I got into a little tussle on Feministe yesterday in regard to where the right to abortion comes from and what it's good for. I wrote up a comment that I thought merited a post here on f-words, so if you feel some context is missing, check out the thread, or leave me a comment if I said something that seems insane, evil or confusing.
The major cultural problem I’m talking around - of which abortion is just a facet - is the recognition (or not) of female autonomy and its larger part in achieving gender equity. Disallowing women to choose abortion is a symptom of a paternalistic culture rather than a cause.
Some pro-choice advocates will argue their position not from the freedom of choice perspective, but from a freedom from pregnancy perspective. What I hear is that pregnancy and childbearing is a hassle/tragedy for women, and that women need access to abortion to circumvent this hassle/tragedy and really have power in society. Maybe I mishear, but that sounds like it’s heavily relying not on the way in which people think of women, but in the physical ability to erase problematic aspects of femaleness, to achieve equality. It’s not the fact that women aren’t always pregnant that makes it wrong to discriminate based on gender. We as a society should know enough about the moral equality of every human being that even if abortion were impossible, we could make progress on the front of gender equity. Abortion is used as a moral crutch where we make women more like men instead of appreciating the fundamental equality of the genders. Women being the ones who manufacture babies may have contributed heavily, in more ignorant times, to inequality but I like to think we’re not so ignorant now. For instance, we know goddamn well that women do not need to be the assumed primary caregivers, but the idea persists. It needs to be disattached from the fact that women are the child-bearers, because one does not imply the other. Relying on abortion/birth control to level the playing field keeps the ideas linked.
Idealism aside, I realize that I can't sit down and talk everyone into gender equity, and that's why reproductive rights are so important in the present; in a backward society, being a child-bearer is a disadvantage, and often a major one. (For the record I personally derive a huge benefit from birth control, so there's also that reason for my championing of it. But I'm speaking here in terms of its function in the acheivement of equality.) Women deserve the ability to fight for themselves and their happiness with whatever is available, and that's why I am so staunchly pro-choice and vocal about reproductive rights. But in the end, it's convincing the world that women can and should have the power to exercise those rights that's important, less than the specific things you do with them.