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Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Thoughts on choice

The March for Women's Lives is coming up this weekend, and thoughts about birth control, abortion and the meaning of "choice" are crowding my head.

*I watched the episode of Sex and the City where Miranda falls pregnant and can't go through with the abortion. For once, it's not the usual cop-out episode about the unwanted pregnancy where the woman (usually very young) becomes pregnant, can't go through with the abortion because it's wrong, and is rewarded with a miscarriage. Miranda has the baby and it's portrayed as a real choice. She doesn't get out of an abortion because it's wrong, but because her reproductive system is all goofy and she thinks it may be her last chance. There was no talk about the "baby" in any real sense; when Carrie's doofus boyfriend says something about Miranda's baby, she reminds him that there won't be a baby.
Miranda doesn't have an abortion, but that doesn't mean the show gets away with pretending that abortion never happens like other shows do. Carrie and Samantha talk freely about having abortions in the past. Samantha doesn't feel guilty; Carrie does but only because she is afraid, as many women are, that she will be judged unfairly. Even the ridiculousness of adoption as a handy alternative was given its due. Miranda is pregnant and doesn't want to be; Charlotte wants to be pregnant but can't be. When Carrie's doofus boyfriend jokingly suggests a swap, she points out that it's not like giving away a sweater.
The show also dealt well with the subject of men and their part in all of this. It's the big bugaboo no one wants to deal with, in no small part because so many men just want to dig their heels in and demand control over things they have no right to control. But still, it takes two to tango and the question was whether men have a right to know if they have impregnated a woman. But knowledge is power and a man who knows that he has gotten a woman pregnant is bound to feel that he has a say is what she chooses next. There's not a right answer, but it's good that somebody feels brave enough to ask the question.

*I liked that episode alot because a friend and I kicked around the ethics of telling the guy who got you pregnant that you were getting an abortion. Neither of us had been in that situation, but both of us felt like that just as it's a woman's choice to get an abortion it's her choice to involve who she will in that decision. Of course, on a realistic level, if you get an abortion behind the back of a long-term boyfriend or husband, there's serious issues that need to be dealt with and we would support completely a male friend who had to split with a woman for that. However, we agreed that if a friend came to us and asked to help with an abortion and she wasn't telling the guy for whatever reason, we would respect her decision completely and support it however we could.
To get a male perspective, I asked my boyfriend. Putting himself in his immediate circumstances, he said he would feel betrayed if it happened to him. I pointed out that yes, it would be a betrayal in his current circumstances, since he had a long-term girlfriend. He said, yes, he would mostly like to help as he could. But if a female friend asked for his help and had reason not to tell the guy who got her pregnant, he would trust her judgement and help how he could, he said.

*I had to sit in traffic behind a Mercedes with a right-to-life sticker beside a flag sticker on it today for a half hour. I was bored and nearly got out to start shit with the driver. Nothing makes me madder than maudlin stickers decrying child-murder, particularly stickers like this one which accused women who have abortions of murdering children to further their own decadent (read: slutty) lifestyles. If abortion is infanticide, then why is miscarriage taken in stride? Why don't women weep and tear out their hair when they have their periods?
I finally passed the car and we rode alongside each other for awhile. The driver was a young guy dressed in Ralph Lauren-type clothes and talking on his cell phone at an animated pace. I was a bit surprised. Most guys my age, particularly those that bother to get a Mercedes, designer clothes, and a cell phone, really like to bother with advertising that they are hardline on wanting to punish women for errant sexual behavior; in fact, they would like women to participate in errant sexual behavior with them.
It made me wonder. Is this guy married? Chaste? Doubtful on both counts. Odds are he is like most guys, cruising and hitting girls up and like alot of young Republicans his politics don't have much relation to his behavior.
Yes, it was alot of guesswork. But I've known far too many guys like him. They still amaze me every time.

*A friend and I discussed the birth control pill. It can be a pain in the ass at times, and it isn't for everyone, but the birth control pill is still one of the greatest things ever, as far as we were concerned. Not only was it one of the most effective forms of birth control ever, it effectively turned the responsibility for birth control over to those who had the strongest interest in effective birth control, i.e. women.
There's alot of rhetoric about how young women don't understand what choice means, that we don't realize what a threat our choices are under. I used to think this was overstated. My friends and I knew the history of contraceptive rights. We vote. We give what we can to Planned Parenthood. Alot of my friends are a few years older than me and came of age during the AIDS crisis. Alot of them watched good friends die from the disease. In a way, we know more than older women do the importance of protection; after all, the feminist fighters of yore were unlikely to have to run forward and clean up when a friend with HIV accidentally cut himself and no one else would find the guts to help him as a friend of mine did.
But same friend and I were talking about men and sex and birth control the other night and I realized that we are making our decisions on a different level than we might have at the height of the AIDS scare and our own dating years. We're in monogamous, disease-free relationships and condoms are a part of the past. We talk about the pill and abortion now, the very two things that are most under attack by cultural conservatives. We do take it for granted that we can keep using the pill as long as we want to and that if the pill fails us, abortion is always available. We are wrong to take it for granted since there are so many people who would have that taken from us.
Make no mistake; it's women's sexuality that is on trial with the anti-abortion movement. They have elaborate reasons that the pill, emergency contraception, and abortion are on their hit list. These contraceptive methods must be employed at the moment of intercourse, and therefore men must be consulted. All other methods require involving a man in the process, and as I said before, knowledge is power. It's no coincidence that the very contraceptive methods the right-to-life movement is targeting happen to be the ones that men don't control. This isn't about babies or families or anything nice like that. It's about making sure that men have the final say in what happens to women's bodies, and that's wrong.

In a free society, everyone, including women, has the right to physical autonomy.

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