a man's home is his castle, a woman's body has never been wholly her own
October 29, 2014 11:23 AM   Subscribe

"Trust Women" is a popular motto in the pro-choice movement. It sounds a little sentimental, doesn't it? Part of that old sisterhood-is-powerful feminism it is fashionable to mock today. But "Trust Women" doesn't mean that every woman is wise or good or has magical intuitive powers. It means that no one else can make a better decision, because no one else is living her life, and since she will have to live with that decision—not you, and not the state legislature or the Supreme Court—chances are she is doing her best in a tight spot.
How Pro-Choicers Can Take Back the Moral High Ground: an excerpt from essayist and poet Katha Pollitt's latest book, Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights.

• NYT: Changing the Debate: Katha Pollitt Talks About 'Pro'
I know some readers are raising their eyebrows at my use of the word "patriarchal." But the home base of the anti-abortion movement is in religious denominations where women are formally subordinate — the Catholic church, where women are shut out of the priesthood, which is where the power is, and the Southern Baptist and other evangelical/fundamentalist churches, where wives are commanded to submit to their husbands. If that's not patriarchy, what is?
• The Diane Rehm Show: October 8, 2014 interview with Katha Pollitt (audio and full transcript)
Well, I think the pro-choice movement has become very defensive, and so they've adopted a language that I think they may not realize is stigmatizing. For example, when you say, safe, legal and rare, you're saying, oh, there's too much abortion. Well, is there too much abortion? There are lots of people who want an abortion that can't have one. The Hyde Amendment prevents, in most states, poor women from getting coverage for their abortion, so there are a lot of women who have babies because they can't afford -- they don't have 500 dollars.

But there's also this, sort of, abortion is the most terrible decision a woman ever makes. It's the most difficult decision. Oh, it's just so tragic and awful. Well, that's really saying motherhood is the default position for women. A woman should be ready to have a baby whenever a stray sperm gets in there. And if she's going to have an abortion, she has to feel really bad about it. But we know that, actually, most women who have abortions, it's not a difficult decision. They know right away that's what they want to do, and most women have abortions as soon as they can.
• Double X: Abortion Is Great
Three in 10 American women [PDF] have abortions by the time they hit menopause. They are not generally victims of rape or incest, or in any pitiable situation from which they need to be rescued. They are making a reasonable and even admirable decision that they can't raise a child at the moment. Is that so hard to say? As Pollitt puts it, "This is not the right time for me" should be reason enough. And saying that aloud would help push back against the lingering notion that it's unnatural for a woman to choose herself over others.
posted by divined by radio (39 comments total) 51 users marked this as a favorite
 
I had an abortion when I was 22. It was not the right time for me.
posted by lyssabee at 11:29 AM on October 29, 2014 [8 favorites]


Vice article on her book plus brief interview.
posted by emjaybee at 11:30 AM on October 29, 2014


Seems like it only fits into the libertarian argument for abortion (everyone should be trusted to do what they want.) There are lots of things we (our overlapping social and political bodies) don't trust people to do or not do, sometimes for good reasons.
posted by michaelh at 11:33 AM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm all for reframing the debate but how do you argue "trust women" when the counter argument is God told me not to?
posted by photoslob at 11:33 AM on October 29, 2014 [5 favorites]


We are Americans and we are women, how did it come to pass the infernal x-Ray is still on us ? I look back in time to when we still always wore hats. Modern day American women forget we were covering our heads, it was sharia, out of Catholicism, and Judaism and wherever else. We see our increasing freedom as a high speed train to our basic rights, as Americans, as humans. Problem, yeah, we are still in the station, elsewhere in the world, they are tearing out the tracks.
posted by Oyéah at 11:34 AM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


It's sentimental to trust women? Huh.
posted by selfnoise at 11:35 AM on October 29, 2014


And if she's going to have an abortion, she has to feel really bad about it.

This, which I have seen from people here on metafilter, makes my head explode. "I support your right to decide your own reproductive care, as long as you can assure me you feel a certain way about it."
posted by rtha at 11:36 AM on October 29, 2014 [43 favorites]


Seems like it only fits into the libertarian argument for abortion (everyone should be trusted to do what they want.) There are lots of things we (our overlapping social and political bodies) don't trust people to do or not do, sometimes for good reasons.

In the US, at least, people generally trust people to make health care decisions for themselves. In fact, when corporate interests (e.g., insurance companies) interfere in health care decisions, it's generally considered a bad thing.
posted by immlass at 11:36 AM on October 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


You don't have to be a libertarian to believe that a woman should have the right to decide whether to become or remain pregnant. You just have to believe that decisions about what happens inside her body are hers by right to make. That's simply granting her the most basic kind of autonomy. Analogous to her right to decide what to eat, what to wear, where to live, and whom to love.
posted by emjaybee at 11:41 AM on October 29, 2014 [12 favorites]


We are guaranteed by the US Constitution, we don't have to believe or accept your beliefs about any thing. Religion and matters of spirit are even more personal than seeing a physician. We each have a body and connect to the infinite in our own way me, the Yazidi, the Shaman, the Elder or the worried woman fresh raped, or worse yet the child fresh raped get to live, breathe and deal with outside circumstances, and inner reckoning. We are guaranteed this as Americans.
posted by Oyéah at 11:42 AM on October 29, 2014


I'm all for reframing the debate but how do you argue "trust women" when the counter argument is God told me not to?

Well, now you've gotten them to admit that they believe God commands them to distrust women. That makes it very clear to undecided people which side has the moral high ground.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 11:51 AM on October 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


That makes it very clear to undecided people which side has the moral high ground.

Oh would that it were so.
posted by like_a_friend at 12:09 PM on October 29, 2014 [5 favorites]


Seems like it only fits into the libertarian argument for abortion (everyone should be trusted to do what they want.)

Oh, if only! A lot of libertarians are happy to pay lip service to the idea of personal freedom and autonomy, but when it gets right down to it, as Pollitt puts it in the above-linked Vice interview: "Abortion restrictions are the only restriction on people's liberty that some libertarians like. For example, Ron Paul, Rand Paul, Paul Ryan. It's like, "You can do anything you want... except have an abortion." No small government there."

This, which I have seen from people here on metafilter, makes my head explode. "I support your right to decide your own reproductive care, as long as you can assure me you feel a certain way about it."

YUP. They want every woman who gets an abortion to be appropriately contrite, to pay the decent and proper amount of penance for her sins, to audibly wail or visibly gnash her teeth and above all swear she'll never do it again. But don't get them wrong, they're all for women making choices about their own bodies! Except for the choice to not feel any kind of guilt, shame, or regret after having an abortion.

That attitude really came out of the woodwork in the thread about Emily Letts filming her own abortion, just a few months ago: i didn't feel bad. That discussion made me do a whole lot of thinking about the freaking canyon that can exist between people who consider and call themselves allies (often quite loudly) and people who actually are (often silently).

A couple of amazing links from that Vice article emjaybee linked above that I wish I could go back and edit into the FPP:

1 in 3 Campaign
The 1 in 3 Campaign is a grassroots movement to start a new conversation about abortion—telling our stories, on our own terms. Together, we can end the stigma and shame women are made to feel about abortion.
Not Alone
We are here to let women who have had abortions know that they are part of a community. We are not ashamed of our experiences; we are not anonymous; and we are not alone.
posted by divined by radio at 12:10 PM on October 29, 2014 [11 favorites]


I do like the phrase "forced pregnancy brigade" to describe pro-lifers. I feel like it perfectly captures the gross intrusion on privacy and autonomy that is represented by the pro-life movement. The only problem is that people still respond with "she shouldn't have had sex" as though the women in these situations had all conceived immaculately.
posted by longdaysjourney at 12:20 PM on October 29, 2014 [13 favorites]


The only problem is that people still respond with "she shouldn't have had sex"
...which also ties into the Rape Culture assumption that "they all WANT it".

I have corrected people using the grossly dishonest term "Pro-Life" with "forced pregnancy", which has saved me from further discussions on serious issues with people who have their heads (or their Gods) up their asses.
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:37 PM on October 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


I am married, well off, and have a wonderful child. I also had an abortion. Why? Because - just my luck - birth control failed, plan B failed, and I didn't want to be pregnant again so soon after my daughter.

I cried when the pregnancy test said positive. My gynecologist said "most women feel relief after their abortion" and it was definitely true for me. Will I think of the child I could have had? Sometimes, in passing. Do I feel guilty over my decision to terminate the pregnancy? Not at all. Did I agonize over it? Not really. I did not want to be pregnant and I am fortunate enough to still be the arbiter of what happens to my body.

I feel no shame, no regret, no guilt. Just anger. Anger that people want to take this choice away from women and anger that even allies heel to the idea that abortions are a necessary evil.

Fuck that noise.
posted by lydhre at 12:40 PM on October 29, 2014 [44 favorites]


divined by radio: It's like, "You can do anything you want... except have an abortion." No small government there."

Samantha Bee got delegates to state this pretty clearly, two years ago:
Delegate: The government has a purpose, and we lose sight of that. The purpose of the government is to protect your individual liberties.

Delegate: That's what our country is. Is the individualism. We get to be who we are. I mean, everybody gets to choose the path they choose because that's their choice.

Bee: Except in the case of abortion.

Delegate: Um…

Bee: My right ends where my uterus begins.

Delegate: I guess I'd have to agree with you on that.

Delegate: Personal liberty is the hallmark of our civilization. No question about that.

Bee: Except in cases of abortion.

Delegate: Except in cases of abortion. Exactly!
posted by filthy light thief at 12:44 PM on October 29, 2014 [23 favorites]


I've never seen it as that weird a contradiction for people who believe a fetus is a person themselves, you get into a situation of having to balance rights.

Libertarians are pro-choice by platform but very welcoming of pro-life candidates, including nominating them for the Presidency. I wouldn't really recommend voting for them if this is an issue that is very important to you either way because it seems like something they are very likely to compromise on.
posted by Drinky Die at 12:47 PM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


a man's home is his castle

I take it we're legalizing abortion in Florida via the Stand Your Ground laws?
posted by pwnguin at 2:05 PM on October 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


I've never seen it as that weird a contradiction for people who believe a fetus is a person themselves, you get into a situation of having to balance rights.

Sure, except that is the only place where rights need to be balanced. Living person vs their parent who doesn't want to donate blood/marrow/organs? Sorry, living person. Living person vs stranger who doesn't want to donate? Sorry, living person. Living person vs corpse? Sorry, living person.

But fetus vs woman who doesn't want to donate her uterus? Well, there are competing rights here.
posted by jeather at 3:12 PM on October 29, 2014 [13 favorites]


Sure, except that is the only place where rights need to be balanced.

Oh no, it's a major part of politics. Libertarians will get very pissed off when liberals suggest they have to donate portions of their income to support the poor, for example. Individual responsibility is one of the right's favorite memes, so they see a woman who knowingly had unprotected sex that could lead to a situation where a fetus would be reliant on her as already having made her choice about whether or not to "donate" herself. They kind of get lost in all the nuances that make that a spectacularly simplistic view on the matter, if they even care to think about them at all. Anyway, this is getting over the edge into the devil's advocating that can drive these threads into a wall so I'll leave it there.
posted by Drinky Die at 3:21 PM on October 29, 2014


I've never seen it as that weird a contradiction for people who believe a fetus is a person themselves, you get into a situation of having to balance rights.

It seems a justification for forced pregnancy, so long as you don't think about it at all*. Draw this line of reasoning out, however, and it seems like it'd also make a pretty good argument for social safety nets and universal health care, doesn't it? If human life is so sacred that we are going to force women to be pregnant, then shouldn't we force everyone to pay to keep people alive? We're going to force the woman to carry her baby, we ought to be willing to pay the associated costs, right? I mean, while our farmers impregnate their livestock (essentially, forcefully), they also have to feed them, and surely we're going to treat human beings at least as well as cows? It's around this point in the argument I think we can start calling a spade a spade, and discard the fig leaf that this is somehow about the sanctity of human life. It's about religion and the need to control women.

* I'm also tempted to counterargue by saying sure, fine, the fetus/ball of cells has rights; it has the right to go on living, just not in the uterus of a women that doesn't want it there. Remove it! It's on its own, free to exercise all its rights somewhere else.
posted by axiom at 4:35 PM on October 29, 2014 [8 favorites]


Sorry, I meant: this is the only place where the rights of people to bodily integrity have to lose out to other people (or "people"). If one were going to be consistent, the rule that "women need to give up their bodily integrity for fetuss because you knew it could happen you made a choice when you had sex" would have to at least reach to "parents need to give up bodily integrity for their born children because they had sex". I'm not talking about the general concept of balancing rights and responsibility, just rights to bodily integrity.
posted by jeather at 5:06 PM on October 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


jeather: "Living person vs corpse? Sorry, living person. "

It's probably unpopular, but I'd be pretty open to changing this. Not that it'd ever happen.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 5:32 PM on October 29, 2014


axiom: "I'm also tempted to counterargue by saying sure, fine, the fetus/ball of cells has rights; it has the right to go on living, just not in the uterus of a women that doesn't want it there. Remove it! It's on its own, free to exercise all its rights somewhere else."

This is actually an interesting hypothetical. If we had artificial wombs that could sustain a zygote, fetus, or whatever stage of development, would it be ethical to just abort them anyway, or would we be obligated to keep them alive in an artificial womb?
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 5:34 PM on October 29, 2014


For a few reasons, libertarians can't really get away from the family as a basic political body. No matter one's philosophy, parents always end up having responsibilities to their children until they are adults (defined variously.) A fetus is naturally safer than a toddler in the food, shelter and clothing department, so it makes sense for a libertarian to focus on the most likely source of harm to a fetus, which is abortion. Libertarians believe adults are self-sufficient so can't make claims on others or their resources (in theory.)

By contrast, something like Catholicism is against abortion and also teaches that adults have responsibilities to each other. There are catholic libertarians, but not nearly so many as Protestant and non-theistic libertarians in the United States.
posted by michaelh at 6:07 PM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


My family is full of Catholic libertarians. The Uncle who is the patriarch of that part of the family has also worked a government job most of his adult life. He is also very lovable when you totally avoid talking about religion or politics with him.

One of the reasons I like Parks and Rec is I see echoes of him in Ron Swanson.
posted by Drinky Die at 6:16 PM on October 29, 2014


I think there are quite a few Ron Swanson inspirations in the US, Catholic or otherwise. Can't live with or without 'em (controversial.)
posted by michaelh at 6:19 PM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm really conflicted about some of the language here because there are a lot of anti-woman and misogynistic roots in anti-choice movements but they end up hurting anyone with a womb and reproductive capabilities. Using cissexist language feels almost inevitable because you're going against people who are anti-woman and just hurting trans men, some intersex folks and some third gender or non-binary people as collateral to that. But those people often end up having it worse than cis women in these situations anyway because of doctors not dealing with them well, so I really don't think they are acceptable collateral damage for people who are for choice. I like "trust women" as a motto, but I wish it was "trust us" or something else like that.
posted by NoraReed at 7:00 PM on October 29, 2014


This, which I have seen from people here on metafilter, makes my head explode. "I support your right to decide your own reproductive care, as long as you can assure me you feel a certain way about it."

I was guilty of a variant of this in the past until I realized that it basically boils down to saying "I support your right to have made this horrible, terrible, awful mistake."
posted by feloniousmonk at 10:59 PM on October 29, 2014


I was guilty of a variant of this in the past until I realized that it basically boils down to saying "I support your right to have made this horrible, terrible, awful mistake."


This is exactly how I feel as a non-partaker about drug legalization. Free people in a free society get to do things I disapprove of. We are no more free if I can prevent you from doing as you choose within your personal sphere than if you can prevent me from holding a disapproving opinion.
posted by Octaviuz at 5:49 AM on October 30, 2014


I was guilty of a variant of this in the past until I realized that it basically boils down to saying "I support your right to have made this horrible, terrible, awful mistake."

So you no longer support that right, or you no longer think it is a horrible mistake?

And why did you choose one about-face over the other?

Mild tease, but largely a serious question.
posted by IndigoJones at 11:04 AM on October 30, 2014


I no longer think it's a great idea to say things like "I support the right to have an abortion but I wish people never had them."
posted by feloniousmonk at 11:06 AM on October 30, 2014


Living person vs stranger who doesn't want to donate? Sorry, living person.

That's an interesting illustration that I hadn't heard before. If I have a deadly disease, and the only thing that can save my life is a protracted and and painful donation of, say, bone marrow, and you happen to be the only person genetically suitable to give it, should you be forced to donate?

You can make a case that you should, but it would be pretty far from most people's instincts, and it's certainly not remotely what the law is now.
posted by echo target at 11:27 AM on October 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


This is actually an interesting hypothetical. If we had artificial wombs that could sustain a zygote, fetus....

Trying to hope that then we'll have BC more awesome than plan B.

Also - audio is great. Pollitt is a fantastic interview.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 3:34 PM on October 30, 2014


I no longer think it's a great idea to say things like "I support the right to have an abortion but I wish people never had them."

I do wish people never had to have them, that this decision would only be made through free choice, and not through physical coercion/attacks or child- and parent-hating social policies. I would hope that free choice being the reason would help--along with getting rid of all the Judgey McJudgersons--with feelings of shame and guilt. (I am deliberately leaving aside abortions chosen for strictly medical reasons because I don't see any way that those situations can be much less than tragic and heartbreaking.)

We don't live in that world, unfortunately, and even if we did my actions would be the same: advocating for no-questions-asked, no-judgement, access to safe and legal abortion for everyone with a uterus. That's it, and as far as I am concerned that is the only sane and civilized position to take. Anyone else is trying to control the autonomy of women.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 5:52 PM on October 30, 2014


In the early 90's I had a sticker on my Emerson dorm room door reading :If you can't trust me with a choice, how can you trust me with a child?
posted by brujita at 2:44 AM on October 31, 2014 [1 favorite]




From that link:
How does this play out? Based on the belief that he had an obligation to give a fetus a chance for life, a judge in Washington, D.C., ordered a critically ill 27-year-old woman who was 26 weeks pregnant to undergo a cesarean section, which he understood might kill her. Neither the woman nor her baby survived.

In Iowa, a pregnant woman who fell down a flight of stairs was reported to the police after seeking help at a hospital. She was arrested for “attempted fetal homicide.”

In Utah, a woman gave birth to twins; one was stillborn. Health care providers believed that the stillbirth was the result of the woman’s decision to delay having a cesarean. She was arrested on charges of fetal homicide.

In Louisiana, a woman who went to the hospital for unexplained vaginal bleeding was locked up for over a year on charges of second-degree murder before medical records revealed she had suffered a miscarriage at 11 to 15 weeks of pregnancy.
posted by rtha at 3:40 PM on November 9, 2014


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