A guest post by Tricia Morris.
Recently I went to a talk at the University of New Brunswick (Fredericton) about reproductive justice. A couple of humans from the law school spoke, along with a clinic escort, and a few other notable feministing folks from around Fredericton. In many ways, the talk was amazing. It is always inspiring to be around so many people who respect people’s bodies and the choices they make about them. I learned some interesting things about laws that regulate abortion here in New Brunswick, and I chatted with a few people who I want to be my new friends. Great.
There were parts of the event, though, that left me feeling so frustrated. A lot of the discussion seemed to center around autonomy, and the idea that if “it’s my body, it’s my choice.” I know it’s a bit unusual to find this frustrating. All of the humans who sat behind me offered appreciative “mmmmmmmhm” noises after someone spoke about autonomy and choice. As a “pro-choice” human I’m supposed to talk about how it’s my body and thus my choice, but I just don’t want that to be my only option anymore. Bear with me! Here’s my thinking:
During a presentation, one of the presenters spoke about how sophisticated the Right is getting in their recent discussions of abortion. The Right is, time and time again, coming up with arguments and laws that significantly threaten people’s ability to make reproductive choices in New Brunswick. And people who were on the fence about abortion are being convinced by these laws and arguments. The Right is using pro-women and pro-family rhetoric to denounce abortion, and they’re being sneaky about it (see, for example, this gem). They’re co-opting activists’ language, and they’re using pro-lady lingo to advance super gross right-wing agendas. The Right is gaining even more ground, and the world is getting even scarier here on the East Coast of Canada. . . It was, needless to say, a great presentation. At the end of their presentation, the presenter offered a thought that stuck with me: those of us who support abortion need to step it up. The Right is getting even more sophisticated with their arguments, and as pro-choice folks we need to follow suit.
I could not agree more. I need more than the arguments I’ve got right now. So many of the arguments I hear in support of a human’s right to choose abortion end up like this: “It’s my body. I’ll do what I want with it!” Yes. Sure. But in many ways this argument also frustrates the hell out of me. I know that is not a popular thing to put out there—that you’re frustrated by current arguments about autonomy. But I am. I have a problem with them, in part, because I think they get heard in much the same ways as a child’s answer to an argument is heard (e.g. “It’s my truck! I don’t have to share it!”). The arguments aren’t working for me very well any more. People already know how to tell me how wrong I am—why sharing is good, and how I should be using my truck, and where the truck comes from. It’s not that I don’t think autonomy is an important thing to talk about. I definitely do. It’s just not enough for me anymore to say that autonomy is synonymous with the tagline “my body, my choice.” If the only defense I have against people who want me to carry a fetus to term against my will is that it’s my choice, then I am so afraid that I’m going to lose the argument. The Right is getting more sophisticated, and I’ve got so much to lose and the only argument I’ve got at my disposal is an argument that the Right already knows how to dispute. That is so scary.
The Right already knows how to dispute the argument, in part, because they played such a big role in creating it. Individual choice is the cornerstone of a neoliberal/capitalist market—the individual makes rational choices and takes personal responsibility for their actions. If abortion is positioned as a rational choice that humans make about their bodies, the Right has a ready-made opposition. We live in a world where we consistently call some humans (notably cis women, but other humans too) “overly emotional,” “crazy,” “untrustworhy,” “irrational,” and a whole host of other things that invalidate our abilities to make rational choices. Only straight, white males make rational choices. So when the only argument I have for abortion is that it is “my body, my choice” we have a problem: the Right already knows how to tells us that overly emotional and irrational people can’t make reasonable choices.
In so many ways, I rely on others. I rely on community, and family, and a whole host of other human bodies in order to “be myself.” Arguments that I should control my body ignore that, in so many ways, this body isn’t out there on its own making choices. It is constituted through my interactions with other bodies. It relies on other bodies. “Being me” requires so many other people to make that possible. I understand that there is a certain level of danger in positioning abortion as a ‘community’ issue, or as an issue that is not about individual women’s bodies. I understand that there are risks to talking about bodies without recourse to the autonomy argument. But this argument is, itself, so fucking dangerous. Not only is it an argument the Right knows how to combat, but it is also one that isolates me and individualizes the problem of my unwanted fetus. In community, together, can’t we think of new ways of talking about abortion that don’t leave me isolated and making an individual choice in a scary world that calls me irrational? I just can’t put all of my eggs in that one basket.
Tricia Morris is a feminist and fiction lover who lives in Fredericton, New Brunswick. She is starting a nursing program at the University of New Brunswick in January, which she hopes will lead to more amazing conversations about abortion, friendships with seniors, and subversive knowledge about the healthcare system that will help humans get what they need.