Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A Photo Montage of Andro-Centrism in Abortion Rights Law

Ever since the recent act of anti-choice terrorism that closed the doors of the slain Dr. Tiller's clinic, abortion has been on my mind. I don't often write about the issue here. It's a lightning rod for, ahem, "interesting" comments and although I support a woman's right to choose, I'm not comfortable with idea of ending human life. I'm not sure many people are. Well, except for some of those who most claim to revere human life, of course.

When it comes to abortion rights, I tend to agree with bioethicist Sigfrid Fry-Revere who argues that to suggest that a fetus has the same rights as an autonomous human being borders on the perverse, for "a woman's rights should never be placed second to the needs of her fetus." Many people, however, who are anti-choice weight the scale differently and frame their argument in terms of a fetus having more of a right to live than a woman has the right to choose. And yet, given that a large portion of the opposition to abortion comes from male-centric theological beliefs that treat women as community-owned vessels for carrying fetuses, I also know that many people's "fetus rights" arguments are actually facades that mask a deep-seated entitlement to control women's bodies. Observing how so many anti-choice people actually don't seem to care all that much for other people's babies once they are actually born, and especially when these former bundles of "precious human life" turn out to be gay, atheist, or otherwise Other, only reinforces this belief of mine.

When men, especially, have very strong opposition to abortion, I am not surprised. I admit it. It is to be expected, I suppose, for a man, who never has the possibility of becoming pregnant, to weigh the rights of a fetus as greater than the rights of a woman. While he will never, in most instances, experience what it is to be a woman, he has been a fetus and perhaps is more likely to relate to the fetus than to a pregnant woman. What is more surprising is when men can step outside of men's long history of controlling women's bodies and see women, not as community-owned vessels for reproduction, but as autonomous human beings whose right to decide whether another living thing subsists on her body outweighs the right of the fetus to live in and through her.

With this background in mind, let's set aside the issue of whether or not one agrees with the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act and ponder something for a moment.

Given the fact that the female body sometimes operates as a life support system for fetuses, is this photo of George W. Bush signing the Act into law, surrounded by smiling non-uterus American legislators, at all troubling to you, dear readers?


Given the fact that the female body sometimes operates as life support system for fetuses, is this photo of the 2007 US Supreme Court that upheld the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act at all troubling to you, dear readers?


Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's dissent in Gonzalez v. Carhart, the case that upheld the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, demonstrates (a) how the female perspective on issues that uniquely affect women tend to be different than the male perspective and (b) that the male perspective is not at all objective or neutral.

When it comes to pregnancy men are, quite simply, outsiders. This is true no matter how much some try to co-opt the female birthing experience by creating their Improved Race of Born-Agains. My claim here is not novel but I tend to believe that men, who have never had and will never have the capacity to become pregnant, who have never been denied educational and occupational opportunities due to their capacity to become pregnant, and who have never been told that their reproductive capacities have rendered them too frail and weak to do anything worth doing in the public sphere are incapable of truly understanding and empathizing with the conflict between a woman's right to control her body and the right of a fetus to subsist on that woman's body. In short, because men do not have the capacity to become pregnant and because it necessarily benefits men when women's right to abortion (and birth control for that matter) is denied, I am suggesting that it could very well be a blatant conflict of interest for men to have a say in any of this.

For instance, a notable part of the Supreme Court male majority effectively upheld the elimination of women's right to make informed decisions about their own bodily safety by expressing concern for the distress that late-term abortion causes women. The Supreme Court, as lone Uterus-Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted, has a long and unfortunate past of finding women to be in need of male protection, due to women's "natural and proper timidity and delicacy." This male-centric view, however, fails to acknowledge just how beneficial it is to men to promote an ideology in which men must valiantly protect women from their own choices.

In the reality-based world, as opposed the "reality" that some men invent, full equality means acknowledging that women are strong enough to live with the choices they make. Throughout history, women have been helping other women have abortions long before male medical and legal authorities granted themselves entitlement to control birthing and abortion processes.

Perhaps it takes a woman to know that chipping away at a woman's right to control and protect her own body, under the guise of protecting her from emotional "distress," is not some sort of neutral objective necessity. Rather, it is a transparent attempt for males to continue entitling themselves to the control of women's bodies and to continue treating the bodies of women as community property.

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