My mother had her own quirky philosophy about pregnancy and childbirth: First you got sick as a yellow dog, then you got fat as a prize sow for six months and then you went into labor–heaving and sweating, suffering the pains of pure-T torment for hours on end. It was not a condition to be entered into lightly.
No man, she said, could take what a woman could. In fact, she declared, if God had divvied up the childbearing duties and the man had to go first, there would never be a family with more than two kids. Good old Dad would never agree to a second pregnancy.
Before Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to choose became the right-wing’s pet hot button issue, I remember the conservative rallying cry this way: “Government’s gotten too big! They stick their noses into everything! IT’S TIME WE GOT BIG GOVERNMENT OFF YOUR BACKS!”
That sounded pretty good to me–until I realized they weren’t talking to me at all. As far as I can tell, they were talking to men. White, upper-class corporate types. They meant to get big government off their backs and into my uterus. In the anatomical scheme of things I don’t think that’s playing fair.
Let me be clear: I’ve never had an abortion. Never had to face that choice. I’m opposed to abortion as a handy means of birth control. But that’s my personal opinion and should not be made public policy. I’ve never been a victim of rape or incest. I’ve never had to make the choice between my fetus and my physical or mental health. I can’t sit in judgment of women who have. Others, however, feel they can.
I think maybe it’s all in the numbers. There are far more men in Congress, on the Supreme Court, than there are women. It’s easy enough to make a woman’s right to choose a crime when it can’t happen to you.
You don’t even have to give much thought to the consequences when the unrealistic notion of abstinence is the only option you want left on the table. The realistic notion of how many babies might be born unwanted, resented and neglected or abused accordingly dosn’t factor in at all. Nor does the reality of an expanding underclass–babies born into crushing poverty, doomed to lives of misery and failure before they draw the first breath.
“Adoption!” the pious right cries. I worked for years in the area of special needs adoption–my husband and I adopted one such child–and I can tell you there is no great, long waiting list of happy families eager to take on kids who’ve gotten tangled up for years in an overloaded, revolving-door foster care system and that’s what happens to entirely too many of these children.
This is also about quality of life–or it should be. It’s about breaking the cycles of poverty, abuse and crime. Access to standard healthcare, to decent affordable daycare, are unavailable to far too many of these children. But the vocal anti-choice crowd doesn’t seem too concerned about what happens to these babies after they’re born. They just like to moralize about getting them here.
There is an ugly underbelly to all this moral posturing about choice. It’s prejudice: the presumption that those women–the ones getting all those abortions–aren’t very nice people. They’re loose. Cheap. Low-class. And that neatly separates us from them. We don’t like the poor or the promiscuous all that much. So it’s not too difficult to follow the lead of a passel of middle-aged white men in Congress who’d rather focus our attention on criminalizing a desperate choice than on the war or on one scandal on Capitol Hill after another or the largest federal debt in world history or a corporate stranglehold on public policy that ensures the rich get richer, the poor get poorer and the middle class withers away altogether.
So we get Roberts and Alito and a sleight-of-hand war over criminalizing a woman’s reproductive rights.
Right or wrong, it won’t work. I came of age before Roe v. Wade and believe me, women got abortions back then for all the same reasons they do now. If your daddy had the cash there were clean, safe abortions to be had. If you weren’t so lucky…well, there were sleazy motel rooms and filthy kitchen tables, sepsis and hemorrhages, infections and dead girls. That’s where losing choice takes us and it’s tragic.
It’s especially tragic because there is no way to eradicate abortion by legislation–just as there was no way to enforce prohibition, when poor folks went blind or died drinking rotgut while the privileged went right on sipping their contraband scotch and champagne. It’s really only a question of who’s got power, a question of who gets what.
In the face of this country’s current problems, a woman’s reproductive rights is not a valid political priority. And I’ll bet my next month’s gas and grocery budget it wouldn’t be one if government had the courage to deal with issues that truly threaten our “way of life.”
Or if men got pregnant.