Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Thoughts on Choice

The #Stand4Life hashtag was trending this morning on Twitter. Being in a good mood today, I decided to stir the pot a little by adding this to the feed:

It was just last week that Texas state Senator Wendy Davis literally stood for reproductive rights when she filibustered for 11 hours against a piece of legislation that would restrict abortion past 20 weeks of pregnancy and whose restrictions would effectively shut down many clinics in Texas. The filibuster sparked a flurry of media chatter and put the Texas abortion battle in the spotlight. Rick Perry, the Texas governor who prayed for rain, responded by citing Davis's experiences as a teen mother who eventually graduated from Harvard as a reason why she should realize that "every life must be given a chance to realize its full potential and that every life matters". While Perry's response is not at all surprising, I think we all need to recognize that he has no business telling Senator Davis how she should interpret her own experiences.

The more I consider the abortion issue, the more baffled I am by the fact that religiously motivated opponents of reproductive rights are in the same camp as champions of the so-called "Free Will Defense" as a response to the theological problem of evil. God wanted us to have free will, the argument goes. That's why He allowed evil to exist. Humans chose sin in the Garden of Eden, but, despite the fact that it brought death and darkness to the entire world, this was a choice that God wanted us to have. It is said that when Jesus died on the cross to save men from their wickedness, it was a sacrifice freely made. The story of the "good news" retold in churches across the world on Easter Sunday would be very different if God had been forced at gunpoint to have His son killed. Even post-crucifixion, it is said that all people must choose whether or not to accept Jesus's sacrifice. Choice is a near-sacred concept in evangelical protestant Christianity. Choice is tightly woven through its mythology and theology. Without it, much of evangelical Christian belief would be rendered meaningless.

In a similar way, choice is woven through the lives of American women of childbearing age. Whenever I hear about legislation that proposes to restrict access to abortion and contraceptives, I become filled with fear on a very deep level. The thought of myself  staring back at a tiny "+" sign, realizing that I am trapped in a pregnancy that I cannot or do not want to go through with is terrifying. The fact that this situation could happen even if I abstained from consensual sex for the rest of my life is an even more startling realization. For women like myself, reproductive rights are not just philosophical quibble over what the rights of a fertilized egg are, they are an essential determining factor in our lives.  The ability to control one's reproduction may be the difference between a healthy woman and a sick one, an educated woman and an uneducated one, a child who thrives and a child who suffers. Wendy Davis freely chose to go through with her pregnancy at the age of 19. Certainly, her sacrifices were noble. Carrying a pregnancy to term when there is no other choice is not a noble sacrifice; it's a virtual prison sentence.

This piece in Slate responds to Rick Perry's remarks on Senator Davis by exploring the question "What if your mother had aborted you?". When confronted with this question, I think about the choices my mother made in her life. While she would never have an abortion, she made many choices about her reproduction that greatly affected who I am today. She graduated from college, started a career, got married to loving and committed partner, moved to my hometown and was in her 30s before I came along. Both my brother and I were planned pregnancies. Some might rightly say that we were lucky to have the opportunities and support that we did as children. Luck certainly contributed to the quality of our lives, but so did our mother's choices.

I am of course very thankful that my mother chose to have me. However, I am even more thankful that my mother chose.