Friday, July 23, 2004

Freedom of Choice -- But Only On Certain Terms

Abortion seems to be the topic of the month at The New York Times. There was the June 20th article about aborting fetuses with disabilities, the July 18th article about Amy Richard's selective abortion, the article about the "abortion taboo" on television (also from July 18), and then there was the most recent one (July 22), by Barbara Ehrenreich.

Ehrenreich's article is, IMO, a good follow up to the (now infamous) Amy Richards article (although, interestingly, that is the one article Ehrenreich does not make mention of). In the aftermath of the Richards article, we've seen both anti-choicers and pro-choicers alike condemning her choice. The anti-choicers' condemnations come as no surprise -- but the pro-choicers' condemnation stings. Many seem to approve of "choice" -- but only on their terms.

As Ehrenreich says:
You can blame a lot of folks, from media bigwigs to bishops, if we lose our reproductive rights, but it's the women who shrink from acknowledging their own abortions who really irk me. Increasingly, for example, the possibility of abortion is built right into the process of prenatal care. Testing for fetal defects can now detect over 450 conditions, many potentially fatal or debilitating. Doctors may advise the screening tests, insurance companies often pay for them, and many couples (no hard numbers exist) are deciding to abort their imperfect fetuses.

The trouble is, not all of the women who are exercising their right to choose in these cases are willing to admit that that's what they are doing. Kate Hoffman, for example, who aborted a fetus with Down syndrome, was quoted in The Times on June 20 as saying: "I don't look at it as though I had an abortion, even though that is technically what it is. There's a difference. I wanted this baby."

Or go to the Web site for A Heartbreaking Choice, a group that provides support for women whose fetuses are deemed defective, and you find "Mom" complaining of having to have her abortion in an ordinary abortion clinic: "I resented the fact that I had to be there with all these girls that did not want their babies."

Kate and Mom: You've been through a hellish experience, but unless I'm missing something, you didn't want your babies either. A baby, yes, but not the particular baby you happened to be carrying.

The prejudice is widespread that a termination for medical reasons is somehow on a higher moral plane than a run-of-the-mill abortion. In a 1999 survey of Floridians, for example, 82 percent supported legal abortion in the case of birth defects, compared with about 40 percent in situations where the woman simply could not afford to raise another child.

But what makes it morally more congenial to kill a particular "defective" fetus than to kill whatever fetus happens to come along, on an equal opportunity basis? Medically informed "terminations" are already catching heat from disability rights groups, and, indeed, some of the conditions for which people are currently choosing abortion, like deafness or dwarfism, seem a little sketchy to me. I'll still defend the right to choose abortion in these cases, even if it isn't the choice I'd make for myself.

It would be unfair, though, to pick on the women who are in denial about aborting "defective" fetuses. At least 30 million American women have had abortions since the procedure was legalized, mostly for the kind of reasons that anti-abortion people dismiss as "convenience" - a number that amounts to about 40 percent of American women. Yet in a 2003 survey conducted by a pro-choice group, only 30 percent of women were unambivalently pro-choice, suggesting that there may be an appalling number of women who are willing to deny others the right that they once freely exercised themselves.
Personally, I'm exactly the opposite of those that Ehrenreich describes. I have far more problems, morally and ethically, with someone who aborts a previously wanted fetus simply because it is "defective" then with someone who aborts because they do not want a baby period (regardless of the reasons for not wanting said child).

But regardless of my moral and ethical views, I still value choice far too much to even attempt to regulate or legislate who can have an abortion and why.
Choice can be easy, as it was in my case, or truly agonizing. But assuming the fetal position is not an appropriate response. Sartre called this "bad faith," meaning something worse than duplicity: a fundamental denial of freedom and the responsibility that it entails. Time to take your thumbs out of your mouths, ladies, and speak up for your rights. The freedoms that we exercise but do not acknowledge are easily taken away.

Friday, July 16, 2004

What was that about feminists having no sense of humor?

I'm not a reader of The Funny Times, but ran across this and decided I just had to share it. Apparently, every month (or however frequent their issues are), some staff writer writes a letter to some company or organization with an absurdly stupid suggestion or question, and the magazine prints both the letter and the response. This was from the latest issue (I believe):

The letter (all emphasis in original):

February 20, 2004

Ms. Eileen Bresnahan
Chair, Women's Studies Department
Interdisciplinary House
Colorado College
14 East Cache La Poudre Street
Colorado Springs, CO 80903

Dear Ms. Bresnahan:

Time and again, I've heard the following complain: Men are not supportive of "women's issues." Not going to debate the validity of the charge, but merely offer a solution.

Years after realizing our liberal arts degrees were as potent as library cards, my friends and I came up with a new drinking game. We regularly attend feminist events (Take Back the Night, pro-choice fundraiser, Jewel concerts, etc...) and upon hearing the word patriarchy we chug beer. Ditto that for oppression. Any variation on "empowered" demands a double chug (that's two beers). And finally, when a sentence begins with: "as a woman, I feel that..." we pound the hard stuff.

Before the event lets out, we stumble home and play a similar game with reality TV programs and variations of the word "classy."

Now this might smack of paternalism, but just think about it: Promoting this game will mean more men attending your events where you can overcharge them for liquor and send them on their way before the evening's end. You could make a killing, even from -- or especially from -- conservatives.

Whadya say?

Kenneth H. Cleaver

The response (emphasis in original):

Kenneth H. Cleaver

PO Box 1034

Colorado Springs, CO 80901

Dear Brother in the Struggle Against Patriarchal Oppression:

Thank you for your provocative fundraising suggestion: consideration of this suggestion has been for us, as women, an empowering experience. The task of fighting patriarchal oppression and empowering the young women in our charge is daunting, and we are gratified to know that you and your friends do support us with your attendance and are willing to make such substantial financial contributions to our efforts. The Women's Studies faculty has alloted considerable time from our anti-patriarchy, anti-oppression, pro-women's-empowerment discussion to ponder your suggestion. As women we believe we should nurture any anti-patriarchy/pro-empowerment allies that come our way.

Unfortunately, Colorado College has strict rules about the availability of alcohol at school-sponsored events, so we are unable to serve or promote alcohol at our events. We realize that your motives are pure and that you undoubtedly have no interest in getting drunk yourself or in getting female students drunk; thus we are confident that you and your friends will be willing to pay for the words themselves without the alcohol. Beer costs about $3.50/glass in most of our local pubs. Since, however, this fundraiser is not about beer as much as it is about the good fight against patriarchal oppression, we, as women, are confident that you and your non-patriarchal buddies will be willing to pay $5/word. We encourage you to. Pay triple for phrase "as women, we feel" rather than engaging in more patriarchal violence. Further, from our experience, as women, we feel the hard stuff you're pounding is not as hard as you think.

We have responded as a collective and signed all our liberation names because, as we're sure you know, designating a spokesperson is the epitome of hierarchy and patriarchal oppression. As women, we feel we must resist such oppression and strive for empowerment in even the small things.

We imagine when you refer to "my friends and I" in your letter that the group you refer to is rather small. Surely, you have no more than two or three friends who can afford such an anti-patriarchal game. Being generous, let's say there are five of you committed to fighting oppression and helping us empower current and future generations of women. By our count of the words that inspire your game (see count below), we expect that each of you will forthwith send us a check for $280. You can check our events on the college web site. As women we look forward to your participation. Yes, indeed, let the killing begin.

In sisterhood,

Margaret Dykewomyn
Gay Gaywomyn
TomiAnn Freepersyn
Eileen Gertisdaughter
Gail Freewomyn
Tricia Patsdaughter

Eight "as women, we feel" = $120 * Seven "empower" = $70 * Ten "patriarchy" = $50 * Eight "oppression" = $40