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Photo: ARTUR WIDAK/AFP/Getty Images
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SocietyMay 21, 2019

Women don’t have to convince you they ‘deserve’ an abortion

Photo: ARTUR WIDAK/AFP/Getty Images
Photo: ARTUR WIDAK/AFP/Getty Images

Asking if a women needs an abortion is the wrong question. The right one is whether you think women should have rights to their own bodies without interference from the state, writes Sophie Bateman for Newshub

Abortion is never not a hot-button topic, but it’s certainly having a moment right now.

Harsh new restrictions in the US have reignited the eternal debate over how much control governments should have over the bodies of their citizens.

Alabama, Georgia and Missouri have all effectively banned abortion in the last week, with the Republican Party making it clear their end goal is to overturn Roe v. Wade and re-criminalise the procedure across all 50 states.

Kiwis might shake our heads in dismay, but our own laws are also restrictive and punishing. Abortion remains in the Crimes Act in New Zealand, and women who need one are forced to get two different certificates from two different doctors who agree that continuing the pregnancy would endanger their mental or physical health. The law doesn’t treat the simple desire not to have a child as a valid reason to terminate.

Over the weekend National MP Alfred Ngaro – who’s flirting with the idea of starting a new Christian conservative party – shared a Facebook post for a “pro-life” rally which called abortion an “unholy holocaust”. The language is extreme, but it captures the knee-jerk revulsion many people, not just the deeply religious, feel when confronted with the concept of terminating a pregnancy.

Because most people don’t like the idea of abortion, they need some convincing that women who seek the procedure truly need or deserve it. The internet has been deluged in the last few days with women sharing why they’ve had abortions: they couldn’t afford a child, their contraception failed, their lives were at risk, they’d been raped. It was brave for these women to share their own trauma to try to protect the rights of others, but they shouldn’t have to bargain for their humanity by listing their “good reasons” for having an abortion.

Many people who say they’re morally opposed to abortion will make an exception for cases of rape or incest, as famed feminist ally Donald Trump clarified last week.

This position is based on the premise that if a woman has suffered, and didn’t get pregnant as a result of consensual sex she enjoyed, then she deserves to end said pregnancy if she wants. But if you’re a person who believes life begins at conception, and that a foetus has the same right to life as any human, then that “baby” has still been killed – you just feel slightly better about it because at least the woman wasn’t being an irresponsible slut.

We in the West like to think of ourselves as sexually liberated and open-minded, but when it comes to abortion suddenly we’re all God-fearing Puritans who believe pleasure is a sin. A sin for which women bear all responsibility.

Prayer not protest, say the people holding a vigil outside the Auckland Medical Aid Centre on Dominion Rd. Photo Alex Braae.

The idea that humans only have sex for procreative purposes is not, and never has been true. As long as humans have existed we’ve found creative ways to avoid pregnancy, from lemon rind diaphragms to lamb intestine condoms. We like sex, and we don’t always want to conceive a child from said sex. If every orgasm resulted in a baby the world would collapse from overpopulation. The solution is either for humans to only have sex in order to procreate (which has never worked) or for there to be accessible and socially acceptable ways to both prevent and terminate pregnancy.

There are many popular thought experiments women use to try to convince men they deserve bodily autonomy, and if you’ve ever been online while #abortion is trending you’ll have seen them.

There’s the burning hospital dilemma: you can either save a five-year-old child or a room full of embryos, and if you choose the child you’re admitting fully born humans have more of a right to life than a clump of cells.

There’s the organ donation parable: if no one can force you to donate a kidney to save someone else’s life, they can’t force you to stay pregnant to save the “life” of a foetus.

There’s the ‘what if men could get pregnant?’ argument: if men were the sex saddled with the burden of childbearing, every street corner would have a free abortion clinic.

These aren’t bad ways to frame what many see as a complex issue further complicated by religious beliefs and entrenched misogyny. But they’re missing the point.

When it comes to taking a stance on abortion, the only question you have to ask yourself is this: should the state have the power to force someone to carry a pregnancy to term? If your answer is no, congratulations! You’re pro-choice.

It doesn’t matter if you’re squeamish about the idea or if you think you “wouldn’t be able to do it”. If you believe the government shouldn’t have the ability to force women to stay pregnant against their will, you believe in the right to abortion. And if you believe in the right to abortion, you must also believe abortions should be free and easily accessible to anyone who wants one.

Not “needs” one – wants one. The desire to not be pregnant is as valid a reason to discontinue being pregnant as any. Women don’t have to suffer, to apologise, to explain themselves, to bare their souls in order to be worthy of deciding what happens in their own bodies. Their decision doesn’t have to be palatable to you for it to have been the right one for them.

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