Blogging For Choice Day
Why am I pro-choice? This is something I've spent a lot of time thinking about. As a man, I will never have to choose whether or not I will get pregnant, or stay pregnant: biology has made that choice for me. So my stake in the debate is somewhat less than that of a woman, to say the least. Regardless, I do have strong feelings on abortion. I believe abortion, contraception, voluntary sterilization, and any other measures women may opt for to control their reproduction must be available, affordable, and accessible, without any equivocation or justification required of women who seek these services. No waiting periods, no requirements for spousal (or parental!) consent or notification, none of that.
So that's my position. Obviously, I'm as pro-choice, pro-reproductive rights, as you can get. But what are my reasons for being pro-choice? Well, I think it might be more informative, to start with what my reasons aren't.
First, I'm not concerned with whether or not life begins at conception. That whole argument is silly. Yes, of course, life begins at conception. Once the sperm fertilizes the egg, and the resulting zygote has a complete genome, it is, by any biological definition, alive. It is as much a life form as any bacterium, protozoan, or other monocellular life. But in my book, the answer to that question is both trivial and entirely irrelevant. The question of when life begins is not even interesting: whether it begins at conception, at some period during gestation, at birth, or at 40, does not change my conclusions, because it just doesn't matter.
More interesting, but also not part of my primary reasoning, is the question of when that developing fetus becomes a human being. The reason I don't concern myself with it is that ultimately, it's a religious question: when does the fetus have a soul? Different religions answer the question differently: Catholicism pre-20th century tended to say that the fetus became human when it "quickened", when its movements were first noticed. Modern fundamentalists say, of course, that it's human from the point of fertilization. Judaism has traditionally held, for several thousand years, that it's not human until it comes out. Given that we live in a secular democracy, religious questions cannot decide public policy. Otherwise, we have a law respecting an establishment of religion, or preventing the free exercise thereof. So I have to look elsewhere for my answer.
I'm also not pro-choice because of population growth concerns. After all, the country with the largest population, China, has strict population controls, and often compels women to have abortions. I don't support that any more than I support denying women access to abortion. Population control is important, and I think that if women control their own reproduction, population will drop naturally, but I don't consider that a primary reason to support choice.
What it ultimately comes down to, for me, is simply the question of the most fundamental right any person has: the right to body integrity and self-determination. A zygote, an embryo, a fetus, may well be alive, may even be human, but until birth, it's dependent on the body of another human being for survival. It uses the woman's blood supply, her nutrients, space in her body, to develop, and does not directly contribute to her health and well-being (in fact, can have deleterious and sometimes fatal effects); in the strictest biological sense, it's a parasite. It may well be welcome, and if so, no problem! But it is using the body of another human to live.
No matter what other issues come up, to me, this is the central one. Women are human beings. A woman must have the right to determine who and what can use her body, for what purposes. That is a fundamental human right, indeed, the most important one. If someone else can come along and tell her "Hey, you need to devote your body's resources to serve my needs", then she is not a free person. Compelling a woman to carry a fetus to term, when she doesn't want to, is the most egregious kind of slavery, as it denies her the right to determine how her body is used.
Given this fact, I could not come to any other conclusion but that any and all means available to control reproduction, must be available to women. Without questions or qualifications. To do otherwise is to enslave half of the human race.