The Abortion Debate Needs a Paradigm Shift, or Why I’m Not “Pro Choice”

Oakland, California (TFC) – Most Americans are familiar with the abortion debate. You have your pro-choice people on one hand, and your pro-life people on the other. While many feminist groups have taken a stand against the misleading and incredibly selective use of the word “life” in the latter group’s name, few have looked at the use of the word “choice” to describe the pro-liberation side of the argument.

As Alex Petersburg, a member of the feminist group Stop Patriarchy so eloquently put it, “This is not about life and choice. This is about enslavement and liberation. People either want to send women back in time to when we were chattel, or they want to move us forward in time, to when we are no longer second-class citizens.” It has been pointed out again and again that the “life” side of the abortion debate is reaching for a word that makes them the most palatable to the widest audience possible, however, the “choice” side of the abortion debate does this too. (If you’re not with them, you essentially have to say you’re against life.) While yes, it is important to appeal to people and have them on your side, feminism has never been about being palatable. From the suffragettes who were force-fed in prison to modern protesters being pepper-sprayed, feminism – and any liberation struggle – should never be watered down to appeal to the oppressors. To water yourself or your movement down is to succumb to the oppressive status quo that says, “You don’t deserve what you’re asking for. Ask for less.” We are not here to compromise with patriarchy. We are here to destroy it.

The word “choice” compromises. It dodges the issue. So discombobulated a notion as “choice” ignores the fact that the choice between forced motherhood and bodily autonomy, between poverty with an extra mouth to feed and poverty without one, between feeling your organs squeeze and twist and crush themselves to support your rapist’s baby and taking back your body, is no choice at all, any more than the choice between forced labor and starvation. “Choice” makes it sound like women have a choice. If it were a choice, women would not have routinely died during back-alley abortions before Roe v. Wade. It is not a choice. It is a biological ultimatum.

Image Source: Internets Diary, WIkimedia, Creative Commons

Image Source: Internets Diary, WIkimedia, Creative Commons

Further, I have a problem with the notion of “choice” in feminism at large. Of course, women are entitled to make whatever decisions we want, but these choices do not exist in a vacuum. The way we are raised influences our choices. To use a benign example, a young woman in 1915 would never have chosen to get her eyebrow pierced, a choice routinely made by young women today. A slightly less benign example is that of a female worker sixty years ago who would almost certainly not make the choice to wear pants to work. While she chooses to wear a skirt, there are coercive forces in society that contribute to such a choice. If a young woman nowadays wears makeup and shaves her body hair because it makes her feel good about herself, is it possible to divorce such feelings of pleasure from a society that rewards women who conform to the beauty standards and practices dictated by patriarchy? A feminism that is blindly pro “choice,” in the broader sense of the word, is a feminism that does not analyze the cultural effect on the individual. How can we stop patriarchal culture if we do not understand it? How can we understand it if we do not analyze it? How do we analyze it if we are so preoccupied with the individual and her “choices” that we do not connect the dots?

Ultimately, the word “choice” does not do our side of the abortion debate justice. Am I for a woman’s right to abortion access? Absolutely. Am I pro-women’s humanity? Pro-liberation? Pro-freedom? Yes, yes, yes. Am I pro-choice? No.