Recently, US Presidential candidate Rick Santorum confirmed his commitment to stupidity when he declared that women should view a pregnancy that resulted from rape as a “gift from God” and carry it accordingly.
Socially conservative US presidential candidate Rick Santorum.
“I believe and I think that the right approach is to accept this horribly created, in the sense of rape, but nevertheless, in a very broken way, a gift of human life, and accept what God is giving to you.”
Hey y’all. Yours is not to judge. God moves in mysterious ways. Why not see it as a silver lining? It’s the right approach.
Unfortunately, views like Santorum’s aren’t all that uncommon.
Last month, a networking group was formed with aims to link select members of the ALP, including Environment Minister Tony Burke and Tasmanian Senator Helen Polley.
The group is linked to the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association, one of Australia’s most powerful and notoriously conservative unions and led by the vigorously anti-choice Joe de Bruyn. It’s title – Labor for Life – should leave no one guessing as to its primary objective.
The battleground on abortion has never been truly abandoned.
Every so often, the issue rears its divisive, morally contentious head and sends everyone tearing away to their activity bench to construct crudely painted placards featuring slogans like, ‘MY BODY MY CHOICE’, ‘MY MUMMY SAYS MURDER IS WRONG’ and ‘WHAT IF MARY HAD ABORTED JESUS?’.
Leaving aside the ineptitude of hypothetical moral quandaries, I think we can safely say that this is one issue that will never find its way out of the wilderness it’s been trapped in ever since people decided that women’s bodies belong to everyone but themselves, ie the dawn of time.
Luckily, there aren’t too many sides to choose from.
The legalisation of abortion procedures in the latter half of the 20th century led to a convenient political dichotomy in which defiant people could state their position. On the one side, there were those who believed in a woman’s right to self-determination, reproductive autonomy and the ability to decide for herself when or even if she wanted to become a parent.
We called those people ‘pro-choice’.
On the other side were those who had a peculiar understanding of biology, preferring to imagine the womb less as an environment in which a tiny embryonic fetus might grow into personhood, and more like one of those tents that all the wizards have in Harry Potter; deceptively small on the outside but big enough to house bunk beds, a rudimentary kitchen and a ping pong table behind the entrance flaps.
Within this magical sanctuary, they liked to imagine a fetus skipping through the fallopian tubes and playing pat-a-cake with the uterine wall. From the cosy hearth of its amniotic sleeping bag, it would dream of one day having the kind of job that requires gentle hands and a loving heart – a vet perhaps, or Georgie Parker.
It was held as incontrovertible fact that a fetus was more important than the woman carrying it, and that anyone who thought otherwise should be burned at the stake.
We called these people ‘pro-life’.
And this is where we went wrong.
Allow me to explain. I am a feminist. I have also had two abortions of which I am neither proud nor ashamed. I have yet to feel the enormous sense of guilt and depression that the anti-choice camp assures me is my destiny, and I have never for a moment regretted my decision.
Because of this, and after deep philosophical consideration of the issue, I would now describe myself as fervently pro-life; I am absolutely and whole-heartedly in pro respecting the life of any woman who finds herself facing an unwanted or unexpected pregnancy.
When it comes to the thorny issue of abortion, a woman’s life IS the point.
It’s time we reframed the debate to reflect that. By allowing anti-choicers to lay claim to the title of ‘pro-life’, we effectively concede that it’s okay to compare the already established life of a woman with the biological existence of an embryo.
Unfortunately, anti-choice activism goes even further, seeking to elevate the status of a fetus to above that of a woman. Let’s just be very clear about this. When these people say pro-life, they’re not talking about the woman whose life will be permanently altered by being forced to parent a child she either cannot care for or simply doesn’t want.
They’re talking about an embryonic fetus that is, at the average time of termination, approximately 2.5 cm long.
To put it in a simpler terms, a woman is seen as secondary to that of an entity that hasn’t even begun to develop the complexity of personhood, and is roughly the size of a small apricot.
I know we like to perpetuate the idea that the most satisfying and important thing a woman can do is have children, but for many of them that’s just not true.
For me, it was most certainly the opposite.
Had I chosen to have one of those babies – because the law of sliding doors dictates that there could only ever be one – I wouldn’t be working in a job that I find enormously fulfilling and stimulating, but that I also believe contributes in some small way to feminism, sociology and the cultural debate.
I’m validated by my decisions, because making them meant I could go on to live a life of my choosing – and I have never for a single moment regretted that decision. For that matter, neither have the countless women I’ve spoken to who’ve made similar choices, because they decided their singular autonomy was more important to them than being shamed into becoming a mother against their will.
And this is exactly no different than women who decide to have children, because they have envisioned a future that includes them.
Neither of us is more or less admirable than the other, because we have both acted with the intention of defining our lives as we see fit. I have a great deal of respect for women who choose to have children, and I will defend just as strongly their right to do so. But I have no less respect for those women who choose for their lives to have a different kind of meaning.
People like Rick Santorum and the members of Labor for Life claim the title of pro-life because they believe a woman’s life only exists to beget other, more important lives. By not fighting them on this definition, we’ve allowed them to equate the biological life of a fetus with that of a fully formed woman, even while we find ourselves arguing against that comparison.
We might not be able to convince these people to keep their sanctimonious politics away from women’s bodies.
But by taking back the term pro-life, we can at least send a message that the lives worth protecting first and foremost are those of the women who are already here and who deserve to be respected.
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*Clementine Ford is a freelance writer, broadcaster and troublemaker based in Melbourne. She enjoys cups of tea on stormy summer afternoons, men with beards and the collected works of Nancy Mitford. You can read more of her work at http://www.clementineford.com.au or follow her on Twitter @clementine_ford.