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Sunday, March 12, 2006

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last night sven, michaelmas & i saw nochnoi dozor at cinema 21, a russian vampire/fantasy film that i quite enjoyed. but because my head has been wrapped up in the frustrating erosion of abortion rights, i couldn't help filtering the film's premise through an anti-abortion lens: the protagonist accepts the "sin" of an abortion at the hands of an evil (and literal) witch to get what he wants, then finds himself face-to-face with the consequences of that action 12 years later and regrets it. i understand it from a storytelling lens; it's not much different than the angel/connor relationship, where the action you take today leads your child to to choose darkness despite your best intentions. later i realized that the russian culture about abortion probably isn't as polarized or moralized as it is here after decades of using it as a method of family planning (ref), so it didn't necessarily carry all the same conotations (and in fact, may have been used *because* it's so familiar to that audience). still, i desperately don't want anyone to see the movie and think, "aha! see, abortion is WRONG!"

i consider myself pro-child, pro-family, pro-choice, in contrast to those who are anti-contraception, anti-abortion, anti-welfare: i don't think ANY woman should be forced to _give birth_ to a child if she doesn't want to (this is different than "having a child," for those who think adoption is the answer). i don't like having to contribute to the culture of conflict by stating a side, because i think there's too much of that already: red vs blue, breeder vs leech, etc.

i want wanted children. none of my pro-choice beliefs conflict with the desire for women who WANT to be mothers to get to be supported and nourished in their decision. but i've been feeling hopeless and distraught as i see states pass laws outlawing abortion almost entirely and erasing the rights of women (and that some women, at least, are voting against those rights, really depresses me). it feels like we are so in love with potential we don't cherish what we have, only what will be. why isn't the life & future of the person who is *already alive* worth protecting?

and i don't know what to do to combat the sudden appearance of "no kidding? i had fingerprints 9 weeks from conception" billboards i've seen all over portland lately. if i could rent out space on a billboard on the opposite side of the street, what would it say? i don't know if "my body, my choice" has the same impact it used to and looks sort of selfish next to poor baby nick. i'm looking for a slogan that doesn't seem like an opinion (i mean, how can you argue w/ _fingerprints_?) or immediately cause a "oh, no, you're not!" sort of reaction.

ultimately, i fear the issue is unresolvable: do you feel that life begins at conception or not? because if you do believe it, i see how you would have to argue against abortion as a form of murder. but if you don't, then fight like hell to keep abortion legal, because otherwise, as in all arguments, the people with the loudest voices will win.

"no kidding? i had fingerprints 9 weeks from conception"

Where to even begin...

I'll be writing essays about abortion all too soon, so I guess I'll just rant a little in support.

To the folks behind the billboard I say: Yes, and chimpanzees have fingerprints too. And your pet dog -- look at the pads of its feet. It has "fingerprints" too.

The radical vegetarian voice in my mind wants to go around altering all those bumperstickers that say "abortion stops a beating heart" -- to say "STEAK stops a beating heart".

Slogans are inherently imprecise, but I feel it's worth pointing out that "pro-life" means only human life. ...And the symbols of "humanity" that the anti-abortion forces use, don't really say anything about whether or not a fetus is a person -- these are aspects of all animal life.

But of course, I'm just spitefully tearing apart the billboard's words. The actual thrust of the matter is that anti-abortion folks think fetuses are persons, like you and me. (Or at least, I would like to project this ethical concern into them. Maybe a great many of them are purely motivated by a wild-eyed emotion so deafened by sentimentality as to hear no reason.)

The notion that "fetuses are persons" is genuinely worth talking about.

Let's start by rejecting the notion that "life begins at conception". The statement is literally true; but the intent is to say that a fertilized egg is a person. It's ridiculous to suggest that a ball of two or four or eight cells is a person the same as you or me. What distinguishes it from plankton? It's no more intelligent...

It's different from animals because it has the potential to become an adult human being. Well, this is true -- but if we're going to go down that route, then sperm and eggs have that potential too. Is it murder to let eggs and sperm not be fertilized? Is it murder for a male to masturbate? These are specious, rhetorical questions -- but they're all that a reductio ad absurdum argument like "life (personhood) begins at conception" deserves in response.

OK, let's go to the other end of the pregnancy, when the fetus is just about to be born. Is the fetus a person then?

I have no qualms about calling a newborn a person. If we could roll time backwards, and the newborn could crawl back into the womb -- it hardly seems less a person now than when it was outside of the womb a moment before.

But here's the problem: What right would that newborn have to go back into its mother's womb? If the mother didn't want the baby there, then the baby would be committing rape. A fetus/baby has no more right to inhabit a woman's body than does an adult man who would like to have his penis inside of her.

And so, my own slogan would be: "an unwanted pregnancy IS rape".

Of course, it's a slogan again, and so there's imprecision here. Whereas an adult male rapist chooses his actions, the fetus comes into existence "innocently".

In my world-view, a woman's right to control what is inside her body is absolute. If she refuses a man's desire to be inside her, then that will must be obeyed. If she refuses a cancer permission to be in her body, it must be removed. If she chooses to drink, smoke, or do drugs, it is her absolute right to take these things inside of herself -- so long as she is able to keep her altered self from impinging upon the rights of the people around her.

Whatever is inside of your body, you own.

So, if the woman wants the fetus out of her, this will must be obeyed. This is not the same thing as saying that the fetus must be aborted. If the fetus can survive outside of the woman's body, then we can discuss whether or not it has a right to live. If the fetus is not viable however, then its "life" (personhood?) is forfeit. The fetus is a parasite that has no right to draw sustenance from the woman.

If you want to argue that the woman has some sort of responsibility to feed the fetus from her own body, I don't see how this can be asserted without a punitive air. Maintaining the pregnancy is punishment for having sex and conceiving in the first place? No.

In my heart of hearts I am an absolutist: Unwanted pregnancy is rape, therefore a woman has the right to terminate her pregnancy even when she is at the point of being in labor.

However, even I can hear how this takes an ideological principle to an extreme. I am open to discussing compromise. I could live with there being a deadline for choosing to have an abortion, after which the woman is obligated either to see the pregancy through, or to have the fetus removed via C-section. This compromise point would be viability: whether or not the fetus could live indepentently of its mother.

Viability is the compromise that we achieved when Roe v. Wade was decided. It has been whittled away by anti-abortion extremists, who want to equate the fertilized egg with a person. The compromise that existed has been destroyed.

And so, I am left spluttering, and gearing myself up to fight back in the strongest ways I know possible.

"The abortion issue", never was entirely about abortion -- but more than ever it's clear to me that the real issue here is a woman's right to control her own body. We are already in the realm of the absurd, so there's no reason to think that the old causes against contraception and dildos (which never actually died) won't be knocking on our door again.

Outlawing abortion is just one part of a broader vision. "Focus on the Family", that outrageous Right Wing organization, is aptly named... The vision is one where we are obedient to the supposed will of an Old Testament god, who commands that women be obedient to men, that women should be the sexual property of their husbands within a marriage contract, homosexuality is outlawed, a man has the right to use violence to discipline his wife and children... This is "tradition".

If only "the abortion issue" were really about abortion and whether or not fetuses are persons... Then I would call upon all who are anti-abortion to "walk the talk" by adopting a child; I'd call on them to be people of good conscience by making sure that the children who are born are truly nurtured -- not hit, nor abandoned to poverty.

But no. This is about ownership. The desire of evangelicals to own all of us as their flock. The desire of men to own women's bodies...

The child must obey the mother; the mother must obey the father; the father must obey the king (president); the king must obey God.

Or rather, that is the power structure that the Right Wing strives to put in place, using whatever billboard works... The churchly who claim to represent God try to hijack the government; the government tries to claim that it is following holy inspiration; men try to reassert control over women's bodies; everyone under 18 is told that they must get their parents' consent before doing... nearly anything.

Grrrrrrrrrr. Arg.

(There. I almost pulled off a rant! :-P )
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