When They Say "Responsibility," They Mean "Punishment"
I don't compromise with people who don't respect my bodily autonomy. I don't even let them have the first premise. I don't take their rhetorical framing. I especially don't take advice on what I should do with my reproductive organs from people who will never be in the position of facing, up close and personal, an unplanned, unwanted pregnancy.
Further, while I rejoice to respect the wishes of any given woman who may or may not be pregnant in the matter of what she intends to do with her reproductive organs, I am pro-abortion. Abortion is often the best possible answer to a difficult question. As this thread on Pandagon mentions, the abortion rate might indeed go down were circumstances different -- more access to birth control options, less violence against women, including less social stigma and shaming behaviour directed towards abortion-seekers, emergency contraception-seekers and single or unmarried mothers; not to mention French-style perquisites for parents and children. So far, no place in North America is very far through that checklist.
However, the most important thing there is that we be pro-choice. As commenter Kyra at Pandagon explains:
We are not pro-abortion in the way that pro-lifers are pro-life. To compare the two phrases, to speak of them as though they are equivalent to each other, is to accuse the pro-choice movement of being anti-birth, of pushing abortion as the only choice. This is patently untrue and everybody, no matter how deluded, knows it.
The right to an abortion would mean little to a woman who wants to give birth (unless of course she were to suffer complications to her pregnancy that would threaten things that she holds in greater value, such as her life, health, ability to care for living children, et cetera), yes? Similarly, the right to give birth would mean equally little to a woman who wants an abortion. The right which matters is the one a person chooses. Hence, pro-choice. And, we support choice for another reason, specifically that there is one reason having the opposite choice means anything to a woman of either persuasion: the ability to choose has value in itself—even if you’d never consider the other option, the fact that it’s there means you have the ability to make the choice freely, you are not forced to take one option or the other, your choice is free of the stench of force and slavery. Doesn’t pretty much everyone prefer to be asked to do something rather than commanded to do it?
Incidentally, this is not exactly a new idea.
This is a passage from the medieval poem Ragnelle, about the wedding of the famous medieval hero Sir Gawain to Dame Ragnelle, the "loathly lady."
"Syr," she sayd, "thus shalle ye me have:
Chese of the one, so God me save,
My beawty wolle not hold —
Wheder ye wolle have me fayre on nyghtes
And as foulle on days to alle men sightes,
Or els to have me fayre on days
And on nyghtes on the fowlyst wife --
The one ye must nedes have."
"Alas!" sayd Gawen; "The choyse is hard.
To chese the best, it is forward,
Wheder choyse that I chese:
To have you fayre on nyghtes and no more,
That wold greve my hart ryghte sore,
And my worship shold I lese.
And yf I desire on days to have you fayre,
Then on nyghtes I shold have a simple repayre.
Now fayn wold I chose the best:
I ne wott in this world what I shalle saye,
But do as ye lyst nowe, my Lady gaye.
The choyse I put in your fyst."**
The happy ending to the story is that by allowing Ragnelle to choose her fate, the curse is broken and the loathly lady becomes a lovely lady. (My question is, if someone in the fucking fifteeth or sixteenth century had the answer to the question "What do women want?" -- which is, "Go ask them, one at a time" -- figured out, why are we still having trouble with this five hundred years later?!)
Another area this blogger doctor was very adamant about was that people take "responsibility" for their actions. He said he is more than happy to write prescriptions for birth control, for which I commend him (I'm still not going to him for gynecological examinations, however), but at the same time judgementally maintains that all those abortions are for "birth control" (yeah, what else would they be for? Certainly not for fun, as most people who are into having surgery for fun like nosejobs and tummy tucks and yet another round of liposuction, and so on), and insists that "the condom didn't break all those times."
Well, so what if the condom didn't break, or there wasn't any condom? Me, I would much rather someone had an abortion than had a baby they didn't want, or even a pregnancy they didn't want. Goodness knows there's enough abused, maltreated, and unwanted children out there, and it certainly isn't your place to pass judgement on what someone else wants to do with their own, living, breathing, adult, consenting body, or why. Certainly having an abortion is more responsible than bringing an unwanted baby into the world, and either raising a child you don't want, or putting it up for adoption (a rather uncertain prospect even at the best of times).
But this debate isn't about ethics, or cleaning up after yourself. This is about agency, and control, and punishment. If you have the temerity to insist that you, as a female, have enough agency to be able to manage your sexual and reproductive life without submitting to the control of the approved social institutions (such as heterosexual marriage or the moral bloviatings of male doctors and other patriarchal authority figures), you deserve punishment. And that is exactly what they mean by "responsibility." If you don't do as the benevolent doctor tells you and use your birth control exactly as directed, and you wind up pregnant, well, sucks to be you, and you, according to him, don't get an out. The real Talibornagains, as we all know, take this at least several steps further: If you don't submit to a male-dominant heterosexual marriage in which you are expected to bear every child you can conceive, and you wind up pregnant, well, not only should you be forced to have a baby you might not want, but you should also pay various heavy social penalties for it.
This, of course, stands in stark contrast to every other technological means of control over ourselves and our environment human beings have ever devised, which are generally welcomed eagerly and enthusiastically by even the wingiest wingnuts, everything from modern medicine to weight-lifting to plastic surgery to the various "externalizations of the senses" described by Marshall McLuhan (which would include the Internet). Each one of these things represents a further separation between the human condition and the "natural" condition.
But as soon as the issue of women's control over their sexuality comes up, whoops, back to the Stone Age we go, and the attempt at control is dismissed as "unnatural." Astute historians will note that there have been recorded methods of [attempted] birth control since the beginning of recorded history; this isn't exactly a new debate either, much though the opposing side would have us believe it is. It may very well be "human nature" (such as that is) to attempt to separate sex from reproduction; certainly we seem to be wired to want and be able to control and change our internal and external environments more or less at will. (This also, I think, explains why the side that wants control to reside externally to the women in question prefers to use the word "contraception" or the odious neologism "contracepting"; it so nicely obfuscates the meaning inherent in the simpler term birth control, that is, that any form of birth control allows women to take charge of whether and when they give birth. Simple!)
Five hundred years ago we had this figured out: People want to be (able to be) in control of themselves. Part of that control, for women, is the ability to decide whether or not -- and when -- to give birth, as it has always been. Those who want to punish women for wanting to exert that control might well want to look at what kinds of control they themselves have, and punishments appropriate thereto.
** "Sir," she said, "So shall you have of me:
Choose between the two, God save me,
My beauty will not hold --
Whether you would have me fair at night
And as foul during the day to all men's sight
Or would you have me fair in the day,
And at night have the foulest wife
That one might have?
"Alas," said Gawain, "The choice is hard.
To choose it best confounds me,
Which choice that I choose
To have you fair at night and no more
That would pain me greatly
And I should lose my worship of you.
And if I desire to have you fair during the day,
Then at night, I should have a poor respite,
Now gladly I would choose the best
I don't know what in the world I should say
But do as you like now, my Lady fair,
The choice is in your hand..."