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Is choice the right question?

January 23, 2010

On the 37th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade NARAL asked bloggers to blog for choice, but is choice the right question?

On Carleton’s campus it’s pretty hard to get people to talk about choice. A friend of mine, who runs Carls for Choice can hardly get a couple of people out of a campus full of largely progressive women to come to the meeting. I think for a lot of women, like me, who are white, cisgender, and come from upper-middle class families, the question can become a little moot. Right now, I basically have the choice:  if I need an abortion, I can afford one. It’s not often when my choice gets truly challenged in the debate about abortion.

Instead, measures against abortion continually restrict access to low-income communities. When Bush expanded the “conscience clause” late in his administration, to allow health-care workers to refuse to provide services based on moral objections, it was a horrible restriction on many women’s access to abortion, depending on where they live. The Hyde amendment, (and expansions like Stupak-aka-the-Pitts) which bars the use of federal funds to pay for abortions, severely limits the access of low-income women whose health care comes from Medicaid. Other nongovernmental efforts like “Crisis Pregnancy Centers”, which do not provide abortions, and often mislead, bully, and straight out lie to women about their rights and the facts of abortion, end up targeting women who are uneducated about sex and reproduction, and don’t have other options.

In the regulation of women’s bodies by the government, it’s my privilege that keeps me afloat. For those of us who the privilege to choose where we live, have private insurance, and have a thorough and honest education about sex and reproduction, these limits on abortion often don’t apply. So isn’t it time that, especially when the face of the pro-choice movement is white upper-class women, that we stop talking about choice, and start talking about rights? All of these limitations on abortion, do not take away a generic women’s “choice”, but instead specific women’s rights.

In Beggars and Choosers, Rickie Solinger outlines the problem with “choice”:

In theory, choice refers to individual preference and wants to protect all women from reproductive coercion. In practice, though, choice has two faces. The contemporary language of choice promises dignity and reproductive autonomy to women with resources. For women without, the language of choice is a taunt and a threat. When the language of choice is applied to the question of poor women and motherhood, it begins to sound a lot like the language of eugenics: women who cannot afford to make choices are not fit to be mothers. The mutable quality of choice reminds us that sex and reproduction- motherhood- provide a rich site for controlling women, based on their race and class “value”.

Solinger uses the language of choice to unpack the inequalities in reproduction in America, but usually this language serves to hide these structures. When we assess reproductive rights in terms of our choices, it presents all women on an even playing field and allows us to misconstrue equal opportunity with equality. NARAL asks that we post this image, in promotion of blog for choice. Lets take it to mean trust all women with the choice of motherhood. Let’s fight for access in every community in America, so that all women really can truly exercise their reproductive rights.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. January 24, 2010 1:58 PM

    I wholeheartedly disagree with Solinger. choice is about giving enough options that the woman in question has a choice. Me being pro-choice means I write for more support for single mothers, more liberal adoption laws, and against forced sterilizations as well as for abortion access and birth control access. being pro-choice means being pro all choices.

  2. January 24, 2010 4:18 PM

    I think you might find Lisa R. Pruitt, Toward a Feminist Theory of the Rural, 2007 Utah L. Rev. 421 (you can get it on Lexis) to be very interesting.

  3. Norma permalink
    January 25, 2010 11:12 PM

    I’d have to agree wholeheartedly with this post; having protested Stupak with a delegation dominated by young, poor, queer women of color, it became apparent to me that the pro-choice movement dominated by wealthy, older white women
    whose philosophies are not necessarily aligned with an agenda of general social justice– for example, one rally organizer actually censored some of our signs promoting immigrant women’s inclusion in public healthcare plans! I have actually become somewhat disenchanted with mainstream pro-choice organizations for this very reason– their version of choice often does not promote achieving equal access to reproductive services for all women so much as it does maintaining legal access to services for those women who already have them.

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