On feminism, abortion, and enigmas

3 Mar

This morning I was listening to The Current on CBC radio and got interested in listening to the debate about MP Ken Epp’s proposed private member’s bill. It’s called the “Unborn Victims of Crime Act” (Bill C-484) and it’s generating a lot of controversy. The bill would make it a separate offence to injure or kill an unborn child during an attack on the mother.

At first glance, it seems that this type of legislation is a logical way to support victims of violence against women (and their families). When a woman is the victim of violence, the aggressor is without question guilty of an abhorrent act; when the woman is pregnant, though, many would agree that the act seems even worse, and that there are two victims.

The question being introduced by pro-choice advocates is, does this type of legislation undermine abortion rights? Is it the beginning of a “slippery slope” to giving unborn babies legal rights? Ken Epp says the bill is carefully worded to protect women’s right to choose, that it does not confer the status of legal personhood to the fetus, and that it specifically excludes any actions that are the woman’s choice; according to him, pro-choicers ought to be comfortable supporting a bill that punishes aggressors who have taken away a woman’s right to complete her pregnancy.

Pro-choice advocates say that there are examples of this type of legislation in the U.S. being used against women who chose to have abortions or who abused drugs or alcohol while pregnant; even where the woman was found to be not guilty, she had to endure the stressful and expensive legal proceedings, making her a victim all over again. They point to another type of legislation in other states that they say is more appropriate; instead of naming the unborn child as a victim, that legislation makes it a greater offence to assault a pregnant woman, with stiffer penalties.

I think the debate is interesting in itself, but it particularly caught me because I’ve had thoughts percolating lately about feminism and whether I would call myself a feminist. I think that I am in the sense of “equal pay for equal work” and in the sense that women can and should vote and that they can and should be able to pursue any type of career they choose. However, I don’t know if it’s treading out of the realm of traditional feminism to recognize that there are basic differences between the sexes, that men in general are better at spacial perception and that women on average are better at verbal skills and intuition. That in stressful situations, men tend to “fight or flight” whereas women are more apt to “tend and befriend“.

Another aspect of feminism that I am very uncomfortable with is abortion rights. I see it as a pillar of feminist thought, but in my heart I believe that abortion is wrong. I do believe that an unborn child is a person. I don’t believe it’s “my body, my choice”; to me, there’s another person’s body involved, not to mention his or her life. Having had the privilege of bringing a daughter into the world, as well as having lost a pregnancy, I feel this way all the more.

But wait, don’t stone me yet. Having said all that, I reluctantly admit that I would not be prepared to eliminate the right to choose. While I find the idea of using abortion as a means of birth control offensive and irresponsible in the extreme, I recognize that there are valid arguments for legal abortions.

The book Freakonomics makes the most compelling and passionless argument I’ve yet encountered. The authors’ position is that legalized abortion is directly responsible for lower crime rates in the U.S.; the premise is that many unwanted pregnancies occur in disadvantaged social groups and that the children born in these environments are much more likely to engage in criminal behaviours. The authors back up their arguments with research and statistics and they stress that it’s not a question of values or morals (they even say they find abortion as birth control to be reprehensible) but that these are verifiable empirical facts.

If you don’t buy that, there’s the anecdotal evidence, and I’m not just talking about the “what if a woman is raped?” argument. I had a friend who ended a pregnancy because she was in a highly abusive relationship. Like many women in situations of domestic violence, she knew she should leave but kept finding reasons to stay. She knew that having her partner’s baby would trap her in that relationship. The greatest tragedy is that she would dearly love to have children; her decision was not lightly made. What right do I have to tell her she was wrong?

All in all, I’m glad I’m not the one making the decisions on Bill C-484. I know it’s cowardly of me to argue both sides without taking a stance, but I don’t know that this is a debate that I can resolve within myself.

Now if there were enough people reading my blog, this is the kind of post that would generate a thousand comments. Maybe I should follow it up with some posts on circumcision and religion…

4 Responses to “On feminism, abortion, and enigmas”

  1. womantowomancbe March 3, 2008 at 7:05 pm #

    I’ve not heard of “Freakonomics” but the point you mentioned is interesting. However, I would turn that around on liberals (who almost uniformly oppose the death penalty), and ask why it is that they support the death penalty of fetuses who have committed no crimes but might in the future, while they oppose the death penalties of adults who have committed heinous crimes and will likely do so again. It seems a better solution to both problems is to allow the babies to be born, and stiffen the penalties for breaking the law. It’s certainly more fair to be punished for something you’ve done than for something you might do.


  2. Nemmy March 5, 2008 at 2:52 pm #

    I don’t think it’s cowardly, but maybe that’s because I have the same thoughts myself. 😉

  3. asheya March 5, 2008 at 9:08 pm #

    Yep, I have to comment. THE BEST book I have read on abortion is “Aborted Women, Silent No More.” It takes a totally different approach to the whole question of abortion, and does not even discuss fetal rights etc. It frames abortion in terms of women: is abortion actually beneficial for women? This book says no. It contains case studies and statistics on women who have had abortions, and draws the conclusion that most women who have abortions are actually themselves aborted by society – in other words, abandoned. It also highlights that most of the time an abortion is not beneficial to a woman’s health or well being, particularly emotionally and psychologically. Because abortion is usually framed by society as a women’s choice issue, I think the information in this book is especially important to consider.

    While I don’t think legislation surrounding restricting abortion will ever become a reality in Canada, I would like to see legislation that sets out certain requirements for education (i.e. TRULY informed choice) and counselling of women considering abortion. There are risks to abortion that women need to be aware of, such as potential depression and a 25% chance of future sterility; there are also pros and cons to raising a child or to placing a child for adoption. Right now it is too easy for this information to be glossed over, and an appointment for an abortion scheduled by the doctor without adequate information being given to the woman. I think this is a very important issue for women’s health, particularly as once a procedure is easily accessed and paid for by health care it becomes “normalized,” and often can result in a lack of information or real weighing of the decision.

    I volunteered in a crisis pregnancy center, and I thought the organization did a really good job of presenting women who came into the center with actual facts regarding the pros and cons of each potential decision (abortion, adoption, raising the child). Another important aspect of counselling is to ask the woman what her values and beliefs are: a woman who has thought in the past that abortion is wrong, or who thinks of a fetus as a baby, but due to her present circumstances feels that abortion is her only choice, is much more likely to experience negative psychological consequences. Women who feel that someone else actually made the decision for them (boyfriend, parents, doctor, or whoever), who did not feel they had all the facts before making the decision, and who did not feel they had enough time to make the decision are also more likely to experience negative psychological consequences. Statistically, women who are least likely to experience negative emotional consequences from abortion are those who make a lot of money, don’t feel that outside pressures are forcing their decision, and who have a sense that life is all about “me” or are more self-centered than the average woman.

    I hope that in time the issue of abortion in Canada will come to be about women’s health, just as it is currently (on the pro-choice side anyway) about women’s choice. If the issue of abortion is about women, then it should really be about women, and there should be structures in place to protect women and promote good health.

  4. fawnahareo March 5, 2008 at 11:28 pm #

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Asheya. It’s interesting to hear a different perspective, one I haven’t heard much about before.

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