There’s nothing I like better than opening my newspaper only to read dozens of old white dudes explaining why I shouldn’t maintain control over my ovaries.
Following the announcement that Henry Morgentaler would be awarded the Order of Canada, the Ottawa Citizen was quickly filled with article after article moaning about the thousands of “babies” murdered every year thanks to “abortionists” like Morgentaler. What they neglect to mention, of course, is the welfare of the women carrying these unwanted fetuses who are no longer dying in back alleys with punctured organs after attempting to self abort, alone, without any medical attention.
That’s why I steadfastly refuse to label Charles McVety and his ilk as “pro-life.” Because if they really cared about women’s lives, they wouldn’t be trying to clamp down on our ability to make choices about our bodies and our families. In my mind, they are anti-choice. And for me, being pro-choice is about so much more than a woman’s right to end an unwanted pregnancy.
There’s no denying that the abortion battle represents a war of words. But it also represents a clash of values, and unfortunately the religious right is far more advanced when it comes to developing a multi-layered proposal for their vision of the family and society. It’s no surprise that the same organizations that oppose abortion are also behind the “ex-gay” movement. They think funding for universal daycare is a waste of money, preferring women to stay barefoot in the kitchen at home. They are tough on crime, have declared a war on drugs, and support our troops, no matter what foolhardy war for oil they’ve been plunged into.
And now, as Cristina Page from Reproductive Health Reality Check points out the Christian Right has launched a campaign against the birth control pill, touting the absurd argument that it kills babies, going so far as to argue that “attempting to prevent abortion is abortion too.”
As ludicrous as this all sounds, it does follow a certain logic. And unfortunately, the pro-choice movement in Canada (such as it is), has failed to make similar arguments on a grand scale. Twenty years after the Supreme Court opened the door to free abortion on demand with its decision in the Morgentaler case, many of the veteran pro-choice activists have understandably moved on to other things. In the process, the definition of “pro-choice,” and all of the values that surround it, have remained firmly entrenched in second wave feminism.
The term “pro-choice” could serve as a rallying cry for men and women, queers and straights alike. But we need to think creatively about how to stretch and adapt its definition, helping it grow from its 1970s roots.
Take decriminalization of sex work. It seems to me that’s it’s pretty logical to argue that if women have the right to choose whether or not to reproduce, they should also have the right to decide how and when they have sex — and this includes negotiating a fair price, if they see fit. But so much of the original pro-choice movement was entrenched in an anti-pornography, anti-prostitution argument: that women couldn’t possibly consent to participate in such activities due to economic factors and the burden of patriarchy.
The reality is that a lot of different jobs are exploitive, and women should be able to choose whether or not they want to sell sexual services without the threat of being thrown in jail for negotiating their own safety.
Being pro-choice means being able to decide how many people we sleep with and how we configure our relationships. It means choosing to come out — or not. It means choosing to label our sexual orientation and gender identity — or not. It means choosing to have our relationships recognized by the state, or rejecting government acknowledgement completely.
The problem, as I see it, is that to be truly pro-choice, we have to get behind the idea that everyone has the right to make decisions about the way they use their bodies and live their lives, providing no one is being exploited or seriously harmed in the process. And this is a sticky matter, because all of us pass judgment from time to time, and we all set our boundaries in our own ways.
Plastic surgery is a good example. I cringe at images of emaciated women in fashion magazines and hate the thought of young women paying thousands of dollars to achieve this problematic notion of perfection. But my perspective on the matter has really changed after meeting trans people who have gone through many painful surgeries to help ensure that their bodies conform with their gender identities and their own internal sense of beauty. The truly pro-choice position is that everyone gets to decide how to alter and adorn their body.
Henry Morgentaler’s brave actions helped give women the freedom to choose. But isn’t it time for us to think about our freedom to make so many other choices?