Yesterday, I found myself in the bizarre situation of debating abortion (and by extension, the importance of contraception) with someone who’s never had sex. I, uh, have? Without attempting to state a per se rule, it seems like people making decisions about others’ reproductive rights should speak from a place of experience — the more the better — when more often than not, as here, those who do seek to restrict reproductive rights have studiously avoided all relevant life experiences. Take Christine O’Donnell.
I digress. The argument, building on Congresswoman Jean Schmidt (R-OH)’s remarks of earlier this week, was that banning abortion is, in fact, the feminist position. Referencing early suffragettes like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Alice Paul:
The original feminists were, indeed, against abortion. These women believed that there was power in motherhood and in choosing life. Alice Paul,the author of the original Equal Rights Amendment, said it best: Abortion isthe exploitation of women.
Although it surely has the tactical appeal of turning the pro-choice movement’s rhetoric against it, aside from that, this argument is so flimsy that I’m shocked Congresswoman Schmidt even managed to build a fairly long speech out of it. An individual women may freely believe that terminating her pregnancy would debase her, sure. The essence of feminism, after all, is support for a woman’s right to make individual and independent moral decisions. But, consistent with a belief system premised on individual choice, individual moral judgments cannot be generalized to the systemic level.
Similarly, despite feminism’s focus on integrating women into the professional world, a woman who chooses to stay at home and take care of the kids is making a feminist choice because she is making a choice. Feminism is about options, not outcome. “Choosing life” is a feminist act if it is a choice. But no one woman can take her own choice, force it on the rest of her sex, and call it freedom.
Moreover, I’m unaware of any case where removing the individual’s right to make a choice results in more freedom. This seems axiomatically false. Am I missing something?