Saturday, January 24, 2015

Why You Should Be a Pro-Choice Activist, No Excuses

Being involved and caring about pro-choice activism sometimes feels gauche and illicit. It feels, ironically, unfeminine. It's demeaning and has often made me fear for my safety. As such, I don't generally put my activism, through which I've learned many desirable work skills, on my CV, to prevent possible discrimination. And while it's such a big part of my life -- how I spend my time, with whom I spend it, and how I think about the world in general -- I don't often mention it to people I've just met unless I'm sure that they are pro-choice.

This is all kind of incongruous because part of the work I do revolves around de-stigmatising abortion. You'd think I'd practice what I preach. And I do...but not always. To me, this illustrates the power of the patriarchal claim over women's bodies and behavior. Fighting for the most basic right, control over your own body, should be just one of those things we all agree is important.

Except, it's not one of those things.

And that's because some people do have control over their own bodies, and they don't really want to think about what it means that a great many others do not. Generally, if you are a man, or if you have enough money to take time off work and travel, if you have access to contraception, or if you have never been and never will be raped, never get cancer or another terminal illness while pregnant, or never have a pregnancy with a fatal foetal abnormality, then you should probably count your blessings and it's quite likely you are calmly chillin' and living your life feeling pretty (relatively) secure in your bodily autonomy. And you may not think you need to think about the indelicate issue of abortion.

Even just the word sounds so...harsh and impolite. Abortion. It's not pretty and soft like the word meadow.

So if you don't need to worry about access to abortion, for whatever reason, good for you. And maybe you aren't the kind of person who cares about the less fortunate. If that's the case, go ahead and stop reading right now. But if you care about the world and human rights, even a little bit, you'll start thinking about abortion a lot more. Because it turns out that fighting for abortions rights is about a LOT more than abortion, and if you think otherwise, it's time to get your head out of the sand and look around.

I was recently disturbed by a conversation I had with someone about the Miss Y case in Ireland. I was explaining that Miss Y was a woman who immigrated to Ireland after being raped in her previous country. After she arrived, she discovered she was pregnant from that rape. It's a long story, and I won't go into every detail here, but she was suicidal, as you can imagine. Despite the new law that supposedly allows suicidal women to access abortion, she was denied, despite going on hunger and thirst strike. In fact, she was force fed and strung along, made to believe she would be able to abort. Meanwhile, the foetus had a team of lawyers. Literally. Basically, they stalled her abortion access until her pregnancy was at just over 25 weeks, at which point they presented her with a supposed solution: cesarean section to deliver the baby. Imagine having to deliver the offspring of your rapist without your consent. They took the words "termination of pregnancy" and twisted them. Sure, they terminated the pregnancy. But not in the way that was best for the patient. She is permanently traumatised.

As I told the story, it wasn't until the part where she had the C-section against her will that my listener chimed in. "I mean, nevermind about the abortion, that's a real violation of human rights!" they said. I've rolled that response over and over in my mind. It never occurred to me that some people aren't making the connection between abortion access and human rights.

When the law or lack of access forces some people to be pregnant, but not other people, it's a violation of human rights. If some people are denied basic health care, but not others, it's a violation of human rights. When you get to a point where a person is having a baby cut out of her that she doesn't want to give birth to, a serious violation has already happened.

I want to have control over what happens to my body at all times. Don't you? I don't want to be punched, raped, stabbed, shot, operated on, or pregnant against my will. There are lots of reasons why people don't want to be pregnant. Too many to name. You might think none of them matter. You might think some of them matter. You might think only one or two of them matter. But that's your business. Personally, I would be overjoyed if smoking was magically eliminated across the world and I also think that smoking is morally wrong. But that's my business and my belief that I acknowledge shouldn't be pushed onto other people. Morality has nothing to do with abortion. It has to do with the fact that people who don't want to be pregnant become enslaved when they are forced to carry that pregnancy. Forced pregnancy is a human rights issue.

Women seek access to abortion. Women have always sought access to abortion. Women will always seek access to abortion. Whether you think it's morally right or wrong. And guess what happens when governments make it difficult to access abortion? Women die. Being denied the right to be pregnant or to not be pregnant forces women to terrible measures.

And while I'm here, I just want to state the obvious: abortion is not murder, and I feel sorry for you if you've been brainwashed by religious child abusers. You've obviously never actually read the Bible. (And p.s. foetuses do not feel pain.)

You know what, though? That's not even what I want to say.

If you don't care about your own rights, or the rights of people you don't know and will never know, and if you aren't willing to give up some of your spare time to fight for those rights, actually reading this may not make a bit of difference. It's just that abortion access is being etched away around the world, and fast. And I don't want to sound all paranoid and conspiracy theorist, but they're not just going for our abortion rights. They're going for complete control over women's bodies.

If you think I'm being hyperbolic, take this case from a few weeks ago in Ireland, where a brain dead woman was kept on life support because she was pregnant.  Or the many, many cases where women who've had miscarriages have been criminally charged.

The most important thing you need to understand is that even if you live in a country where abortion is "legal," unless it's available to everyone, no matter where they live, no matter how much extra cash they have, no matter what their age, then its legality is null and void. Legality without access is useless. According to an article in the Guttmacher Policy Review by Boonstra & Nash, in the United States, "more state abortion restrictions were enacted in 2011 - 2013 than in the entire previous decade." And they're not talking about a couple of laws. In those three years, a whopping 205 anti-abortion laws were passed. Considering there are only 50 states, that's kind of...staggering.

If you're in America and you feel all comfy with Roe vs. Wade, just take a look at Spain. Last year, they came dangerously close to outlawing abortion, hoping to model themselves after Irish law (which effectively and logistically outlaws abortion in all cases). According to Boonstra & Nash, "The majority of women now live in [US] states hostile to abortion rights: Between 2000 and 2013, the proportion of women living in restrictive states almost doubled from 31% to 56%." Yes, the "majority of women." (For more info on what this means, read this article by Katie Klabusich.) But the women most affected by anti-abortion laws are poor women (which includes those with residency or documentation issues), women in abusive situations, and women who are ill (physically or mentally). 

YOU need to be advocating for those women, and all women. If you don't, who will? On top of abortion access, the right wing money machine is making more and more progress gaining control over women's access to sexual health care, birth control, domestic violence aid, supports in cases of rape, and more. Reproductive rights are human rights. Stop thinking that this problem isn't going to get much worse. The Catholic church and the rich white dudes in public office have money at hand that's probably inconceivable to most regular people. And with that money comes control over public opinion from the pulpit to the news stand. They throw us into the "good abortion/bad abortion" trap and try to distract us from demanding our rights by trying to put their hypocritical so-called morals on us. It's ridiculous but it's happening and they are winning.

STOP thinking that social media "activism" is going to stop anti-abortion laws. Find out who your lawmakers are and contact them, letting them know that bodily autonomy is important to you and that you're watching how they vote. Find out what pro-choice activist groups are in your area and give them money and time. Keep tabs on demonstrations happening in your area and attend them with signs that show your pro-choice spirit. Look up organisations that help fund women in areas with no access to abortion to travel, take time off work, and pay for child care and see if you can get involved or donate. Find out what the laws are in your state or country and then reach out to groups working to improve those laws and see if you can lend a hand. 

I'm just so tired of seeing that the majority of the people I know are pro-choice in some form or another, yet they do nothing but complain on facebook and twitter when these anti-abortion laws are passed. It's all well and good to be working towards personal success and happiness, but if you leave those less fortunate in the dust, how can you really feel good about it? 

Some resources to check out:
Womancare Global
 RH Reality Check
Abortion Rights Campaign

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