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January 22, 2007


I am pro-choice because I believe that the decision to bring a child into the world is an intensely personal and complicated one. Each woman is unique and each decision is different, and nobody has the right to try to force every woman down the same path. At the same time, I believe that while each situation is different, women can relate to each other's experiences and we have much more power when we support each other.

I love history and I try to learn as much as I can about the history of the feminist movement. One of the things that really bugs me is when anti-choicers (especially the so-called "feminists for life") make the argument that true feminists should be against abortion because many of the early leaders of the women's rights movement were anti-abortion themselves, or because abortion is really anti-woman. There may be some truth to these concepts, but they have been twisted and manipulated and taken out of context until they've become something that I think is really patronizing and disrespectful to women.

Here are two of these viewpoints, one from the past and one from the present, with my responses.

Emma Goldman--Mother Earth, 1911
"The custom of procuring abortions has reached such appalling proportions in America as to be beyond belief...So great is the misery of the working classes that seventeen abortions are committed in every one hundred pregnancies."

The misery of the working classes...poor women who lack education about their health and ways to prevent unplanned pregnancies, as well as access to basic health care (including pre-natal care)...who probably have to work to help support their families, but have no child care options and no help...whose husbands feel entitled to sexual access to their wives at all times, and feel that they can force their pregnant wives to abort or not abort as they see fit (and there are no laws to tell them differently)...or maybe their husbands have left them, or they were never married, or they have turned to prostitution to support the children that they already have...who will have to face an illegal abortion in potentially unsanitary and dangerous conditions, because they feel like they have no choice. They live in a society that tells them that motherhood is the one true goal in life, the ultimate fulfillment, but that same society refuses to acknowledge their equality or their autonomy and turns a blind eye to their differences and their problems. It was appalling, and it is not something that pro-choice women want to see repeated. That's why we work for education, information, access, resources...total reproductive health and freedom.

Here are some quotes from the Feminists For Life website.

"Women who are experiencing an unplanned pregnancy also deserve unplanned joy." Patricia Heaton, Honorary Chair

What is Feminists for Life's position on contraception? Feminists for Life's mission is to address the unmet needs of women who are pregnant or parenting. Preconception issues including abstinence and contraception are outside of our mission.

Unplanned pregnancy=unplanned joy? Yes, sometimes. But since we live in the real world and not in Sparkly Shiny Happyland, we have to acknowledge that unplanned pregnancies happen for a wide variety of reasons and are often embarrassing, upsetting, and/or terrifying. The feminists for life are not doing any great service for women by telling them how they should feel and implying that there is something wrong with them if they can't summon up any joy at finding themselves unexpectedly pregnant.

And "preconception issues...are outside of our mission"? Come on. I completely understand taking the position that abortion is a painful choice for any woman to have to make, and that it's unnecessary and unfortunate that there are so many abortions performed in this country today. However, I think it's ridiculously irresponsible to try to take that position while completely and totally ignoring reality. The Feminists for Life site also says that they have safety concerns about some of the birth control methods that are available for women today, and I actually agree with that point. But we have to work with what we've got, and right now the best way to most safely reduce the number of abortions that are performed in this country is to improve education about and access to birth control and other reproductive health services. Make sure that women (and men) have as much information as possible about their options, lobby against the methods that you think are harmful and work to make sure that we have as many healthy options as possible. Just don't decide to ignore the whole issue because it's messy and complicated and sexual and real and doesn't fit in with your tidy 'joyful happy mommies and babies and puppies and sunshine' philosophy. Have enough respect for your fellow women to deal with their realities, rather than just trying to impose your own.

That's why I'm pro-choice: respect. I respect myself. I respect my family and friends. I respect the feminists who fought before me, even if I don't agree with them 100%, and enough to try to fully understand where they were coming from. I respect mothers. I respect women, so I support choice.

*Image is from the archives of the Chicago Women's Graphics Collective, which created and distributed feminist art from 1970 to 1983.