Blog for choice: Abortion is a blessing

January 25, 2010 § Leave a comment

Last Friday marked the 37th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, and was the 5th annual Blog for Choice Day. Pro-choice bloggers were asked  to answer the question: What does  “trust women” mean to you? This year’s question is in honor of the late Dr. George Tiller who frequently wore a pin that said “trust women”.

Kay Steiger compares Blog for Choice Day as a New Year’s for the pro-choice movement, where pro-choicers re-energize and renew their resolutions on how to move forward. Yet today pro-choicers find themselves with very little reason to celebrate, and plenty to be depressed about. As pro-choice activist Reverend Katherine Ragsdale puts it,  “Abortion is a blessing, and our work is not done.”

In honor of Blog for Choice Day and in memory of Dr. Tiller, I answer what “trust women” means to me.

“Trust Women”

It was the first time I had a job working on something I cared about.  I was excited, and I wanted to show it. My employer, the National Organization for Women (NOW), had mailed me a bundle of stickers and buttons representative of their cause. Itching to show off my feminist pride, I covered my suitcase with buttons and stickers galore. Prominently displayed among the mix of feminist slogans was a big sticker that read “TRUST WOMEN”.

Despite the attention-grabbing bold print, the message did not speak to me then. If anything, it came off a bit outmoded, and not quite witty or in-your-face enough. And doesn’t it sound essentialist? Trust women. Does that mean all women? But not all women are automatically trustworthy. And can you really say anything about all women? And does it imply that men aren’t trustworthy? What if people see this sticker on my suitcase and think that what I really mean by it is “distrust men”. Well, in that case, I just hope no one asks me about it.

Four years later, I am confronted with this phrase again—trust women—but this time seeing it for its radicalism, and how it speaks in direct opposition to the status quo—to the well-accepted norms of blaming, ignoring and pathologizing women.

The reason abortion is controversial is simple. At the root, it’s not about religion, or partisan politics. Abortion is controversial because we are a society that does not trust women. Words delivered by a woman* is less credible than otherwise identical words delivered by a man*.  A joke delivered by a woman is not as funny as the same joke cracked by a man. No matter if we employ the language of science and logic, women remain seen as untrustworthy.

“Trust women” is an alternative to the status quo, where we blame women. We blame women—their stupidity, promiscuity, and irresponsibility–for unwanted pregnancies. In the US, approximately 50% of pregnancies are unplanned; and one in three women gets an abortion. How we read these statistics is telling of how we view women Those who oppose abortion along with those so-called liberals who feel that reproductive rights is a fringe issue tend to look at the above statistics and blame it on the irresponsibility of individual women; rather than to view our nation’s high rate of unplanned pregnancies as systematic, and reflective of a deeply insensitive, sexually shaming, ill-informed and patriarchal culture. It’s easy to blame American women’s exorbitant amount of sexual freedom and choice. But how free is a woman’s choice made under the confines of political, economic, social and sexual oppression? It’s easier to blame women’s irresponsibility than to scrutinize the culture that we all play a role in.

In a nation where sexual violence against women is rampant; where the government subsidizes Viagra but not contraceptives; where women are ridiculed and punished for being either too ‘prude’ or too ‘promiscuous’; where it is taboo to provide women with information about her body and sexual health; and where abstinence only sex-ed is more mainstream than comprehensive sex-ed, it is no wonder why the United States has a high rate of unintended pregnancies, the highest among industrialized nations. Given the current state of affairs, the existence of abortion is a blessing. But here in the States, though abortion is legal, abortion opponents have managed to make it as difficult as possible for women to access.

If we trusted women, abortion wouldn’t be controversial. Women wouldn’t be turned into scapegoats. Lives would have been saved. Trusting women means trusting that they are capable of making decisions about their lives, their future and what happens to their own bodies. It means trusting them when they feel that they are not ready to be parents yet, again or ever. It means trusting that when they are given accurate information about sex and contraception they will be more responsible, not less.

Trust women. In many ways its a message that runs counter to the status quo. And the status quo of blaming, ignoring, and pathologizing women pisses me off. So, on this 37th anniversary of Roe v Wade–at a time when the pro-choice movement faces seemingly insurmountable challenges–I restate my commitment to fight for women’s right to choose; and I will continue to fight until the two-word phrase “trust women” becomes so well understood and obvious to everyone that saying it would just be cliché. But until then, it’s a radical idea.

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*who we perceive to be a man/woman

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