Wednesday, February 26, 2014

"Personal responsibility" and abortion

I hear, a lot, from those who want to take away abortion rights that they just want a woman to "take responsibility" or show some "personal responsibility" for her "decision to get pregnant". In pro-life-ese, having a vagina and having sex means choosing to be pregnant. And we get from there to "Don't take it out on the baby!" and other such nonsense. This is, almost always, pure and utter bullshit: it's not about women being responsible for their own actions, or even protecting The Babiez.

The use of charged rhetoric like "responsibility" is handy -- it (sometimes) steers the conversation away from Jesus land, which is useful because, you know, Constitution. It also suggests that the person attempting to plan their parenthood is, rather than being responsible in doing so, actually irresponsible; that taking a responsible course of action, and choosing not to be a parent if you're not ready or able to do so, is actually just the lazy harlot's answer. This is exactly what their imagery implies: that women who don't see eye to eye with Republicans and pro-lifers are in general oversexed hussies who can't control their libidos, and so are looking for handouts from "Uncle Sugar". It's a not-that-subtle ad hominem, that shifts the conversation away from their need to prove that the government has business telling women that they must act as "hosts" for unwanted fetuses, onto us. And not even to demonstrate that we should and do have rights, but that we're even capable of being taken seriously. After all, why should anyone listen to an irresponsible, baby-killing sex fiend? And isn't that what women who don't want conservative "small government" or their employers dictating their reproductive decisions are? Conservative pro-lifers try very hard to convince you that that is the case.

Whether it will be as successful a strategy as Reagan's "welfare queens", I don't know. But it is employed for exactly the same reason: because it replaces the need for a good argument for starving people or taking a reproductive rights with an Us v Them dichotomy. Where conservative rhetoric has done its work, people don't think of soldiers and the elderly when they think of food stamp recipients; they don't think of themselves or their friends and family who have relied (or are relying) on foodstamps. They see someone else, some lazy Other who just wants to follow an easy path.

The pro-life rhetoric regarding abortion and reproductive rights is following the same, shameless trajectory, although hopefully with less success (that remains to be seen). They are attempting to sort women into fictional categories: on the one side, the virtuous woman who can shut down rape pregnancies, always wants to be pregnant if she has sex, and relies on Jesus and a more material man for her and her offspring's well-being; and the irresponsible, baby killing slut machine, who thinks that preventing pregnancy or -- heaven forbid -- ending a pregnancy is acceptable and might even -- brace yourself -- choose single parenting.

The cognitive dissonance that goes into condemning birth control, and abortion while also railing against single mothers and programs that help poor children, women and families -- a dissonance displayed by almost every prominent pro-life Republican today -- is a post, or ten, in itself. But there's a simpler way to, as Todd Akin might put it, shut that whole thing down.

Many people claim to oppose reproductive rights on the grounds of personal responsibility -- that a woman choosing to have sex is consenting to parenthood; this is in and of itself a ridiculous and archaic proposition. But they run with it: she chose to have sex and thus get pregnant, and she shouldn't take out her irresponsible behavior on the baby. They claim their opposition to abortion, birth control, plan b, etc., is based on the notion that choosing to have sex means consenting to pregnancy, and you can't just weasel your way out of it. But many of these same people also oppose access to abortion when a woman did not consent to sex in the first place. In fact, pro-life support for forcing women to carry rape pregnancies is so politically challenging to pro-life Republicans that the Republican Committee had to give GOP men lessons on how to talk about rape and women's issues. In other words, opposition to abortion has nothing to do with personal responsibility -- because it's opposed even when the woman had no choice, and thus no responsibility, in getting pregnant in the first place.

Now, obviously, individual pro-lifers might be more flexible on this. Some believe a raped woman should be allowed to terminate her pregnancy, but no one else. However, this is not the position of the Catholic church or most pro-life organizations. Individuals may be and often are more humane that these people, but that's a distressingly low standard.

Personal responsibility is a non-issue for anyone or group that opposes absolute access to abortion for rape victims. If you're choosing to force motherhood on someone whose "responsibility" the pregnancy is not, it's not about personal responsibility. Period.

So pro-lifers really need to get their argument in order, or drop the sanctimonious language of forcing people to "take responsibility" for their actions (while trying to limit the ability to do exactly that) because they don't give a rat's hindquarters about personal responsibility. They're willing to force the same outcome on a rape victim who did not choose to engage in intercourse, much less become pregnant, as a woman who had consensual sex and became pregnant; a woman's choice to have sex, then, is irrelevant. And, if the choice is irrelevant, "responsibility" for that choice is irrelevant.

No comments:

Post a Comment