comment by Annick

I do agree, however, with your final sentence:

“I wish that responding to the anti-abortion/pro-life movement could mean responding by acknowledging the how difficult such a decision is, not only defending the means.”

I think that a lot of pro-choicers try that, but are afraid of looking like they are ceding something to the other side, which is ridiculous. We need to allow for nuances in our discussion.

I remember talking to a friend a few years ago about an essay by Gloria Steinem on abortion, and said friend cutting me off. She’s more on the pro-life side, and she assumed we wouldn’t be able to find any common ground on the issue. I think she even said something like, “I know what you think about the topic,” because “pro-choice” doesn’t describe everything I feel on the matter, just that I want abortion to be legal (and even then–which trimester(s)? what limitations?).

Comment by Annick

Oh, no, I think that the ‘zines were very well done, and I agree with what you’re saying here. My point was exactly that I wish the gathering had been a bit more reflective of this kind of thought process, and that nuance wasn’t thought of as a concession.

Comment by Larisa




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