The real issue behind the abortion debate
In the last presidential debate, Sen. Barack Obama, responding to a question about an abortion litmus test for Supreme Court nominees, unequivocally affirmed his support for the right to choose abortion. But then - and here is the part that made my heart flutter, nay, pound - he went on to connect the debate about abortion to the issue of ensuring equal pay for equal work.
"I think that it's important for judges to understand," he noted, "that if a woman is out there trying to raise a family, trying to support her family, and is being treated unfairly, then the court has to stand up, if nobody else will."
These few lines suggest that our new president "gets" what so many before him have not: that reproductive justice for women cannot be separated from women's economic and social well-being, and that there are not two kinds of women - those who have abortions and those who have babies.
Most women who have abortions are already mothers, struggling to care for their children and families. The Democratic Party platform articulated similar sentiments, moving beyond a narrow focus on abortion to include the need to provide support to women who decide to have children.
As low-income women of color have long understood, reproductive rights cannot be reduced to the single right to a safe, legal and affordable abortion. Rather we need to ensure reproductive justice that recognizes the rights to continue a pregnancy to term, to access good quality reproductive health care, to rear one's children, and to live a life free of the threat of violence.
Admittedly, even with these enormous signs of progress in understanding the need to address more than abortion, the Democrats have plenty of room for improvement. While the Democrats' platform mentioned a need for "parenting skills" and "caring adoption programs," it ignores the reality that most foster care cases stem from poverty-related neglect - a lack of food in the refrigerator rather than a shortage of parenting skills.
Ads featuring a teenager who becomes pregnant as the result of rape or raising the specter of a return to back-alley abortions, while powerful, have contributed to abortion being defined as a victim's right rather than a woman's right. And despite the support for abortion articulated in the platform, the Democratic National Committee invested millions of dollars in supporting a dozen anti-abortion candidates for the House of Representatives.
It is clear that reproductive justice will not be gained through laws and Supreme Court appointments and rulings alone, but will also require broad-based measures that strengthen women's economic position, education, autonomy, sexual freedom and health care.
President-elect Obama will not be able to accomplish all this in his first 100 days or even his first four years. But the fact that he and the DNC used this election season to at least begin to transform the debate from one about abortion to one about the real lives of America's women and families is a historic first step.
We forget that post-natal abortions occurred in pre-historic societies where contraception and pre-natal abortion was unavailable. It was a necessary choice to ensure the survival (in the truest sense of the word) of those already alive. It also allowed them to preemptively end a hard life for deformed, or in other ways inadequate babies, again, ensuring the more successful survival of those who had a better chance of it, and wouldn't burden a family with the cost of excessive care. It was right in that situation at that time.
Catholics may recoil in horror at this, believing "every sperm is sacred", believing that they are the arbiters of the Absolute Truth and that they have the final word on who can live and who can die. I think what they really fear is the loss of that control.
The article is absolutely right in stating that the choice for women to have an abortion or not is broader than just saving the soul of an unborn foetus. It is about survival in this situation at this time. And that means not burdoning the family economically more than it is able in order to ensure the success of those already living. It is allowing women to control their destiny and exert the rights of free will that all agree they have.
It is also about lifting the misogynist guilt from the shoulders of women placed there by the very religions that seek to save them from such guilt. This is the biggest scam in history.
There is no Right decision, there is only right for me in this time and in this situation. And if you are not in my situation at the same time, you don't have adequate knowledge, the correct motivation, or the right to make that decision for me or anyone.
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Detroit, Michigan, United States