I want to write a bit more broadly about choice and bodies, in the context of women and obviously with reference to abortion as that is the major area of societal discussion about women’s power over their own bodies.
I stated my view of a woman’s right to choose in respect of abortion in a comment on the aforementioned thread, and I’ll quote it again here:
The bottom line for me is that we need to respect the right and power of women to control their own bodies. This extends to unequivocally and without restriction giving individual women the right to choose whether or not to terminate a pregnancy. They are the people best placed to make the best decision about whether or not to have a child; they know all their own circumstances, which you can never fully know from outside. And sometimes individual women will make choices about their bodies, about their fertility, about their reproductive plans, that others disagree with or wouldn't make in the same circumstances. That's ok; if we just respect that the woman concerned is the person best placed to make a decision that affects her first and foremost then that helps us get by without angst and public judgeyness.I’ve come to this view of choice through thinking about abortion, and probably the biggest influence on my thinking in this area has been reading and hearing Maia’s thoughts on the matter over the last five years or so. I think this idea about choice extrapolates to other issues in regard to women’s bodies.
This is why I will never support making it illegal for pregnant women to drink alcohol. We should definitely have significant public education campaigns about the dangers and effects of consuming alcoholic beverages during gestation. We should be aiming for a society where everyone has a level of education, and sufficient access to this kind of information, that they can make informed choices for themselves. If a woman still chooses to drink during pregnancy, knowing all that, then we should respect that choice. Just like we shouldn’t restrict access to caesarean sections, or plastic surgery. These are decisions a woman is making about her own body and her own health.
Respecting doesn’t mean agreeing – it means respecting that they have the right to make that choice, for themselves. You don’t have to agree to everything other people do. If that was the case, and everyone had to agree with me, then we would not have a Prime Minister who is prepared to trade basic democratic rights for two pandas.
How does this view influence my behaviour? I’m not perfect and I can be judgey too. What I try my very best to do is to not be judgey to someone’s face. I might have a quiet rant to my partner about an unwise choice I think a friend is making, but I acknowledge that I don’t know everything that they have considered in making that choice, I can’t possibly know because I am Not Them. I might make a different choice if I were in the exact same situation, but I am still Not Them. Sometimes I’ll write something here (often weeks or months later) about the broad pressures around that choice, the things that bug me about it from a wider context, but I try really hard not to write in a way that criticizes individual women* for making that choice. Empathy, that thing Paul Henry lacks, is what I'm striving for, although sometimes I fail.
I have to say that taking this approach is a lot less stressful than wanting to Fix everything for everyone all the time. This is my general approach to feminism too, and why I get a bit annoyed at claims that Feminism HQ somehow doesn't respect women's agency. There is no Feminism HQ, and anyone who claims to be from there should have their credentials checked for signs of being written on Psychic Paper. But that's a whole other ranty post right there.
Getting back to the point, we all make choices everyday. Some good, some bad, some so heavily restricted by circumstances as to not really be true choices at all. I hope that one day we can live in a society where the abortion rate is lower than it is now, but only because that will show that contraception is more available and effective than it is now and that people have more reproductive rights.
* I’m sure someone will come up with some examples of posts I’ve written where I have criticized individual women, particularly women who have made negative statements about other women or about feminism or feminists. What I’m talking about in this post is specifically about choices that women make for how they run their own lives, and even more tightly mostly about their own bodies. I think it’s healthy to critique each other in the public statements that we make about life in general (which is one of the reasons I tend to be quite liberal about comments here). But we head into tricky territory when we judge harshly the choices individuals make about their own lives (see entire rest of post above).