In my previous post, I talked about Georgia HR 954, a bill that would move the cutoff point for abortions to 20 weeks and limit the circumstances under which which abortions can be performed in the state. I addressed some specific problems with the language of that bill in the post.
Now I’d like to talk a bit more about why broadly-written legislation like this is problematic, and why this debate is not so simple as “kill children” vs. “don’t kill children”.
Soraya Chemaly of the Huffington Post has compiled an excellent roundup of information on this topic, entitled 3 Videos Everyone Who Assumes Women Are Free Should See.
The first video tells the stories of women who were criminalized for wanting to have their babies on their own terms. In other words, their stories aren’t about abortion at all–they’re about when and how the women and their partners wanted to bring their children into the world. Why were hospitals interfering in these decisions? Because the state governments had passed “personhood” laws for zygotes, giving doctors the right to supersede mothers. In one instance, law enforcement came to a woman’s home, dragged her to the hospital, and forced her to have a C-section. In America.
As Chemaly points out, the “personhood” idea behind these laws is the same thing as the Personhood Pledge most of the Republican candidates for president signed. What does this mean? That these men have promised to, if elected, work to grant “personhood” to life inside the womb at fertilization. So, for example, if a woman has a miscarriage, she could be charged with feticide.
What this sort of law ignores is that women are not incubators. Here’s how Chemaly puts it:
I’m not keen on pitting a woman’s rights against those of her fetus. Although useful to understand certain issues, it sets up a false and misleading dichotomy. Gestation, during which a woman chooses to share her body in complex, fully integrated ways, is the exact opposite of separation. Women are not separate from their fetuses. A key strategy of this movement is to pretend that they are and to enshrine that idea in dangerous laws. Women are not production facilities or vessels or any number of other updated variations of spermist theory homunculous container. But, because of the constructs being established by this movement on “behalf” of zygotes, a hospital can waive your right to life, in violation of your or your family’s instructions, to save your fetus.
I think there is an interesting social aspect to consider here. A lot of the female advocates of “personhood” for zygotes and/or stiffer abortion legislation are mothers. Mothers are exceedingly familiar with self-sacrifice. It comes naturally to them. They give up much and more for the good of their children. Some women do so happily, others reluctantly, but all eventually become some sort of martyr, some sort of hero. To these women, their own lives don’t matter. To these women, an abortion would be a failure, regardless of circumstance.
I am not a mother myself, and I probably never will be due to infertility…but these feelings are not foreign to me. I held them throughout my young adult life as a fervent anti-abortionist. I knew–knew–that I would give up my life for my child, without hesitation. I was convinced that my theoretical child deserved to live more than I did, and that if there was ever a time when a pregnancy threatened my health, I would choose the baby over myself. Even if the baby was in danger and I was not, I’d choose it over myself. If I was ever raped, I fervently believed that I would raise that child and make something good out of something terrible. If I knew that my child would be born with severe physical or mental disabilities, I would have it and love it, because it would be my baby, and the difficulty would make me stronger. Knowing ahead of time would just give me time to prepare.
Abortion, for me, was simply not an option, and I didn’t see how any woman could feel differently.
This is where the problem begins. When you believe everyone should think the same way you do, and you start supporting legislation that forces them to follow your way of living.
Time has passed, and my opinion has shifted. I am no longer certain what my decisions would be in the situations above. I spent much of my young life hating myself, believing I wasn’t worth anything, and those feelings informed my decisions. Now I have come to see at least a little of my own worth, and I am not so eager to sacrifice myself.
I am not saying that I would not do it. Technically, we all give things up every day just to maintain the status quo. Compromise is the cornerstone of any relationship, and we all have at least one person we must compromise with. I am not just doing what I want, living as if I don’t affect the world; instead, I am seeing my value and place in it, and thinking more broadly than I was before.
And because my opinion has shifted, I can now see that there are times when an abortion might be the right decision for a family. It will always be a painful decision. But now I see that it is one to be made by the people involved: the mother, the father, the doctor. Not by blanket legislation that ends up taking reproduction decisions out of the home and handing them to the state.
I am not in favor of late-term abortions; once a fetus is to the point that it could survive outside the womb, it is unconscionable to terminate its life. I am interested in the fetal pain issue and will continue researching the studies that have been done in that vein; someone on Facebook sent me some references to look into. Ultimately, if there is going to be an abortion, I think it should happen as early as possible.
But there may come a point when it’s obvious to everyone involved that something needs to be done, and broad, restrictive legislation only causes further pain in those instances.