Monday, January 22, 2007

Why I'm Pro-Choice

Blog for Choice Day - January 22, 2007

Why am I pro-choice? I don't often examine my reasons, am usually content to offer a "because women should have autonomy over their own bodies" as sufficient cause. But what about me personally? Yes, I've had an abortion. Yes, I've had a child. In both cases, I chose what I wanted to do, and I believe that every woman should have that right.

There was no incapacitating post-abortion syndrome (or whatever the "pro-certain-life" crew is calling it lately). What I did feel was relief. And here is another reason I'm pro-choice, because the discourse around pregnancy, abortion, and motherhood is such that, while I didn't feel guilty about the abortion, I felt guilty about not feeling guilty. I felt guilty because I had no business being pregnant anyway--I should've known better. I felt guilty because one of the factors in my choice was that I was a college student on scholarship far from home and I knew that I wouldn't have been able to stay at my university. Was that selfish? And as a woman, defined largely as a potential mother, wasn't I supposed to be infinitely selfless? I don't want other women going through that "ashamed of not being shamed."

But I am learning that the way I conceptualize choice is influenced somewhat negatively by my privileged-in-some-ways status. First is my previously narrow definition; when I talk of reproductive freedom, I usually mean access to birth control and abortion. Though I know that there are other issues, I prioritize those, because they have been my concerns. But recently, I found this definition from INCITE: Women of Color Against Violence :
REPRODUCTIVE FREEDOM INCLUDES: Free and low cost drug treatment for pregnant and parenting women that offer neo-natal care, pre-natal care, and childcare. * Freedom to seek health care services without the fear of being reported to the police, welfare officials, child protection services (CPS), or immigration law enforcement. * Harm reduction strategies that reduce the risk of babies being born drug exposed. * Resources to address the root causes (rape, poverty, trauma, oppression)for which pregnant women use drugs. * The TRUTH about the risks of choosing long-term birth control methods like Norplant and Depo-Provera. * Supportive community environments where women can make healthy and non-coercive reproductive choice
Yes, I thought. I agree with every bit of that. So why haven't my words and thoughts reflected it? But rather than dwell on why I haven't prioritized these issues, I have to work to make them part of my own definition of reproductive freedom.

And BfP has posted an excerpt from Andrea Smith's Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide. What it reveals is that a narrow definition of choice like mine "continues the marginalization of women of color, poor women and women with disabilities." Some reasons why:
1. One example of this marginalization is how pro-choice organizations narrow their advocacy to legislation that affects the right to choose to have an abortion–without addressing the conditions that put women in the position of having to make the decision in the first place.
2. While contraceptives are often articulated as an issue of “choice” for white women in the First World, they are articulated as an instrument of population control for women of color and women in the Global South. (I think petitpoussin's post about "elective" sterilization in California prisons is somehow related to this).
3. The prevalent ideology within the mainstream pro-choice movement is that women should have the “choice” to use whatever contraception they want. Yet, mainstream activists often do not consider that a choice among dangerous contraceptives [like Depo-Provera and Norplant, which I know are favored at some health units in North LA] is not much of a choice.
I have been dismissive, even on this blog, of the effects of the population control/eugenics ideology of Margaret Sanger in a, "Yes, it's bad, but look what came out of her work" sort of way. I have been dismissive, in real life, towards women who have unwanted pregnancies and yet cannot afford abortion: "How can't you afford abortion? Having a child is much more expensive!" I have been dismissive, in my thoughts, of women in my community who have unwanted pregnancies and yet do not want an abortion because of religious and cultural beliefs.

And what I can say, as a woman, and I think, for me, especially as a woman of color, is, "Shame on me." My own discourse about choice has to stop being so limited, so clueless, so exclusionary.

It's really not choice at all, if it is only the domain of women who can "afford [it] or [who] are deemed legitimate choice-makers."

18 comments:

petitpoussin said...

elle, you read my mind, because I just posted about this too. this is such an important issue - discussing what choice means, since anti-choice terminology is constantly working against us. this post is honest about the ways in which judgment is an issue for pro-choice people just as much as it is for people who are anti-choice. thank you so much for writing this - I'm going to link to it immediately.

Femi said...

omg omg omg omg, you just made my heart explode with pure joy and happiness!!!!!!!!!!!!! YOU QUOTED INCITE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I love you for that alone.

and in regards to the rest of your thoughts--I don't think you should ever beat yourself up or shame yourself for your "old" thoughts--as maya angelou says, "when you knew better you did better". We're all getting this stuff together, you know? you are an incredibly awesome mami for letting us all see you work through your thoughts--
xo

Zan said...

The only reason to beat yourself up is if you realize you were being unfair and refuse to change. We all start where we start, ya know? Gods know, I was once a brainwashed fundie. It's okay. We all get better, if we're willilng to try.

And I always feel a bit uncomfortable defining choice as to have or not have an abortion. Because for a lot of people, it really isn't that simple. For me, I could probably swing one, if I needed it. Maybe. But not right away, because even with my fulltime job I don't have $400 I can spare. So, even for a woman working fulltime in a decent job, I'd have to squirrel that money away. I could probably have one before the three months were up, but who knows?

You can imagine how happy I was to realize I now live in a town with a Planned Parenthood. Seriously, I was like...hey, I can get the pill there for cheap! Hey, if I need Plan B, I know where to get it without fuss! Wow. Because, you know, there are only TWO PPs in Louisiana. One in BR and the other in NO. And I'm not sure that the NO is still opened. *sigh*

Gwyneth Bolton said...

Great post! Thanks for sharing this, Elle. We need more people speaing and writing about these issues of reproductive justice. This is awesome!

elle said...

thank all of you.

petitpoussin, i didn't even realize all the ways i was judgmental until the last year or so. i still have some things i'm ashamed to admit publicly, but i'm working.

BfP, i'm always glad when you're joyous and happy. :-)

zan, i didn't even know there were planned parenthoods in louisiana. in the northern portion, we have the parish health units, but of course they don't provide abortions. you have to go to one of the clinics in shreveport, bossier city, or jackson, ms, i believe. which, of course is another obstacle as shreveport is 90+ miles away from my hometown and jackson is further.

gwyn, you know, when you say something i write is awesome, i get a little grin-y

Professor Zero said...

Great post! :-)

Sylvia said...

Mmmmm...*pulls out her checklist and tallies*

Yup, yup, yup; you touched on everything. *stamps an A on your post*

Hehe, goofball antics aside, this is a great post, and thanks for sharing the INCITE! snippet -- it's a good blueprint for true reproductive freedom.

wwwmama said...

great post! you do get me thinking, elle...
i identified as a pro-lifer for years until i was forced to articulate why by my husband and realized in the course of the conversation that i had not been "pro-life" for a long time. i think it's good for us all to examine how we feel and think about these things and to be honest and upfront and as non-judmental as we can. it ain't always easy though.

i especially lovewhat you say here because these feelings attest to the pressures so many women feel but which often go unacknowledged by those around them:
"as a woman, defined largely as a potential mother, wasn't I supposed to be infinitely selfless? I don't want other women going through that "ashamed of not being shamed."

Jane said...

What I did feel was relief.

Thank you for saying that. This post seems to be about as honest as a post about personal experience and intentions, ideology and inclusion, vision and revision could possible be. Excellent work.

You mention Depo Provera twice in this post. When you include it in a list a dangerous methods of birth control, I assume that is for one of these three reasons:

1. Depo Provera can render a woman unable to give birth for up to two years after use is discontinued.

2. Depo Provera has been shown in studies to cause early onset osteoporosis.

3. Depo Provera has a long list of potential side affects which affect some women who use it.

I used to be on Depo Provera, and to be honest, I found it to be very effective and convenient. The second of the reasons in that list, though, is why I stopped the Depo shot after two years of use. My doctor told me two years was the max amount of time I could safely use it without significant bone loss, and that I needed to immediately begin taking calcium supplements. However, I was recently told by my new doc, that according to a new study, because it has been so many years since I stopped Depo, I can now safely use it again for two years if I take a calcium supplement.

When you refer to Depo as unsafe, is it for reasons other than the ones I have named? I am especially concerned because I am planning to start the shot again in the next week.

brownfemipower said...

Jane--depo is very very very unsafe--cancer of all sorts is connected to it, blood clots, severe debilitating depression, death, hair loss, severe weight gain (not the five pounds they talk about!!)--the list is long and frightening.

All of the woc organizationgs--incite! native american women's health care center, black women's health care collective, latina health care institute--ALL of them have come out against depo--but they are also the ones who have done lots of organizing work around collecting stories of women who are on the shot.

THey were the ones who helped to get depo banned the first time, and then get informed consent put into place once it got approved again. All these places recognize that yes, many times women are on the shot and nothing horrible happens--but they also recognize that far too many times women are on the shot without being aware of the history of the shot--that the shot has caused death and cancer--and they work to collect stories and get those stories out into the mainstream consciousness so that women can be more fully informed.

I would definitly do some more research on the shot so that you can make a more informed decision. Check out each of those WOC sites--I haven't looked at them in a long time, but I'm sure they have to have *something*--or maybe just google depo and woc.

I was on the shot for about a year, and there were pros and cons--I liked the convience too--and it was the ONLY form of birth control that didn't drive me mad with hormones. But at the same time, I got cervical cancer while on the shot (doc says its not related, but, well, whatever), I got hair growth under my chin that has never gone away, and I miscarried the first two pregnancies I had after I got off of the shot. It may or may not be related--I tend to think that it IS related. I've done a lot of research and wrote a paper for a college class on it. But, you never know for sure.
good luck with your decision!

elle said...

jane, i don't know a lot (so thanks bfp) but, from what i know of women who do take it, i've seen the hair loss, depression, and weight gain. on the last, women from my home town commonly referenced the fact that the shot would make you "blow up."

some of them were also bothered by the fact that the health unit sort of suckered you into it (and here again is the issue of population control AND trusting women--health unit staff are determined to cut pregnancies and they didn't trust women to take the pill accurately). "You won't have to worry," "You won't have a period," etc. Another thing that worries me from personal observations is that, of the women i know who get it, they already have at least 2 children. i went to a parish health unit when i was a teenager and after i had my son and it was never offered to me. same for my sis--a mom of one. so i wonder if, in the case of "free"/state-sponsored health-care, there is a "desperate times call for desperate measures" mentality, i.e. we have to make sure certain women don't come back.

thanks for the info on osteoporosis--i'm going to spread that to some women i know.

Anonymous said...

hi, I stumbled upon this and felt a huge connection with you in this paragraph
There was no incapacitating post-abortion syndrome (or whatever the "pro-certain-life" crew is calling it lately). What I did feel was relief. And here is another reason I'm pro-choice, because the discourse around pregnancy, abortion, and motherhood is such that, while I didn't feel guilty about the abortion, I felt guilty about not feeling guilty. I felt guilty because I had no business being pregnant anyway--I should've known better. I felt guilty because one of the factors in my choice was that I was a college student on scholarship far from home and I knew that I wouldn't have been able to stay at my university. Was that selfish? And as a woman, defined largely as a potential mother, wasn't I supposed to be infinitely selfless? I don't want other women going through that "ashamed of not being shamed."
honestly, the hardest thing about my abortion was my sister's response which instead of anything else was a sigh followed by a disapproving look.
I found the link to your journal from hers. She also posted on Blog for Choice yet she couldn't face my lack of care regarding the abortion.

(of course, no one was there when I fell apart months after. I figure that it was because I didn't feel sad fast enough.)

Victoria said...

I'm glad I was not aborted.

elle said...

well, thank you victoria, for contributing so much!

THE ITALIAN STALION said...

My mother became pregnant with me when she was in college. She was married to my biological father at the time. He became involved with drugs and then she divorced him and raised me as a single parent mom until I was 5 then remarried. She never did go back to college and for a long time life was hard. Not a second goes by do I take for granted the sacrifices that she made for me so that I may live. She gave up her professional career, and the luxuries that come with it. If I may ask, what did our founding fathers want for this nation? Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I am in high school now and I have worked my ass off to become who I am today and God willing get into a good college. If we discriminate those who can and cannot live based on a situation, if we deny a person liberty, if we deny a person the opportunity to better themselves, have we not as a nation become the very evils that our founding fathers fought against? All I am trying to point out is that we were all once a JUST clump of cells. Can we as a person write the death certificate for a person who will never see the light of day? Do we not all want to live? Should we deny someone the opportunity to live? Instead of looking at ourselves, try to look at the situation of that person who’s fate rest upon your decision. Hopefully you will give them that opportunity to live, to grow, to someday become what we are….a person. I understand that not everyone who is granted lives a good life, but there is always a chance, ALWAYS hope for a better tomorrow.

dark_one said...

My name is Janice Still and i would like to show you my personal experience with Depo-Provera.

I am 24 years old. I have been on Depo for 9 years and did not realize that the symptoms I experienced might be related to the shot. I am now facing thousands of dollars in dental work due to bone density loss, and will probably end up with osteoporosis. I am getting off Depo and will never touch it again!

I have experienced some of these side effects-
Low libido, joint pain, bone density loss, dental problems, headaches, fatigue, out of control eating, gained 40 lbs., depression

I hope this information will be useful to others,
Janice Still

Depo-Provera Prescription Information

Marissa said...

Does anyone have any links or cites to medical studies about these effects of Depo and/or Norplant? As a scientist, I have to say, anecdotal evidence is simply not enough. Anti-choice people will tell you anecdotes about how women commit suicide after abortion . . . doesn't make it so.

elle said...

Marissa,

I'm totally not surprised that as a scientist it is easy for you to dismiss the experiences of women of color/their testimony to those experiences. Also, I am not willing to do your research for you, but a simple google search of depo will turn up scholarly links for it.

Perhaps if science paid attention to us beyond studying why we are deficient and/or "diseased;" there would be the evidence you require?

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