I found myself thinking about this question last week while engaging in a twitter conversation with an anti-abortion rights individual. When he asked what I believed, I told him that I firmly believed in the right of a woman to choose to terminate a pregnancy pre-viability for ANY reason. When asked about post-viability, I started to give the standard “abortion should be permitted even then in cases of rape, incest, danger to the health or life of the woman, or in cases of fetal abnormalities.”
But then I paused.
If I truly believed what I’ve been saying about abortion, that the rights of a woman do (and MUST) trump the rights of a zygote, embryo, or fetus (ZEF), why was I trying to limit a woman’s access to the right to bodily autonomy by listing these exceptions to a restriction of that right? If a woman’s rights trump those of a ZEF, then they ALWAYS trump the rights of a ZEF. And if a woman’s rights always trump those of a ZEF, then legislating to take away those rights at any stage of pregnancy is wrong.
Believing this, and acting upon it, are what I truly think it means to be unapologetically pro-choice. The pro-choice movement, as a whole, often finds itself in the position of apologizing for women’s choice. Whether it be by focusing on whether or not there are exceptions – for example, rape, incest, life and health of the woman – to legislation restricting a woman’s access to abortion services (something I witnessed pro-choice legislators doing in spades while debating the recent DC Abortion Ban), or standing behind Roe (which was not, contrary to popular belief, a great decision for women), or getting behind the rallying cry of “safe, legal, and rare!”
If we truly believe that a woman’s right to bodily autonomy is sacred under the Constitution and under international human rights law, then we shouldn’t be concerned with the abortion rate or the number of abortions, except in terms of the impact they have on women and women’s health. And since the health risks of abortion are very low (much less than those for childbirth, particularly for early abortion procedures), those concerns should be minimal, as well. And we shouldn’t feel “good” or “okay” about legislation that restricts the right to access abortion services in any way, unless it is to improve the quality of such services. “Safe, legal, and rare”? Safe and legal, yes. But rare? What we should really be saying is that we want unwanted pregnancies to be rare, which, coincidentally, will lower the abortion rate.
Now, before any anti-abortion rights people gather their pitchforks and torches to storm my apartment, claiming that I want to rip 9 month fetuses from wombs, I think it’s worth noting that women at any stage of pregnancy, but particularly in later stages of pregnancy, don’t wake up one morning and decide to abort a fetus they’ve been gestating for 6, 7, 8, or 9 months for “funsies.” Particularly at these later stages, the decision is gut-wrenching for women, who have generally been carefully documenting their pregnancy, taking care of their body to provide the best for a growing fetus, waiting for the day when they will birth a baby. Most of the late-term abortions that take place occur to very much wanted pregnancies, in which something terrible has occurred, something that threatens the life or health of the woman, or when a tragic, potentially fatal, fetal anomaly has been discovered. And the number of abortions that occur at these late stages account for less than 2% of all abortions.
But even if this wasn’t the case, we still shouldn’t be legislating abortion.
Because, again, a woman’s right to bodily autonomy – that is, the right of a person who is already here – ALWAYS trumps the rights of a ZEF. Deciding when and for what reason(s) it’s “okay” for someone other than yourself to end a pregnancy is ALWAYS wrong. And believing and acting upon that belief, ladies and gents, is what I believe it means to be unapologetically pro-choice.
Till next time,