“One cannot be anti-choice and be feminist,” says bell hooks in her book Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics.
Wait, I thought it said feminism was for everybody. Apparently it is not for me.
In high school I drew the majority of my knowledge of feminism from the pro-life movement. To me, feminism was all about women demanding the right to abort their children easily and cheaply for any reason in the name of sexual liberation. Since I don’t believe that anyone should have the right to abort their children, I naturally considered myself not a feminist.
But in college I met Christian women who share my moral values and are still very strong feminists- especially my roommates past and present, who I love dearly- and so it became necessary to rethink my framing of feminism. This led me to sign up for a Sociology class I’m now taking entitled The Female Experience. We study the historical background of feminism as well as different types of feminism, the issues they deal with, and various ideas about how to best advance the equality of women. I’m a fan of equality for women. I think we should be able to be equal to men without having to struggle against them. Maybe I can be a feminist after all.
Enter bell hooks. She makes it very clear that by anti-choice she is referring to opposing abortion. I’m not anti-choice. I’m anti-abortion. To me, the woman’s right to choose comes before she is pregnant, not after she’s already conceived a child. Apparently this is not allowed if I care about women at all. hooks grants permission to personally choose never to have an abortion, but demands that we must support other women’s choice to do so. Women need to be as sexually liberated as men are. We need to be able to have as much sex as we want in any way at any time with anyone without consequences. Apparently, it is the fault of sexist white supremacist male patriarchy that women have the consequence of unplanned pregnancy, while men do not. So she says of course women are going to have unplanned pregnancies, and naturally, abortions no matter what. We must make it safe for them. We must make it affordable and comfortable. If I think otherwise, I am clearly an evil ultra-conservative close-minded woman-hating anti-feminist.
This blows my mind. To me, abortion is not a women’s rights issue. It is a moral issue. It is a human issue. Before you go telling me to keep my morality to myself and to keep my rosaries off your ovaries (I’ve heard it all before, and as an aside, am not Catholic), ask yourself what law exists independent of morality. Laws are by nature moral. The reason we have laws is because as thinking human beings with a conscience, we have agreed that some things are wrong.
A law by definition restricts your rights. You do not have the right to steal someone else’s car. You do not have the right to indecently expose yourself in public. You do not have the right to shoot someone. Why, in the land of the free, do we allow these restrictions of our rights? Because we live in a society with other people, we choose to restrict certain rights when the exercise of those rights would impose on the rights of someone else. You don’t have a right to steal because stealing imposes on someone else’s right to own property. You don’t have a right to indecently expose yourself in public because it imposes on someone else’s right to not have to look at you naked. You don’t have the right to shoot someone because it imposes on that person’s right to life.
And that brings us to the right to life. Along with liberty and pursuit of happiness, it is listed as an inalienable right of humanity in America’s Declaration of Independence. How could I care about the rights of women while saying that they should not have the right to abortion? Because a woman’s right to abortion imposes on her baby’s right to life.
If I really want to be a feminist, by bell hook’s logic, shouldn’t I also support the right of a single mother to kill her five-year-old son if paying for his food is preventing her from having the resources to get ahead in life? Don’t I care about the plight of women who can’t afford their children? Shouldn’t a young mother without access to daycare be allowed to leave her six-month-old in a dumpster or an alleyway, if taking care of him is preventing her from going to school? Is this the only way women will ever have a chance to advance in the world? How do we determine when the right of a mother to live her life the way she pleases supersedes the right of her child to live?
Hooks says, “Many of us were the unplanned children of talented, creative women whose lives had been changed by unplanned and unwanted pregnancies; we witnessed their bitterness, their rage, their disappointment with their lot in life. And we were clear that there could be no genuine sexual liberation for women and men without better, safer contraceptives– without the right to a safe, legal abortion.” (ch. 5, p. 26)
So is she saying she should have been aborted? Does she think it would have been better if her mother could have killed her and gotten on with her life? This argument perplexes me. Does she know what she’s saying? Maybe bell hooks doesn’t think she had the right to live because she messed things up for her mother, but I think that she did and does have a right to live. Don’t we all?
Next argument– you can be personally against abortion, but don’t force your view on others. Our society must learn that relativism is not logical or realistic. Relativism says the for me, it may be wrong to kill, but for you it might be OK. It’s all in how you look at it. A matter of personal preference. I don’t have the right to stop you. In that case, we should support anarchy. If we are not going to impose our morals on others, then there should be no laws and no government. Every woman, man and child for themselves. Don’t tell me I can’t mug you at knifepoint. It may be wrong for you, but it’s so right for me. I need what you have, and this is how I will get it. Show some compassion. After all, it’s my right to choose.
So the abortion question always boils down to this: when does life begin? Does abortion take a life? Science and technology long ago refuted the myth that abortion simply removes a blob of tissue. As technology progresses, the stage of viability for children born premature gets ever earlier. Is human life something that we can arbitrarily assign or deny?
There are laws in place that indicate life is defined by whether or not the baby is wanted by the mother. If you beat a pregnant woman and cause a miscarriage, you can be tried for murder. If you kill a pregnant woman, causing her baby to die also, you can be charged with a double homicide. But if that same woman aborted her baby that day, she would simply have been making a choice about how to live her life.
It’s a terrifying world when we have assumed the power to affirm or deny someone else’s personhood. In our society, we think of our children like chattel- mere property- just like women and slaves were once viewed. Their value is not intrinsic, it is assessed by what value they are to their “owners.” Abortion isn’t progress. Abortion is a glaring example of the depraved, self-centered things humanity has historically allowed in order to make our lives better at the expense of others.
I have not even addressed how abortion hurts women.
It disturbs me that hooks made no mention of the fact that often fathers, boyfriends, and husbands who don’t want to deal with a child coerce women into abortions that they may not want. Even legal abortions often have long-lasting negative physical and emotional effects on women that everyone blatantly ignores. Abortion increases the risk of breast cancer and infertility, but these facts are suppressed by a male-dominated abortion industry that is making a fortune off exploiting women in crisis situations. Where is the choice then?
Instead of demanding more access to abortions, feminists should demand more support for pregnant women. Demand mandatory reasonable maternity leaves. Establish affordable day care options on site in the workplace and on high school and college campuses. Require men to pay child support that will actually compensate for the expenses. Work to establish a mindset where men take initiative and responsibility to put time into helping raise the child, or even raising the child exclusive of the mother in some cases.
To me, these solutions are much more pro-woman than the rigid pro-abortion rhetoric that only offers one choice to pregnant women. I don’t expect everyone to have my view, but I would hope that my opinion would be heard and considered in an ongoing conversation about ways to advance feminism, rather than completely stifled and rejected outright, as in Feminism is for Everybody.