Sunday, January 22, 2006

Blogging for Choice

Okay, we have to talk about this. Today is the 33rd anniversary of Roe v. Wade. The other day I identified myself as a "reluctantly pro-choice" voter. The astute reader will have long-since noticed that I'm Catholic, surely not the most common place for a pro-choice person, reluctant or not. So, what's going on here? Why have I made the choices I've made and why/how will I defend other women's right to choose what to do with their bodies?

The too trite, but gratifying answer is that the pro-life proponents are just so unrelentingly stupid that no sensible person would join them. There's plenty of support for this argument, unfortunately, and I've written about some of it in this blog. And there's always more. A gym in Kansas put up a fetus-tree in its lobby to celebrate the holiday season. Edifying. Hurricane Katrina was apparently a punishment for abortions. Uh huh. Sometimes I think we could just turn these people loose to destroy the pro-life movement all by themselves. In the end, though, I'm fairly committed to the notion that stupidity and ignorance can be corrected (or mitigated, anyway), so not wanting to associate with those people isn't really a good enough argument. Besides, there really are intelligent and reasonable pro-lifers.

We start to get somewhere when we acknowledge that the rhetoric used by pro-lifers always rejects a woman's autonomy and dignity. Sometimes it's subtle, but it's always there. And it's not even restricted to the arguments against abortion. Read the arguments against the HPV vaccination again. The clear, stated, concern is that if a woman is in charge of her own sexual behavior, it will turn into a "girls gone wild" scenario. Even when it's not quite that egregious, the language against abortion either suggests that a woman isn't capable of making a rational decision about procreation, so we have to protect babies from these slightly impaired women, or it suggests that the life of a baby is more important than that of the mother. I can't go there. I just can't.

The image I get from that line of reasoning is a long line of vanishing women. The logical extension of that argument is that women are important when they're procreating. But if we birth girls, the girls become important only in their procreative roles, because that's a law of nature we're supposed to believe... which makes the boy-children comparatively more important. And not by a little. Now, we know that around the world, and even in our own neighborhoods, that thinking is quite common. But I have a girl-child and a boy-child and there's just no way that one is more important than the other. And no way that I can think of my daughter's most important contribution to the world as any children she might choose to have. Working backwards, I can't think that my mother's most important contribution was her children, either. And certainly my brothers weren't her best effort. (That part was a joke. Sorry, boys.)

And, ahh.... we get to the hard part. The fact that I'm a mother isn't the most important thing about me, either. Bear in mind that I would walk in front of a truck if it spared my children pain -and that's not hyperbole, as every parent understands. But, it must be said, I have faced consequences of the choice to parent that my partner has not. (I know and appreciate the fact that he has made important sacrifices out of love for his children. But those sacrifices have been different.) There's no recovering those years out of the work force. There's no erasing the fact that for decades my worthiness as a human being was defined by how well other people performed in the world. Were the kids gifted intellectually? (yes) Did they potty-train easily? (That would be a no.) Were they pretty and well-dressed? (yes to the first and no to the second) All of that helped define whether I was a meritorious person or not. It's an extremely effective way to diminish a person, in case that's ever your goal.

Moreover, I've been spared some truly crushing consequences because I'm a person with a fine education, a loving family, great friends, and a position within a certain social class. And I suppose I bring some personal gifts to the table as well. And still, parenting has been plenty hard enough, thank you very much. How much harder is it for a single mother? For a teenage mother? For a mother with too many children too close together? Until we figure out how to have a society that values women, men, and children equally... a society that allows for and celebrates all kinds of contributions to the life of the society, we have to allow people to choose not to parent.

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