In response to my post yesterday, the lovely Catherine asks:
I’ve tried to understand the Choice viewpoint, and I earnestly desire to do so. I would never, ever condone a man or a woman or the government or any power deciding when a woman should give her body over to a child. But I get confused over how the anti-abortion arguments are asking for that. Isn’t sex what leads to conception, after all? I ask, with all friendliness and desire to learn another’s viewpoint – doesn’t a woman by nature make that choice when she becomes one of the willing pair?
First, I must point out that Catherine is in a tiny minority. Most people are not looking to understand the other side’s view on this. Most people are not respectful in their questioning. I am honored to try to answer Catherine’s question and invite others who wish to also respectfully reply to do so in the comments section. Rude, judgmental, or otherwise unpleasant comments will be returned to the sender wrapped in a package of dog doody.
Now, to Catherine’s question. Well, the most obvious response is that sex does not always happen between a willing pair. There are cases of outright rape that lead to conception. There are also less horrifying instances in which people are not forced by a particular partner but are, rather, coerced by a life situation.
While I agree with Jen’s point that personal anecdotes have little to do with policy on this, I would, in the spirit of openness, like to share a story from my own past to illustrate my point. Back before I met my wonderful husband, I had the self-esteem of a rather slimy slug (although, for all I know, slugs may have very high self-esteem). I had lived through a very rough childhood and adolescence. I was lucky to come out alive, let alone functional.
But, of course, I wasn’t completely functional. And I took my clothing off more often than I should have, and not because I was a free spirit or anything like that. I didn’t particularly enjoy sexual activity; but it was a good way to get some affection. The only way I could see. This past is not something I am proud of, but it’s not something I am ashamed of, either. I wish I had thought more of myself at the time.
I was lucky. Nothing horrible happened. I got no diseases. No condoms broke. But I did end up having sex with someone I did not like. And, although I said “no” early in the evening, I think it would be pretty fair to say that by the end, I gave the impression of being “willing.” To myself and to him.
I was “willing” only because my past had made me think so little of myself that I thought sex was pretty much all I had to offer. I had been a victim for fourteen of the previous nineteen years. There hadn’t been much time for me to learn about myself and the world. So, was I legally “willing? Absolutely. It was in no sense rape. But, was I really choosing to be in this situation as a healthy, mature adult? Hell, no.
Had the condom broken, I would not have gotten pregnant. That’s because I had fertility issues, but there was no way of knowing that. And should I have then been forced to carry a child I was in no way ready for because I was too much of a basket case to have the sense to keep my clothing on?
So, the word “willing,” even when it can be applied to a sexual situation, is at best inadequate. And we all know there are many, many sexual situations much worse than the one I was in. Should we allow abortion only in the case of rape? Well, it’s better than no abortion, but frankly I think there are a lot of women who might not have been raped in the moment of conception but who had been long battered and bruised on their way to that moment. And it would be awfully hard to craft a law that said “abortion in the case of rape or tragically low self-esteem.”
Not that we should, of course. Because every situation is different. Sexuality is complex and fraught with all levels of human emotion. And legislation does not belong in the bedroom. While in a perfect world all sex would be between two mature people able to accept the consequences of their mutual choice, also in a perfect world I would be six foot two and blonde.
There was a piece in Brain, Child awhile back that – frankly – appalled me. It was by a woman – happily married with a couple of kids – who chose to abort a pregnancy. She had the money to support the child and she planned on having another kid. She just wasn’t ready right at that moment. In fact, she went on to have a planned pregnancy a few months later.
The essay bothered me. While I believe abortion ought to be available to anyone who feels the need, that kind of egotistical belief that she should only bear a child if it absolutely suited her at the moment repulsed me. However, her point (and I believe a correct one) was that if we allow abortion, we must allow it to whomever sees the need. It is not for anyone other than the person carrying the child to assess how urgent that need is.
Make no mistake – I think that woman is repugnant. I really do. But it’s not for me to tell her what to do with her body. It’s not for anyone to say, “Well, you had sex. I think it was probably lovely, consensual sex. So, have the baby.”
Ideally, we would live in a world where every woman respected her soul, her mind, and her body – including the awesome power of the reproductive system – enough to only have sex when she was in a beautiful relationship. Ideally, we would live in a world where every man respected women that same way. But, that world would also include a legal system that respected women and their bodies – including that awesome reproductive system – enough to let women control their bodies.
(Someone else can get into things like medically necessary abortions if you like. Or how every child should be wanted before being brought into the world. I threw my back out a few days ago, and if I sit at the computer any longer I am going to need traction.)