Choice Joyce: Let no fetus defeat us!

Choice Joyce

Essays from a pro-choice feminist liberal skeptic infidel activist (and animal lover)

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Let no fetus defeat us!

(trust women)

By Joyce Arthur

In today's abortion debate, the fetus looms large – larger than life one might say, given the giant posters of phony aborted fetuses the anti-abortion movement likes to parade around with.

There's been increasing demands lately for the American pro-choice movement to "face the fetus," to admit things like abortion kills a human being – or if not an actual human being, then at least something valuable and worthy of sober contemplation. We're supposed to worry that abortion rights may have gone too far, concede that abortion is bad, agree there are too many abortions, and work to reduce them. Towards that end, the anti-choice contingent wants to restrict both abortion and contraception by law to force women to have babies, while some pro-choice people would just prefer to put all women on birth control. Yes, we apparently have only two moral choices when it comes to this most urgent priority of saving babies – produce them fully-fledged, or make sure they never reach the single-cell stage to begin with. It's everyone's job now. Oh, except for women of childbearing age, who are just the passive receptacles for our baby and non-baby programs alike.

Being a woman myself, but not a passive receptacle, I've got a better idea. Let's just butt out of the whole thing. And trust pregnant women to decide what to do. Women have been having sex, getting pregnant, delivering babies, and yes, having abortions since the origin of the species. So I think we know what we're doing. We know what our needs and wants are, we understand our situations like no-one else can, and we care about our families and our futures. We can figure out by ourselves what's best for any particular pregnancy. When we want outside advice, we'll ask for it. Frankly, any unwanted interference with our decision insults our intelligence, our moral wisdom, and our very humanity.

Oh, but what about the fetus? Shouldn't everyone care about what happens to it? Well...NO, actually. And there are two good reasons for that:

A. Fetuses are not that important.
B. Fetuses are none of our business.

If that shocks and offends you, it's probably because you subscribe to one or more irrational and insupportable beliefs, which I'll get to in a moment.

First, let me emphasize that the crucial exception to both of these reasons is the pregnant woman. She has full authority and rights to consider her own personal fetus to be the most important and valuable thing in the world. Or not. She can judge it however she likes, and then decide whether it should live or die. It's her call and hers alone. Of course, if she's happily pregnant and wants to share her joy, it's incumbent on her friends and family to celebrate her fetus, too. But that's about it. If you think that a particular fetus deserves to be born regardless of the pregnant woman's view, then your opinion is based on irrational and insupportable reasons.

You might protest that, in a collective sense, fetuses should be “our business” if they are destined to be born, since we want them to enjoy happy, healthy, and productive lives once they arrive. But their health and welfare is best assured indirectly, by helping pregnant women access pre-natal care and resources. A pregnant woman wants a good outcome for her baby far more than anybody else, so all we have to do is give her the means to make it happen. Also, it’s well-documented that women, families, communities, and entire countries benefit in myriad ways when women have the power to decide if and when to have children, and how many they can adequately care for. These benefits can’t be fully realized without access to abortion, which makes abortion a moral positive that outweighs any supposed right-to-life of a fetus.

You might bristle at my claim that fetuses are "not that important." But remember that the vast majority of abortions are done when the fetus is really just a miniscule cluster of cells, or a mostly unformed entity about the size and shape of a cashew, maybe a Brazil nut. Regardless of its potential to become a human being, there is simply no physical comparison between an early fetus and a born baby. The latter also has rights and a legally-recognized existence, unlike a fetus. And there is certainly no comparison between an early fetus and a grown woman. A pregnant woman has sentience, rights, an established life, and a large web of connections to people who need and love her. The fetus does not. On those grounds, fetuses are simply not as important to us, socially speaking, compared to born babies or grown women. At least they shouldn't be.

But many people think fetuses are enough of a priority to allow interference with a woman's reproductive autonomy – some even believe that saving a fetus overrides a woman's own right-to-life. I see four possible reasons for such a stance, all equally irrational and insupportable.

1. Egocentrism - People identify personally with the fetus - after all, we were all embryos once. "That aborted fetus could have been me!" This view personifies the fetus, empathizing with its plight as if the fetus were part of one's own identity and personality, or at least anthropomorphizing it into a sentient being just like ourselves. Abortion symbolizes the possible non-existence of one's own self, a deeply frightening and intolerable prospect to many people. Rank-and-file anti-abortion people who seem to truly care about fetuses fall into this category, but many in the pro-choice "muddled middle" probably do too.

2. Soul-saving - Most anti-abortion people are deeply religious, and they may worry about the fate of the fetus' soul. If a fetus is aborted, it will never have a chance to be saved and go to heaven, unlike adult women who've had ample chance to convert to Jesus. Therefore, it's crucial that fetuses be born so they have a chance to be saved, while women's needs and circumstances hardly matter.

3. Fear of freedom - The anti-abortion mindset tends to adhere to the "strict father" authoritarian model. People's beliefs and behavior must be molded and controlled, especially since human nature is basically "sinful," as many people believe. They're convinced people need God to be good, or at least plenty of laws and rules. If left to their own devices, and given too much freedom, people will descend into irresponsibility, debauchery, and downright evil. Traditional roles for men and women also play an essential role in keeping everyone on the straight and narrow. When men are breadwinners and family heads, and women are faithful wives and mothers, the world becomes a safe and secure place. Rebels, such as women who have abortions, must be contained and punished because they upset the world order, make God mad, and risk his vengeance. Most right-wing leaders and activists are under the sway of Reason #3.

4. Fear of women - This reason encompasses sexist attitudes in general, but when it comes to abortion, it's rooted in the belief that women's primary, ennobling role is to bear and raise children. If a woman doesn't want that, there must be something wrong with her. Fear of women also means disapproving of and trying to control women's sexuality when it's freely expressed outside the context of marriage and procreation, or at least without the benefit of "true love" with that special person. Finally, fear of women includes fear of women's power and freedom in general. Educated, successful, independent, assertive women are still a scary threat to an awful lot of men, at least on some level. Keeping women busy with a brood of children removes much of that threat.

Anyone who subscribes to one or more of these irrational and insupportable beliefs, even unconsciously, will have at least some doubts about abortion rights. And the public face of those doubts usually centres on the fetus. Those who hold to Reasons 3 or 4 generally use the fetus as a cover, since people in our modern democratic society don't like to admit they're afraid of freedom or women, even to themselves.

Unfortunately, barely 20% of the population, perhaps considerably less, can actually rise above these irrational beliefs enough to completely trust women to make their own reproductive decisions. And when I say completely, I mean 100% pro-choice: Trusting women to abort for any reason they see fit (or no apparent reason at all). Having compassion for women's circumstances and tough life-and-death decisions. Understanding that women are far from perfect, but loving them anyway. Respecting women's right to have and enjoy sex whenever they want, with whomever they want, as often as they want. Accepting that women should never be morally judged for getting accidentally pregnant, because it's intrinsic to their biology to get pregnant when they have sex. Appreciating the sheer challenge of trying to avoid pregnancy over most of a lifetime of sexual activity. Knowing that birth control doesn't always work, or women can't always use it, or they can’t afford it or even access it. Sympathizing with women if they forget to use birth control or don’t want to use it, since contraception has many negative side effects, not the least of which is putting a damper on sexual pleasure.

Speaking of the inconvenience of birth control, it’s odd that men are not judged harshly for avoiding condoms and vasectomies, yet women are labelled “irresponsible” if they don’t want the bother, risks, and side-effects of birth control. The burden for contraception falls largely on women, but that’s all the more reason for us to be very forgiving when women accidentally get pregnant. Don’t get me wrong – artificial birth control is one of the greatest inventions of humanity, on a par with agriculture and creating fire. But advocating that all women use contraception overlooks the obvious — why not require men to pull more weight too? Why is it always women's behavior — more pointedly, their sexual behavior – that must be modified? Oh, right...Reason #4. Sadly, paternalism resides even in the hearts of many progressives.

Please, let's stop worrying about fetuses and entrust that job to each pregnant woman. She will take good care of her fetus because she's the one most capable of ensuring its best interests. That may mean aborting it if she's not ready or willing to take care of a baby. Once we truly trust and respect women, once we see them as full and equal human beings on a par with men, we will intuitively understand that the best way to protect fetuses and babies is by guaranteeing women's lives, health, rights, and equality. A pregnant woman is the only fetal advocate we need.

The heart of the abortion issue is inside the heart of a woman. Trust women. Let no fetus defeat us!


  • At 8:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Good luck on that whole caring about yourself thing you've got going. Hope it does well for you

  • At 9:01 AM, Blogger choice joyce said…

    Thanks, it does! Looking out for one's self is the natural, biological mandate of all living things, so I guess I just can't help myself. Of course, humans survive by being a socially cooperative species, so caring for others, especially those close to us, is important to our own survival too.

    You seem to think, however, that women should be required to sacrifice their hopes, dreams, aspirations, welfare, health, and lives to have babies, simply because they're women, it's their special duty, and they should feel guilty otherwise. That's an ideological view that contravenes human nature, but it's also a sexist view that is thoroughly refuted by my article. Which means you just don't get it. Which further means your insupportable and irrational fear of women is very deeply rooted.

  • At 9:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I guess that means I'm afraid of myself???? You seem to be full of ignorance and arrogance. Maybe you should quit assuming that you know how everyone thinks...kind of close minded.

  • At 10:18 AM, Blogger choice joyce said…

    Unfortunately, a lot of women are complicit in oppressing women, including themselves. I guess fear of freedom is inseparable from that.

    I don't "assume" I know what "everyone" thinks - in this case, I exposed the real meaning behind your words based on what I actually KNOW about typical anti-choice beliefs after years of research and connecting the dots.

  • At 6:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    When I was 13 yrs old I was "dating" a 28 yr old man. I got pregnant was scared to death. Coming from a family of nobodies I had plans for my life. My sister called the abortion clinic and put an X on the date I was to go. I cried almost every night until that appointment. That day I was numb. My boyfriend picked me up and drove the hour and a half. They gave me pills and told me to wait 20 min. They gave me an ultrasound and performed the abortion. I was crampy for a few hours and that was it.

    I am now 24 years old and have 3 amazing children that I love dearly. I do not regret my decision, but it still haunts me remembering the ultrasound pic of my baby. I cry sometimes and my husband comforts me. I am not against abortion, but what I am against is women that choose to get pregnant(by not using birth control, condoms, abstinence) and do so repeatedly because they know that they can have it "taken care of"

  • At 6:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I totallly agree!! some people are to tiny to have children,like me for a example!And if the government bands abortion in the U.S.A then they will have many women going across sea's to get the fetus removed.Or there will be many backstreet abortions,(wich of- coarse is VERY dangerious!!!)and the most desperate of all cuasidal attempts!!!

  • At 3:10 PM, Blogger Malacophile said…

    You sound like a lady who has her head on straight. I applaud your article. I cannot tell you how sick I am of hearing "nobody likes abortion but..." and "we can all agree that abortion is never a good thing...".

    Yes, it is a good thing. Abortion is an unmitigated good. And I like abortion. Had there been no abortion, I'd be saddled with 2 kids I never wanted, and would most likely feel hatred for and abuse.

    Sure, there are many "good" (depending on who you ask) reasons I had the abortions, but ultimate reason? I don't want kids. End of story.

  • At 3:18 PM, Blogger Malacophile said…

    Forgot to add-

    I'm also tired of people who try to shame women who have multiple abortions, accusing them of doing it as "some form of contraception".

    Bullshit, I say!

    Abortion is very expensive (depending on your socioeconomic status) and is often very painful, to boot.

    If you've had an abortion and then said that, then it must be nice to have all that extra money to piss away and a huge tolerance to pain (or the money to pay a private doctor to give you adequate drugs).

  • At 11:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Sorry for my bad english. Thank you so much for your good post. Your post helped me in my college assignment, If you can provide me more details please email me.

  • At 11:35 AM, Blogger choice joyce said…

    Hi there, thanks! If you do a Google search on the term "fetus focus fallacy" you will find some other materials I've written that may be useful to you.

  • At 10:38 AM, Blogger Porter said…

    So it comes down to this, your piece argues for men and women giving into carnal desires without regard or concern and in fact shouldn't be concerned because it's "nobody's business". The rest of your writing is cover for this.

    Well at least you acknowledge it is a life and death issue, you acknowledge there is life involved, other than the mothers?

  • At 11:30 AM, Blogger choice joyce said…

    Porter: Sex is a crucial and primal need, and procreation is just one purpose of it - it's primarily about pleasure and emotional bonding, and it's also good for you psychologically and physically. So yes, people should be encouraged to indulge as much as they like!

    It's an example of anti-choice stupidity that they think pro-choicers don't believe the fetus is alive. (It's a potential life, at best.) That's not the point. The point is, the woman's life (not just her physical existence but all aspects of her life) is FAR more important than the life of a fetus. Just like I said in the article - if you believe fetuses are more important than women, you're guilty of holding one or more irrational, insupportable beliefs.


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