Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Confessions of a Teenaged Pro-Lifer

Preface:  I have been sitting on this for some weeks because, as a guy, I don't want to be That Guy who walks into a conversation about topics important to women and act as though everyone should listen to me; sometimes its better to listen than speak (difficult though that is for someone with my temperament).  That said, I wrote it, so I might as well post it.


Like a lot of people I've been following the case of Trayvon Martin's killing pretty closely.  Unlike many of them, I  have nothing intelligent to add.

So I'm going to dredge up a topic of discussion from two news cycles ago and talk about women's health and reproductive rights issues, which I started thinking about more during the whole birth control 'debate' and in that long-ago time when Santorum was actually winning primaries.

I'll start off by saying that I don't have a uterus and thus don't have as much to add  to any discussion about abortion or birth control  as a woman would -- my opinion on this subject has as much moral force as my opinions  on pet grooming.  But my opinion has changed a lot over time, and reflecting on my former opinions I think I understand the premises of the pro-life movement better than I might otherwise.

I've noticed that advocates for women's right to have a legal abortions will (justly) focus on the intrinsic sexism of forcing women to use their bodies as incubators for 9 months.  Metaphors often conceal more than they reveal, but forcing women to bear all conceived children to term would be a form of indentured servitude inflicted on women, and women only.  Thus, it is misogynistic, and those who would enforce this upon women are misogynists.

I have also sometimes heard pro-choice arguments that go on to say that this forced pregnancy is a form of punishing women for having sex, and that pro-lifers believe that women should be punished for 'unchastity.'

Now I would agree with both of the above statements, but I think that both need further explanation, particularly when figuring out how 'pro lifers' view women.

Back in my own pro-life days* I was one of those mushy middle people that didn't think abortion was murder, but thought it should only be legal in certain circumstances.  Partly I thought this because finding such a 'middle ground' position made me feel clever,  but at a deep level I think that abortion disturbed my moral sentiments --it felt wrong, so I figured it should mostly be illegal.  And yet calling it murder would logically dictate that abortion never be legal, even in cases of rape or dangerous pregnancies, and that was also upsetting to said moral sentiments.  So I went with what felt right -- abortions for some people some of the time, only if they were pregnant for a certain reason or in a certain (dangerous) way.

It should have upset my moral sentiments that women would  be forced to act as incubators for nine months, but it didn't.  I reasoned that getting pregnant was a risk of having sex, and that sometimes women would just have to live with it.  I wouldn't have framed the above statement in terms of punishment, and I doubt most pro-lifers would, even to themselves, even though 'punishment' is an apt characterization.  What's most striking to me about viewing pregnancy as a 'consequence' of sex (other than the logical holes in it) is that I was so easily content with that argument.  I don't think I really thought much about what it meant for women.

And I think that's where my own misogyny is most visible.  It's not that women were bad or destined to serve  men or whatever -- it's  that they and their welfare just didn't matter to me.  And I suspect that's at the heart of a lot of pro-life feeling today -- women just don't matter.  That is what pro-life arguments are -- an attempt to either ignore women completely or minimize them and their experience, so that we can get back to the important business of saving fetuses.  It is sexism, whether or not it is attended by overt statements that women are meant for motherhood or that babies are God's punishment for sluttiness.  And to me the most convincing argument against such a line of reasoning is to simply point out what it omits -- women -- and to place the rights of women at the center of the question.

*I was teenaged, and had never dated anyone.  I was not sheltered by my parents, but the opposite sex was off the radar save in the most furtive way.  The idea that people had premarital sex kind of scared me -- not sure where I got this, as I didn't have a conservative upbringing or anything.  My prudery was very much my own.  Oddly enough, it evaporated over several years as I started dating.

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