The Fundamental Right to Choice

The Fundamental Right to Choice

Before we get started, here’s a heads up: we will be using gender neutral pronouns in this article to allow for the inclusion of individuals who do not identify as women but whose anatomy includes a uterus and who are thus capable of being pregnant. These gender-neutral pronouns are ze, which corresponds to he/she, and hir, which corresponds to her/his.

As feminists, as women, as WAGS majors and as Amherst College students, we obviously have something to say in response to the recent anti-choice article published in The Student. We were proud to hear of the immediate reaction against the article on campus. That said, we’re just going to jump right into what we found most horrifying about the article and the subsequent discussion in comments on The Student’s website.

First and foremost, the argument that fetuses are dependent beings is not ridiculous or devoid of logic. In fact, it’s an obvious conclusion. A fetus is undeniably dependent on the person carrying it. While infants and college students may still be reliant on others for basic care or financial support, neither is dependent on others. The difference is simple and yet frighteningly overlooked: college students and infants are not living within another person’s body and therefore have bodily autonomy and independence — fetuses do not. This fact is unassailable, even if one brings in arguments about where life or humanity begin. While the fetus resides in the womb, it is dependent on that person’s body. This is why abortion cannot be reduced to murder; doing so ignores the existence of a completely autonomous human being whose life cannot be contested. This is not about one autonomous human being killing another autonomous human being. This is about a human being deciding whether or not ze wants to carry another life form within hir body.

Second, we refuse to apologize for our conviction that the rights of an undeniably conscious, living, sentient person are more important than the rights of a life form that cannot live independently. A fetus does not have a fully formed interior or exterior life and depends entirely on the body of the afore-mentioned sentient person. It is not insane, immoral or illogical to value fully formed, independent and sentient life over a cluster of human cells that are currently none of those things, despite the fact that they have the potential to be.

This is one reason why the comparison to the Holocaust is so offensive — the argument that a morula, blastula, zygote or fetus is exactly the same as a fully-formed, undeniably conscious and self-aware human being reduces the value of that fully-formed life. The people that died in the Holocaust knew exactly what was happening to them. They did not possibly know. They did not maybe feel the pain, if they were at that stage of development yet. They knew exactly what was happening to them. They could undeniably feel everything. The victims of the Holocaust felt the physical pain of abuse, starvation, disease, torture, rape and death. They felt the psychological pain of knowing that everyone around them considered them so worthless as to be killed for sport. They felt the dehumanization, the fear, the terror and the grief of being separated from their loved ones or of watching them die. They felt it all — it is undeniable. Fetuses cannot feel these things, if they feel at all. Comparing these two vastly different situations delegitimizes the struggles of those who lived through and died in the Holocaust.

Overall, the argument presented in last week’s article lacks maturity and understanding of the complexity of abortion. Arguments that make the issue black and white imply that those who have abortions are cruel, heartless humans who have abortions willy-nilly because they don’t want to bear a baby. Abortions are not easy or convenient, either physically, emotionally or financially. They are a not a simple response or an easy way out. Suggesting alternate paths make it seem like going through pregnancy is as easy as checking yes or no on a contract. The anti-choice movement seems to be unaware of difficult family situations, of health problems, of the psychological trauma of carrying the child of a rapist or the immense financial costs that come along with a pregnancy and the child that comes afterwards. When one ignores these circumstances, one robs the child bearer of hir humanity. The health concerns that come from someone being physically unable to care for hirself, let alone hir child, can have negative effects on both the parent and the baby, even when the baby is planned for. If one looks at statistics of hospitalizations from botched abortions before and after Roe v. Wade, one can see that the number of women dying on a hospital table drops when abortion is legal. The choice is not between having abortions and not having abortions; the choice is whether or not the government is going to protect the health and save the lives of the humans having them.

Furthermore, we would lastly like to address the debate about this article on The Student website. As mentioned above, we were proud to see so many students speaking out against this anti-choice article. The fact that they were often anonymous does not render their opinions any less valid; not everyone has the privilege of feeling safe enough to speak out.

However, one thing about the discussion was disturbing to us. Intermittently, posts appeared asking others to respect the opinion expressed in the article for the sake of a civil debate. In this case, we think this is too much to ask. While personal attacks on the author do not further the dialogue in a constructive way, feelings of anger in response to the opinion expressed are valid and should not be repressed or ignored. You don’t need to be polite in the face of an argument for your rights to be taken away. You don’t need to respect an opinion if it continues the systemic oppression of every person capable of being pregnant. If people try to tell us that their opinion, driven by personal beliefs that we do not share, should dictate what we do with our bodies, we do not need to respect that argument. We do not have to respect an argument that tells us that other people are more qualified to make decisions about our bodies than we are. There is absolutely no way we can respect the continuation of an oppression that views people who can be pregnant as incapable of making their own decisions regarding their own bodies. No one, absolutely no one, should be forced to do anything with their body that they have not willingly volunteered to do. To be polite in the face of arguments to the contrary is not necessary.

This is not, by any means, an exhaustive list of what can possibly be said on the matter by any means, but simply the issues that seemed most relevant at this time. Given that we are each privileged along several axes of our respective social identities, we are sure our concerns differ from others’, but we have tried to be inclusive of as many different perspectives as possible in this short space.

To conclude, there is one reason that we are glad the article in question was published: it has brought an important feminist issue to the foreground of discussion on campus and has triggered an outpouring of pro-choice sentiment. On a campus where feminist and gender issues are often sidelined or ignored, it is good to see such important discussions finally getting the attention they deserve.