Pro-Choice Politics / Time-specific

A Very Long Conversation About Abortion Rights

Today I visited the 24-hour protest site of the Musqueam people, whose ancestors’ intact remains are covered by a tarp tent since being unearthed by a condo developer who insists on trying to build on top of them. We discussed a number of demonstrations, details about their legal battle, and various political ideologies. And then somehow, I found myself in a very long conversation with a woman who referred to herself as a pro-lifer. This entry is about what we talked about.

Roxanne’s Law

She is the first person to inform me that there was a case of a woman by the name of Roxanne Fernando, who became pregnant by a man who wanted her to have an abortion. She refused, and while she was still pregnant, he beat her with a wrench, stuffed her in the trunk of a car, went and got one of his friends, and the two of them beat her to death together, dumping Roxanne’s body in a snow-filled ditch. Here‘s an article from CTV about their sentencing. In response, a law was proposed, called Roxanne’s Law, that would criminalize coercing a woman to have an abortion. Here‘s an article in the Toronto Sun about when it was voted down in December 2010 — with a lot of help from, of all people, pro-choicers. The bill was criticized as both unnecessary legislature and the beginning of a slippery slope that would ultimately end in legislation that forces women to endure unwanted pregnancies. The woman I was speaking to about this tonight described that criticism as a significant problem for the pro-choice movement, but I would simply call it bullshit. A bill designed to protect women’s rights is simply not unnecessary, and it is intellectually dishonest to call it the slippery slope to taking women’s rights away. I am actually ashamed of the pro-choice movement for advancing that argument and effectively tossing Roxanne’s Law out the window. Until she met me tonight, she was convinced as a result of this conflict, that all pro-choicers actually advocate a pro-abortion stance by default.

For those of you who aren’t reading the hyperlinked articles carefully enough, we weren’t talking about a pregnant woman whose rights were already protected by domestic abuse legislation. Once Roxanne became pregnant, the man who would have been father to that child wanted nothing to do with her any more — except to tell her to terminate the pregnancy, that is. He wasn’t beating her until the night he killed her. He wasn’t harassing her, stalking her, threatening her (well… until he was in the middle of killing her, that is), or otherwise violating the criminal code and perpetuating a form of domestic abuse. Their relationship (while she was still alive) was brief, and not by her choice.  He later exploited this one-way emotional attachment to commit a brutal and cold-blooded murder of a woman, because once she became pregnant with his child, she didn’t want to abort it. Now he and his accomplice are serving 40 years in prison between the two of them, and Roxanne Fernando and her child can never be brought back. All because he couldn’t stop himself before he could put on a condom, or just not sleep with someone who would refuse to abort any child she conceived, even from casual sex. And pro-choicers actually backed tossing the bill that would protect future women in this circumstance from being coerced to abort a wanted pregnancy. And believe me, it’s not an unnecessary law. Even I’ve known multiple men who coerced or attempted to coerce women to abort their pregnancies. I’ve known them both personally and through work in a medical office. I’ve also known of multiple women who coerced their own teenage daughters to have abortions, and I was at that job for less than a year. The irony? In the U.S., a teenage woman needs parental consent to get a Tylenol from Planned Parenthood, but not for an abortion.

Update: I have been informed since writing this, that the real problem with Roxanne’s Law wasn’t the principle for which it was standing, or even whether or not it is in fact redundant; but it was the language in which it was written, which assumed personhood begins at conception.

Now, and only now, do I understand why it is so easy for the pro-choice stance to be misunderstood on this issue, and why so many Canadian politicians opposed the passing of this bill into law. The media treatment of this issue was extremely misleading, and that is most certainly is a reflection of the core values spoon-fed to the masses. That is yet another significantly tragic aspect to this dispute — the creation of a barrier to generative conversation, by the deliberately misleading cherry-picking of what’s relevant to quote.

Sanctity Of Life

Another thing that I agree on with the woman who I was speaking to tonight, is that all life is sacred. We both believe that life begins at conception. We agree that all life is intrinsically valuable. But we disagree on the matter of personhood. Though she believes that personhood also begins at conception, I disagree. She suggested I go conduct a Google search when I get home, to find a video of an ultrasound while an abortion is proceeding during the second trimester. I have an unfortunately powerful imagination, even in situations like these, that I really don’t need to do a search on the internet to get the mental image. I told her that I am not so cold-blooded, that I would find that easy to watch. What I didn’t tell her is that I’m certain (or perhaps I have faith) that the movement of the fetus away from the instrument that is pulling it to pieces is an involuntary biological function, and not the proof of personhood, consciousness, self-defence, and emotion that she claims. My belief that fetal self-defence in the womb is an instinctual operation comes from a year of university-transferable biology — all sorts of life on this planet is capable of involuntary self-defence, including adult human beings. It’s everything from simple involuntary dilation and constriction of the iris in response to light, to plural involuntary gestures as noticeable as squeezing one’s eyes shut, taking the biggest breath possible, reaching for the nearest thing in sight, and balling up one’s entire body around it, all in a flat second immediately after jumping off a bungee platform for the first time. Take my word for it, that’s exactly what I did, even though I’m not even acrophobic. But these gestures don’t prove or even demonstrate my personhood. They prove that I’m still always going to be an instinctual animal, despite all my best efforts to be superior. They demonstrate that I am little more than a relatively sophisticated animal.

Incest & Rape Survivors Who Conceive By Their Perpetrators

What shocked me, and made it quite difficult for me to maintain my composure as a survivor of both incest and rape, is that the woman I spoke to this evening believed that incest and rape survivors should not abort their pregnancies. But before you flip your table, she doesn’t believe in forcing incest and rape survivors to endure those pregnancies by imposing the government upon their bodies to further take away their rights and autonomy. And she wouldn’t personally condemn any incest or rape survivor who accessed an abortion after conceiving from the assault, attempt to interfere with access to such services, or throw them in prison for doing so. Thus, it seems to me, she is anti-choice/anti-abortion, but not pro-life. So while I can’t stand behind her idea — that life is sacred and even though it is conceived in these circumstances by virtue of a horrendous violation of women’s basic inalienable rights, that it is still sacred (she even claimed that conception occurs in these cases for a purpose) and therefore needs to be preserved and protected — at least she  isn’t a proponent of actual pro-life political ideology. And one more thing we can agree on is that if people just stopped committing incest and rape, we wouldn’t have to talk about whether or not women should be forced to endure pregnancies conceived through such atrocities. I later disclosed to her that I have, in fact, survived both incest and rape (that really, the former laid the groundwork for my vulnerability to the latter), and that this really does make it difficult for me to respectfully engage with most people who hold her opinion. But she’s not trying to put me on trial for it, either.

Slut-Shaming, Victim-Blaming, And Unsolicited Condemnation

She also doesn’t want to stand on the corner with the slut-shaming and rape-victim-blaming pro-lifers I have now been demonstrating against for five weeks, because she disagrees with all their unsolicited condemnations of women (and people like me who are merely perceived as women). She disagrees with the idea of standing on a corner and condemning or shaming people for their personal choices, sexual lifestyles, bodies, and public behaviours. For that, I am glad. However, I still feel a responsibility to hold those individuals accountable for what they have said to me and my friends (and for what they continue to say to us), until such a time as they just piss off. But I digress. I told her I am waiting to find out how many chest hairs I will have to grow before people stop automatically assuming I’m woman-identifying, especially when I’m standing on that corner, protesting in my underwear. We had a good chuckle over that before the conversation took another turn that perhaps she didn’t properly anticipate. And that may be simply because she’s never had to think about it before, as I suspect is the case for the significant majority of cisgendered people.

Gender, Transition, And Intense Dysphoria

We had a moment where we stopped and tried to conceive of a world in which people simply stopped treating people differently on the basis of sexual orientation or gender. It’s actually difficult to conceive of what the world would look like under those circumstances, because these forms of discrimination are so widespread and have been embedded in all levels of society for so long, that even though I want these changes with all my heart, I don’t know what it would actually look like if we won gender equality and sexual equity. Our conversation quickly became loaded with all sorts of gender… stuff.  Like how my gender identity kind of throws a wrench into this entire conversation about the sanctity of life, because I feel I never should have been born with a reproductive system capable of growing people, and want it removed and would encourage it being tossed across the room. And because since I’ve been on testosterone for six months, I’m unable to become pregnant now, even if I had a partner who could impregnate someone else (and thank fossil fuels for that, just don’t ask me why). But because I wasn’t always infertile, I went out of my way to deal with my fertility by rendering it useless. And if I were to stop testosterone at some point while I still had that dreaded reproductive system inside me? Well, I just don’t think I could handle that.

She raised an interesting point when I said this. Both reception of the phallus to conceive a child, and pregnancy for its entire duration, are inherently feminine states. I informed her that I do not experience a gender as either a man or a woman, though I do identify more with masculinity than with femininity, and I find myself experiencing sexism from both sides of the same coin while I wait to be consistently misgendered in a way I’d at least be more comfortable with. I also added that, because of how intensely I feel about both my reproductive organs and my internal experience of gender, if I were ever to become pregnant and not be able to access an abortion, I’d be quickly driven to suicide as my body began to show changes from pregnancy. She said that with all that and the inherent femininity of pregnancy in mind, she can understand why I feel the way I do. And it was at this point that I informed her that not every trans* person who is capable of becoming pregnant actually feels the same way — that in fact, some transmen have carried pregnancies to term. Even locally. That while I want a total hysterectomy to resolve my gender dysphoria (and have to go through a psych evaluation to prove that this desire isn’t insane), some transmen undergo partial hysterectomies and stop testosterone at some point, while still others don’t have any operation of this nature at all.

We Remained Civil Towards Each Other

Ultimately, I recognize that my individual case presents what is very likely a rather anomalous compounding of traumatic experiences and deeply rooted gender dysphoria with multiple triggers. And I think she did too. She told me that for every reason that I personally would be traumatized by pregnancy, emotionally triggered by being condemned for the decision to access an abortion, or driven to suicide for being refused an abortion, she does not believe in offering condemnation to anyone facing such a decision. In other words, she can never accurately predict the factors that lead various individuals to pursue abortions, and it seems that she is aware that her open condemnation would indicate unchecked arrogance if she offered it. So she doesn’t. We both want people to be able to make their decisions from a platform of education. We both feel very strongly that forced abortions are violations of women’s rights. We both believe that minors shouldn’t be engaging in sexual activities that carry a high risk of pregnancy. While she believes no one should have sex before marriage, I disagree on the principle that I refuse to police other people’s bodies — I guess I could have raised the issue of who can’t actually get married currently, which would be me if I lived in a different area of North America; and people who simply don’t want to get married, which would be me again. That might have made her think about essentially telling me who she thinks should and should not be allowed to have sex. Maybe I’ll raise that point another time if the conversation comes up again. I left her with the thought that making abortion illegal doesn’t make it go away (and in fact, condemns 20,000 women to visit septic obstetrics hospital wards every year and another 12,000 to the morgue), and that’s why I’m pro-choice. Who knows. Maybe she’ll change her mind on calling herself pro-life when she’s had some time to think about it some more.

3 thoughts on “A Very Long Conversation About Abortion Rights

  1. Pingback: Two-Month Summary: Action Against Misogyny « HaifischGeweint

  2. Hey there,

    I’ve finally had the chance to read through your message.

    I am pro-life when it comes to my faith and with that also comes into my convictions regarding marriage. That said, I don’t necessarily like to get involved with the politics. I would much rather dialogue with an individual as a pro-lifer but respect the choice of another… just as I wouldn’t want laws to control my behavior.. or how I live my life.. or express myself as a Christian I wouldn’t want to control somebody else’s life. I wouldn’t exactly be telling somebody how to live their life but if I were to engage in discipleship as a Christian I’m not going to speak any differently then what I believe the scriptures teach. There is a huge difference between telling somebody how to live their life and what to do with their body and then coming to an understanding of what the Christian faith is all about.

    So … no I am not typical for a person who is pro-life … in that I will forever respect the choices that people will make and not condemn people for the choices that are made. But hey, if people want to know my convictions I’ll gladly share my convictions but I believe there is a time and place for that. I believe that making it all about politics neglects the individual person and their needs whether that be emotional needs or practical needs. I hold the same convictions with regards to same sex marriage and those who identify as gay, lesbian, bi, transgender, transsexual, and those who identify as cisgendered individuals… including those who may be hermaphrodites … I have 3 friends who are hermaphrodites by the way :)

    So … no these issues didn’t catch me off guard. As a student studying to become a counselor my Instructor challenged me to see through the lens of the other… I can’t really be effective as a counselor if I cannot express adequate empathy and if I know nothing about the person in front of me then I can’t see their life through their lens. That doesn’t mean that I don’t have my convictions… it just means that my convictions really don’t matter when it comes to another person who ultimately has to make the decision for themselves and be the one to live with the decisions that they make and have to reckon with what life may through in their way… whether that be surrounding ones decision for or against abortion, or surrounding one’s gender identity, or sexuality… I’m not there to tell people how to live their life or what to believe. So I guess I took on a posture of listening, I mean truly listening and asking questions to see from your perspective. Matters of gender identity is a complex issue and so I can’t expect that there is a one size fits all … I leave room for a persons biology to not fit the general male or female classifications… my hermaphrodite friends would attest to this.

    • For the record, I really respect that you are able to distinguish between your faith and the role of government. That is why I would suggest that, because pro-life literally means wanting to throw women in the slammer for having an abortion, you might consider identifying your beliefs differently. Such as by saying “I’m against abortion” — i.e., anti-abortion, or even anti-choice (though I think that’s a bit harsh for where you’re coming from). That wouldn’t change your convictions or the motivations behind them. It would just not paint you into the same corner as a political activist like Gordon Watson (who writes letters inciting others to form lynch mobs and murder “abortionists”) — at least in the minds of people like myself and the extremists I picket every week. For what it’s worth, I think that would be a really good thing.

      Also, hermaphrodite is a really outdated term that is generally considered slanderous, and has been replaced by “intersex”. Just thought you might want to know.

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