Friday, February 03, 2006

Earning the right to your body

I've been reading the email debate Slate is hosting between Katha Politt and William Saletan with increasing frustration. I'm beginning to think Politt is too polite to tell Saletan that he's peddling paternalistic crap here - and that Saletan really has no idea that he's doing it. To summarize the argument so far, Saletan says that what the pro-choice movement really needs to get people on its side is to step up the shame factor for abortion, and concentrate on the things that prevent unwanted pregnancy in the first place. After Politt clarifies that the pro-choice camp has been as strident a promoter of contraception as it has been of access to abortion (duh, Will), she goes on to mention that there's enough shaming of women who have abortions as it is, yet it's still one of the most common surgeries performed on American women. Eventually, it becomes clear that Saletan and Politt agree on basically every point of action that needs to be taken to further the cause of reproductive rights, except one: the shame factor.

This is where the paternalistic crap comes in. Saletan is asking for pro-choicers to push a certain amount of grief or shame on a woman (and he weakly offers up the potential father here, too) in exchange for the right to an abortion. This demonstrates that Saletan does not trust women (or men, though they're not the ones having abortions here) to decide whether or not the life of their potential child is worth exchanging for not being pregnant. A woman has to earn this right by suffering some indignity - rape, incest, or at least castigation. I find it totally repugnant that he insist that a woman offer up a certain emotional sacrifice so that she may exercise what is rightfully hers - control over her body. Never mind the fact that these pregnancies that are aborted are unintended ones - women do their best to avoid being pregnant when they do not want to be. The old line about abortion being used as birth control (which, ultimately, it is) is really ridiculous - pregnancies that are aborted are unintended pregnancies, after all. It's entirely self-evident that abortion is never the ideal option when it comes to control of reproduction.

Whether Saletan truly shares this perspective, or if it's simply one he thinks would be useful to promote, either way it's a dangerous idea to push because it directly interferes with the liberties that all human beings are guaranteed. As I discussed in my Blog for Choice entry, what women need are the tools to control their reproductive lives, and they need to be trusted to be able to do so. Pushing shame is pushing the laughable idea that women aren't smart or sensitive enough to avoid abortion, given a chance.

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