I was born at 22 weeks. To compare, the world’s most premature baby was born at 20 weeks. I weighed 2lbs, had all these tubes put inside me, was given steroids and had surgery for patent ductus arteriosus which saved my life, and grew up with asthma, ADD and bad eyesight (astigmatism and near-sightedness). I was in and out of the hospital for months after being born. The reason why I was born so early was because my mom stopped taking the hormones for her incompetent placenta, having miscarried twice before. There are IV scars on my wrists and ankles. On my left side is a scar from the surgery that extends to about the middle of my back, plus another scar from the drainage site. My lungs were scarred thanks to bronchopulmonary dysplasia. The anxiety I suffered while growing up, I suspect is in part due to the breathing problems – not learning how to breathe properly and being raised to depend on an asthma inhaler for so long.
Anti-abortion rhetoric insists that babies be born no matter what, even if they are guaranteed to have health problems, birth defects, or a miserable life. I am tired of reading about “viable births” being used to impose abortion cutoff limits and deprive babies of a right to health, and this under the “pro-choice” discussions with the message of abortion with restrictions. Premature babies are not something to strive for. And let’s be honest here, the pro-choice stance would also support women who are anti-abortion/pro-birth and insist on having babies, including premature ones. Those same women would then raise their daughters and sons to want to have children themselves, raising a new generation of oppressors and victims as well as consumers – sorry, “family values.” The irony of children wanting to have children should not escape anyone; it’s insane.
“I no longer identify as pro-choice. How can I, when Sarah Palin congratulates herself for the “choice” to carry her Down’s Syndrome child to term? Bringing a special needs baby into a tightly-knit, financially stable family that has access to health care and other forms of support is no big whoop, except for the baby in question—Trig Palin is one hell of a lucky kid. So is Tripp Johnston, the child carried to term by Trig’s seventeen-year-old sister. All four of them appeared on a celebrity tabloid in the early days of 2010, declaring “we’re so glad we chose life!” That’s that sneaky, slippery power of language again! Can you imagine a headline that read “we’re so glad we didn’t have abortions!” I can’t either.” – Abortion rights and the failure of “choice”
My brother’s new girlfriend had a baby recently, a male. He’s probably in a world of trouble of his own doing right now, since he is not even divorced from his wife yet. When they were still living together, they were insistent on not having children (probably in part due to her being disabled). He was even considering a vasectomy at one point, until my mother complained about it enough to dissuade him. On the other hand, I was once married to an abusive man who forcibly impregnated me twice and I manage to not end up with a baby, even though he drove me into bankruptcy. How the fuck did he? What happened to condoms?
We know that having unwanted children is difficult for both the mother and children, whether the children remain or end up in orphanages. What about wanted children?
For many women, single motherhood is a harsh reality and is a risk factor for child abuse – mothers being the primary caregivers and the fact that it’s easier to abuse with no witnesses. Involved fathers, when they do exist, are detached in actual child-caring activities – just as men are with household chores so-called “women’s work.” Many are violent and abusive as well, sometimes getting the childrens’ mother to collude with them or condone the abuse. I myself am the victim of one such mother who was emotionally abusive (a narcissist, in fact), an alcoholic, and condoned her creep of a boyfriend to abuse my brother and I. She wanted me at first, and then often reminded me while growing up how she regretted having children. The State made a terrible replacement “father” in lieu of my deadbeat biological one.
It’s interesting that a number of criteria exist for child adoption (I am not talking about foster parenting) while there are none to fulfill for reproduction. Supposedly, biological parents (yes, fathers too!) are less abusive, more loving, and better prepared to provide for their children emotionally and financially than adopters, who are always intentional in their desire. They are not expected to justify their decision to have children.
Yes, it takes two to tango. But there is no guarantee that fathers will be involved for support or beneficial at all. Child care is mandatory for women and optional for men. Women are in fact consumed by the raising of children; being infantilized themselves, they are not considered fully human.
Among the many selfish reasons why straight couples have children is the belief that having children can make up for one’s failures in life by allowing them to live their lives vicariously through their children. Rather than focusing on the children who already exist, couples would rather start over with brand-new babies who aren’t damaged goods and who aren’t someone else’s property – that is the only way they can imagine being parents. Mothers and fathers alike believe this time they will be the ones to raise children who will grow into wonderful, happy people. I call it the “right people myth.” When people say that we just need more of X group to breed, or are into eugenics, they’re supporting the same thing. There’s also the fact that parents themselves think they are the right people to breed, or they wouldn’t do it in the first place. This is a myth that needs to die. Gving birth is just that, giving birth. If an anti-abortionist isn’t actually pro-life, then why would any other natalist be?
Patriarchal culture itself is natalist. It is pro-birth, and such an ideology is centered around reproduction as a lifestyle and an ethical issue (the right thing to do). Women being better prepared to reproduce or delaying reproduction until the right time in such a culture just means being better baby-makers, not that opting out of reproduction altogether is taken seriously. They’re seen as vessels for men’s sperm, see. I know plenty of anti-abortion/pro-birth people who aren’t that concerned with being prepared, but believe that “well always find a way to feed our children” or “God will provide.” Regarding abortion, some are “pro-choice” only because while they are anti-abortion for themselves, they can’t stop other women from having abortions, or they might see an occasional justification (the “good” kind of abortion), like with rape or saving the mother’s life. So, surprise! They’re not really pro-abortion.
In terms of employment under capitalism, I’ve heard it argued that reproduction helps employers so they should be more family-friendly, because reproduction means more workers. Of all the issues like minimum wage or needing more jobs, or the desire to overthrow capitalism itself, why pander to it instead? Then there’s the contradiction of making the choice to have children while arguing oppression of mothers at the same time, even though choice implies responsibility. In the U.S., mothers are given priority in Medicare, homeless shelters, and time off work. Fathers, too, will get priority over childfree women when it comes to getting work assignments or time off work – because they have another mouth to feed. If you’re a woman and you don’t have a child, you don’t matter as much. Not only have you not fulfilled your duty, but you’re not allowed to have a life outside of work, either.
The subject of reproduction must also include surrogacy. Reproductive rights come from a precedent of sexual rights. Under a patriarchy, men feel entitled to children as an extension of their entitlement to sex. Even liberal men will usually go on to impregnate a woman later in life as part of a serious relationship, and it is difficult for a straight or bi woman to find a childfree man. And when a man can’t impregnate a woman, he’ll demand a surrogate in her place. Couples who engage in surrogacy tend to be middle and upper-class, while surrogate mothers are poor. Like prostituted women, surrogate mothers are vulnerable, exploited and trafficked. That is nothing less than an example of classism where a middle- or upper-class couple’s “right” comes at poor women’s expense. The same middle- and upper-class women who argue a right to reproduce* are echoing the males’ insistence on impregnating a woman.**
In comparing all of these situations, I conclude time and time again that abortion is a good thing, not an evil or even a neutral thing. It is a right, not a choice, and the health risks are far less than those of pregnancy and childbirth. Women must be able to have an abortion at any stage in their pregnancies. Fortunately, radical feminism isn’t about supporting women’s choices. Refusing the choice to have a child (and it is a choice, according to middle-class mothers) is refusing to be (as women are under patriarchy) valued only for reproductive purposes. It is refusing reproduction as the sole authentic expression of womanhood, life happiness, and love.
Ultimately, not making abortion easily accessible and affordable (preferably free) will most deeply affect poor women, who either cannot have an abortion or do so later on in the pregnancy due to financial reasons. When we’re talking about abortion, it should be considered on its own merit rather than compared to the choice of having a child. Abortion is not only about delaying reproduction for intentional pregnancies/wanted children (also called “family planning”), but also never reproducing. There’s not enough caring towards the unwanted children who already exist – and when those children are older and no longer totally helpless and cute, few will care at all.
* The practices of the privileged classes are not necessarily “rights” or beneficial for everyone. Another example is prostitution. Children are a luxury for the upper classes and a burden for everyone else.
** Men know that reproduction is the one area where women need men, sperm donors at a minimum. Is it all that surprising that men turn around and forcibly impregnate and conduct reproductive experiments on us?