When I was an college student back in the 1990s (oh what an angst-filled, self-important era I came of age in!), I used to get all worked up about the abortion fight. I’d sit in my Women’s Studies classes (I have a minor) and go to work at the campus women’s center and get in all sorts of arguments with my fellow feminists about abortion. But it’s not what you think.
My beef? Why does the feminist movement always get reduced to abortion?!
Don’t get me wrong. I have always been prochoice. It wasn’t a question of believing that abortion should be a legal right. The problem I had was that it felt like every feminist discussion, every feminist debate, every time you went out into the world and talked about feminism it got reduced to the abortion debate (and being called a feminazi, which was still a shiny new put-down back then — oh Rush, you’re so clever).
I always felt a little like screaming: Enough already! Yes, we need abortion but can we talk about the big picture and not just focus on women’s uteruses for five seconds?! What about equal pay? What about the glass ceiling? What about women and poverty? What about “women’s work,” “chic lit,” the social construct of gender norms, lesbian baiting … what about everything else that has to do with being a woman outside of her uterus?!
And, I admit, sometimes I still feel that way. Sometimes I feel fatigued by all the abortion talk. Dear God, why are we still talking about this?!
The answer, I’m afraid, is because we still have to.
And as I’ve gotten older, got a career, won awards, been laid off, got married, became a homeowner, voted, paid taxes, went vegetarian and then stopped being vegetarian (for health reasons), got pregnant … all this in no particular order … I’ve also had more and more time to think about the abortion debate, or more broadly, reproductive rights. And what I’ve discovered is, there’s a very good reason why the talk always comes back to the uterus. The fact is, there is no other human organ that is so heavily regulated as a uterus. There’s no other organ that is so dangerously fought over. People have lost their lives taking a stand or fighting about abortion!
Sometimes it feels dangerous to have a uterus in America.
And it comes down to this: If I can’t make a decision about how I will or won’t use a part of my body — the same way any man would of his body — then I am not equal. I am not autonomous from the government, from my sexual partner, from society in the same way a man is. And that very thing, that very debate, that very sentiment is what keeps me oppressed as a woman.
Need proof? (These anecdotes come from real people I’ve met, but I’m not going to use names.)
Exhibit A: I have been married for 13 years (in June). For the first 11 or 12 of those, I didn’t want a baby — ever. And society judged me. As a reporter over 10 years, I met a lot of people every week. I was in peoples’ homes, at their offices, on the street, in courthouses, at malls … you name it. And almost every week, without fail, I would get asked if I had kids. No. How long have you been married? That long?! What are you waiting for? Rude! And none of your business! But somehow, that’s okay to ask a woman what the hell she’s waiting for! (And even though my husband has been asked this question on occasion, it is never with the frequency I have and it doesn’t come with the baggage I get.) Why aren’t you using your uterus to have babies?! What’s wrong with you?!
Exhibit B: A teenage rape victim finds out she is pregnant. She does not wish to carry the fetus to term and elects to have an abortion. Her right-wing father tells her she is going to hell. He says that the rape was her fault because she shouldn’t have been wearing those clothes or out where there were boys. And, he says, this is not the “unborn child’s” fault. He tells her if she has an abortion, he will throw her out of the house. So her choice becomes stay at home with her father, have a baby and try to finish high school or have an abortion, become homeless and try to finish high school. It’s a tough call either way. It’s a choice that will affect the rest of her life. She had the abortion. She couch-surfed with friends and sympathetic relatives until she could graduate high school. And yes, she went on to college. But it was a hard road. Why did you let someone violate your uterus that way?! You are a bad girl!
Exhibit C: A married, stay-at-home mother of two finds out she is pregnant because her birth control method failed. She and her husband are going through a financially difficult time. They’re still in their 20s and he’s just starting out in his career, the economy is bad and they simply can’t afford another mouth to feed. The mother, who was raised Catholic, decides that the best choice for her family is to have an abortion. She knows that if she has another baby her whole family will most likely go on welfare or other government subsidies and she does not want that and doesn’t feel like it would be fair to her other children. On the way into the clinic, antichoice activists scream at her, show her disgusting photos, push her and one antichoicer in particular steps in her path and gets right in her face. The antichoicer tells her that she is a selfish, murdering sinner who will burn in hell for having an abortion. But eventually she gets through the crowd and has her medical procedure. I will tell you how you can use your uterus and will become violent when I think you are using it incorrectly!
These are just a few of the stories I know from real people, friends and loved-ones. It isn’t fair that women have to face cruelty, brutality, hateful attacks, scorn, judgment, anger, scary situations and more just because she has a uterus! It makes me less equal and, frankly, less safe at times to have a uterus. And that’s just plain wrong.
So this is why I’m talking about abortion. This is why I have come to understand that without autonomy over my body, without decision-making authority over my reproductive health, I am not equal in our society. If I can’t decide to have a baby or abort a fetus — something that reduces me to my most biological level — then how can I ever expect to be treated equally in the workforce, not face gender-based discrimination and so much more. If I’m already considered less-than because of how I use my uterus, how can any of the bigger stuff ever get better?
This is why I have been participating in the National Abortion Funds’ Blogger Bowl-a-Thon this week. And this is why I hope you will donate to the cause, which will help women have access to abortions.