After all, I think that whatever reservations a person might have about abortion -- disability rights-type worries about selective abortion based on prenatal testing, concern for beings one believes to have souls, concerns about the sanctity of life or the way we should value life, full stop -- none of it dictates governments deciding that any individual woman must gestate.
But I didn't come easy to this. As a young girl I couldn't understand.
I wondered why I'd had a mom that fought for me. That fought when she had already had a baby die and knew, probably, that I had risk of dying from low birth weight or having a disability or any number of other things as well. Why not just give up on me and try again? The only answer I could think of was that somehow the fetus that became me deserved it, even as a non-person... and if that one did, why not some other? I called myself "pro-life" because it was the only sense I could make out of that bizarre feeling, that knowledge that not too long ago in the long march of human history, I might have been left to die even after having been born.
And there still is no bright line for me. No, a fetus is not a person. But neither is Ashley X, if we use the definition of "person" our society is used to -- which is deeply ableist. Yes, a fetus is not fully developed, and some truly are "lumps of cells." But the preemie me was not fully developed when she was born either. Part of my brain still is not "fully developed", and never will be. Even now that I am pro-choice, I do not like those "person" and "clump" arguments, and I never will.
I remember being one of two "pro-life" young girls at school. A group of other girls cornered me, bullied me, yelled in my face and the face of the other "pro-life" girl, a Catholic. They laughed at me too, called me names. I don't remember clearly, but I know they threatened me. What they said they'd do to me exactly, I can't recall. But I know I was terrified, and proud of myself after for sticking to my guns, and worried they'd harass me again. I remember really feeling the fear of violence from a crowd of others that day, for the first time in my life.
This is why I'm soft on pro-lifers now. I don't think they've no right to use the word (I use quotes above simply because we were children, and didn't have fully formed opinions), and I don't think they're all stupid, senseless, or hateful. I can't bring myself to feel that way about other women, knowing that the first time I was terrified of a group it came from that issue, that cesspool of rage. I think pro-life women are wrong, but I don't hate them. I hate the intimidation and guilt tactics many use against other women, women who are often fearful and suffering, and decry them utterly. I hate the men who ringlead most of them, spreading lies and delighting in destructive control. But not them.
Maybe the girls threatening me wondered why I would feel as I did if I wasn't religious. I didn't know how to tell them why the things they said scared me, and I was too young to understand what really undergirded the view that they held, too young to know that they were right.
It wasn't until I heard about the lengths women will go to to be able to decide whether to gestate or not that I changed my mind. I read a story by another young woman, about coathangers, about what it was like for women to resort to them. And suddenly I understood. It hit me like a lightning bolt and shivered my soul. My misgivings and fears didn't vanish in a celebration of choice, but I finally saw why women need that right. Why any woman, in any situation, however dire or "not" it might have looked to me just the day before, needs that right.
Now I believe that women's self-determination means deciding to use our bodies in any way we see fit. I believe that no woman is obligated to provide life support for a fetus -- just as no one is obligated to donate a kidney to someone who will die without it. (Yes, that's from a famous paper. Yes, I think it's the best pro-abortion rights argument I've heard.)
I believe that most people who think otherwise think it because they don't understand what it really means to accord someone else sole rights over her own body and self. I didn't before. I was a kid.
But I live in an ableist world, where women who want to keep fetuses with disabilities are called selfish and people's jaws drop at the "cruelty" of women who want a baby so bad that they'd "bring suffering like that into the world." I think that pressure means something. I think someone who has amnio being asked "So... when shall we schedule you at the clinic?" and having to stammer, repeatedly, "No, I want to keep it. This is my baby" means something.
But I have been told that when I say this means something, I am "not pro-choice." I have been told by people I respect, the very people who convinced me feminism is real and vital and still important, that I don't know raising us is hard. That I want to force women to make "sacrifices" and "shoulder burdens" at astronomical price, just as patriarchy always has, because I wonder how real "choice" is when it involves fetuses that would become PWD. Because I could not possibly be asking a question, fighting a systemic problem. Nope -- I'm saying that Mary or Renee or Juanita must keep that fetus.
I have personally never seen anyone who worries that selective abortion of fetuses with disabilities is ableist say any woman must do anything. I have seen some dismissals of the difficulty of raising PWD that I think oversimplify the matter far too much, but I don't think I've ever seen truly cavalier ones.
Yet somehow we're "not pro-choice." I still remember the stunned look, my professor asking me was I really. It didn't matter that when the March For Women's Lives happened, I was there.
Was I really? REALLY REALLY?
And I believe abortion isn't the only issue. I think of the WWD who are looked at with curiosity or horror because they are pregnant, or told they are not supposed to have children because they can't take care of them, or because someone in a white coat thinks s/he knows better what risks certain women who want children should deem worth taking. I think of the various discussions going on at Brownfemipower's about the forced sterilization of poor women, women of color, WWD.
About the WOC she mentions in one of those entries, who prefer "pro-you" to "pro-choice" because even the word "choice" has a tainted history for them. And how it feels to look at a bunch of entries on my flist from passionate young white feminists, using that word, over and over.
I think of how many posts I've seen so far and how many have spoken so bravely and so beautifully about their rights or their activism or their volunteer work at clinics or their abortions.
And I salute each one.
But then I think of how few I've seen that have mentioned fighting tooth and nail for the rights of other women, threatened in other ways, to carry to term. I think of my own mom, the brother of mine that died of low birth weight so long ago, the fact that she still had a damaged cervix and chose to have me anyway. I wonder who out there would have told her not to try, how many horror stories about how I could have ended up she might have heard. My guess is none. But it's still in my mind, even if no one ever said it.
And I wonder how lost stories like that get in such strong emphasis on abortion alone.
This stuff's not easy for me. It's bitter and it's strange and it always will be. And I sometimes envy the women who have no issue with it, no worry about it, no past full of wondering and confusion.
But I am willing to stand up for us -- all of us, as best I can in the mess of being caught between two oppressions -- anyway.