Monday, August 20, 2007

Thoughts on Abortion

I'm sure others will add to my response but I would begin with the unfortunate observation that despite the fact that most women can experience healthy pregnancies, there are no guarantees. Perhaps most of can name one or even several women whose lives were endangered by their pregnancies. I know several women, who although normally quite healthy, during pregnancy unexpectedly developed severe pregnancy related illness. One woman's pregnancy was quite healthy but she nearly died at delivery. I myself had a very high fever after giving birth to my second child which led to an extended hospital stay. Because even women in robust good health at the time of conception may face illness or even death as the pregnancy progresses, it is important that no woman be forced to proceed with what could potentially endanger her well being. Abortion remains safer, unfortunately, for many women, than full term pregnancy.Another thing to consider is that not all women are in robust good health when they become pregnant. Although on the surface, a pregnancy may not put their lives in danger, again, there are no guarantees. One of my cousins believed she could make it through a pregnancy with cancer and died shortly after giving birth. Who decides if a woman should or should not have an abortion? Certainly legislators should not have the right to make these decisions. How can they possibly understand the multiple physical variables each woman faces in her unique pregnancy with her unique body?We will leave aside the religious, spiritual, psychological, and social aspects of this discussion but although I cannot see myself having an abortion, I also know that it is beyond my ability or my rights to imagine that I understand how other women experience pregnancy. I also observe that although women of former generations knew that each pregnancy might signal the end of a woman's life, we have become complacent in our belief that pregnancy is no longer dangerous and that somehow words like "unless a woman's life is in danger" can have any meaning. Who determines this risk? The guys in Washington? What do they know about it? Although I am a strong advocate of natural childbirth and the attitude that most healthy women will give birth to healthy children without medical intervention, I feel it is important to note that it is still very possible that a healthy woman will become ill or die as a result of her pregnancy and therefore no woman should be forced to carry a pregnancy to term.

As I see it, personal responsibility is all well and good but in an ethical society, we do not punish a woman's poor sexual decisions (or her victimization) with a potential death sentence. Carrying a child to term is a beautiful and heroic act: It is Goddess power. Being forced to carry a child to term by the state denies women their basic civil rights, their privacy and their dignity. To force a person to go through all of the dramatic physical and cultural changes that go with pregnancy against her will reduces a woman to a brood mare...a piece of property to be controlled by the patriarchal state.That a zygote or embryo is entitled to equal protection with that of a woman is not shared by all people. I, for instance, feel that my life as an individual with a history, emotions, a family and self-awareness is more worthy of protection than that of a hollow ball of cells without a central nervous system that may or may not survive the entire pregnancy anyway. (An important consideration given the large number of embryos that are naturally aborted without women even knowing they were pregnant in the first place.)Would I prefer that all women were in situations in which their health, their family's health, and the health of the child were not threatened by pregnancy? Of course. Abortion, in my view, is not a decision that any woman would relish. Often a person must make this decision within a difficult and even painful context.Do I wish that women would be more responsible with their use of birth control? Sure. But we live in a country with an abysmal record of creating access to affordable health care and birth control for women and the grisly reality for many women is that they are often not given a choice about their sexual relationships. Marital rape, date rape, incest, and abuse are all too common. And birth control often fails. Condoms break. Birth control pills are missed. That's just life.But what of women who are "promiscuous." Shouldn't they just control themselves? Well, the simple answer is: Its none of our business.Additionally, to characterize all life as sacred or of equal value is not necessarily a secular viewpoint nor is it shared by all religious or spiritual perspectives. Another woman's religious or spiritual opinions about the sanctity of life are of very little interest to me when I am deciding what to do with my health and body. I would much prefer is MY spiritual perspective regarding MY body and MY pregnancy was the deciding philosophy. YOUR spirituality has nothing to do with MY pregnancy. Luckily for us, we live in a country in which a fundamental basis of our society is the separation of church and state. We must defend this.In the spirit of the body-loving nature of this group, I stand by women's ability to love their bodies and to be able to make the decision that their health is, in fact, worthy of protection from those who would apply moralistic and religious principles to prevent women from attaining quality health care in the form of decent birth control and abortion. Our love for our bodies is seriously demeaned in a society that sends the message that women's sexuality is as simple as just keeping our legs closed.

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