Monday, November 17, 2014

Response to "A Feminist Case Against Abortion"

In October, I went to a lecture at Seattle University titled, "A Feminist Case Against Abortion," led by the president of Feminists for Life (FFL). I went because the title of the lecture made my blood boil and I wanted to counter FFL with some pointed questions. As it turned out, I wasn't alone. The atmosphere after the lecture was tense. Many of us felt that the speaker was trying to avoid the promised Q&A, so we kind of forced it to happen. I admit that I lost my cool for a moment when it became obvious that direct questions weren't going to get direct answers. Afterward, I went out with friends both new and old for Dirty Shirley-fueled rants.

After the lecture, I wrote this response:

Feminists for Life’s president, Serrin M. Foster, is not an unlikeable person. When my friends and I arrived at Student Center #210, she warmly greeted us at the door. At the beginning of her lecture “The Feminist Case Against Abortion,” Foster thanked feminists and anti-abortion attendees alike for coming to listen to a “different perspective.” She lamented it as “disheartening” that anti-abortion and pro-choice people spend eighty percent of the time arguing with each other, rather than focusing on the “unrealized dreams of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton” and the “unmet needs of women.” The problem isn’t Foster specifically, it’s this: there isn’t a feminist case against abortion. While I appreciate open dialogue and support everyone's right to speak her piece, FFL’s position is a damaging one not only to women and to reproductive choice, but to feminism as well.

As much as I appreciate the foremothers of feminism and the work they did in support of human rights, I would argue that they were neither infallible, nor do their “dreams” take precedence over the personal needs and choices of women. I do, however, agree with Foster that pregnant and parenting women deserve better and more visible resources than are currently available, and I admire the vision of “a society that supports the role of mothers, values the role of fathers, and helps parents provide both financial and emotional support for their children.” An exercise at the end of Foster’s lecture demonstrated that even SU lacks many important resources on-campus, either outsourcing those needs to external community partners or ignoring them completely.

However, conspicuously absent from FFL’s website and from Foster’s speech is mention of support of and funding for comprehensive sex education, accessible reproductive health, and affordable birth control options, which are all correlated with a reduced rate of unintended pregnancies that often result in abortion; this would seem to belie FFL’s stated mission to “systematically [eliminate] the root causes that drive women to abortion,” since an important factor in a woman’s decision to have an abortion is the presence of an unwanted pregnancy. Furthermore, by directly targeting abortion rather than the root causes of injustices against women and parents, Foster and FFL conflate the issues of discrimination, stigma, and poverty with abortion - implying that abortion is actually to blame for those issues - and distract from their more proactive goals and achievements.

Even if we lived in a country with a flawless record of obstetric care, paid maternity and paternity leave, subsidized child care, and other important resources that pregnant and parenting women require, some women still would not want to be pregnant, and as such there would still be a need for safe, legal, accessible abortion care in the event of accidental pregnancies. If such resources did not exist, we have seen throughout history that women would still find ways to terminate unwanted pregnancies, often at the expense of their own lives.

I am a pro-choice feminist, a label that I find redundant but that must be explicitly stated when a belief so erroneous - that a person can be both feminist and anti-abortion - is floating around. Support of bodily sovereignty - the right of a person to exclusive control over her own body - is a fundamental tenet of feminism. Women must be free to choose abortion or motherhood of their own volition and without coercion or social pressure. To be a pro-choice feminist is to support both the women who want abortions and the women who want children, to recognize that intersections between the two exist, and to work toward eliminating stigma and increasing resources for both options. While one can be a feminist and not personally choose abortion for herself, the anti-abortion position that seeks to prevent or discourage ALL women from accessing abortion is one that is inherently UNfeminist. You cannot reconcile a feminism that trusts, respects, and supports women with actively working to take away women’s rights to make their own decisions about their bodies. “Pro-life feminist” is a poisonous oxymoron.

I'm also quoted in the SU student paper!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Pin It button on image hover