Thursday, December 01, 2005

Feminists and Abortion: A Question and a Request

The question: In the reproductive arena, do feminists want equality with men, or do they want privilege over men?

If feminists want equality, then it would seem that the question of pregnancy and abortion is an arena in which men and women need to be partners. Partnership, not power over; men being partners with women doesn’t mean that women can never get an abortion over her partner’s objection, or that men always have to father children whose existence they do not desire. It means that decisions are made by both people - and in cases where consensus cannot be achieved, there is some previously-agreed upon mechanism for resolving the dispute, and that mechanism is not “in case of a tie, the patriarch|matriarch wins”. Partnership would mean that, empirically, we would end up with women aborting children that they wanted to keep for their partner’s sake, bearing children that they didn’t really want to have for their partner’s sake, men fathering children that they didn’t really want to have, etc. and so forth. Nobody would get what they wanted all of the time.

If feminists want privilege, then that would seem to undermine the claim made by feminists to be interested primarily in equality in overall gender relations. (IE, “we should be equal except for this incredibly important area of life, in which women will make all the decisions.”)

Most (not all) feminists that I’ve interacted with have come down on the side of privilege. They want all decisions about pregnancy to be the sole domain of the woman involved. As I’ve said, I don’t particularly want to debate the merits of that position; I acknowledge that there is a case to be made for it. Certainly it is a case that many many women and men accept.

Almost without exception, however, these privilege feminists also assert that feminism is about equality and freeing women from existing structures of domination - not crafting structures of domination that women get to run, ending structures of domination entirely.

The request: I don’t understand that position. I want someone to explain it to me, if there is an explanation. I have a potential explanation on tap which covers the existing data just fine; “feminists, like other particularist groups, do not require intellectual consistency of themselves”. I’m hoping that’s not actually the answer.

(This is also posted as a comment over at Feministe.)


L33tminion said...

"Partnership" means sharing decisions and burdens.

Coercing a woman into remaining pregnant puts burdens purely on the woman. Pregnancy presents non-negligible risks to health (both physical and mental). Occasionally, complications in pregnancy are even fatal.

Coercing a woman into having an abortion strikes me as potentially as emotionally damaging as rape. Again, the burden is overwhelmingly on the woman alone.

Everyone has a right to control their own bodies. That this right gives women more power over pregnancy is a biological inequality (not a social or political one). Equal rights means more that women have more power over pregnancy because women get pregnant.

If you want men to have equal power over pregnancy, find a way for men to get pregnant. Most feminists simply don't think that's a practical goal.

John Howard said...

Clearly the cooperation has to begin at the decision to have sex, and at that point both partners should be committed to each other and to any children their union produces. After that point, neither should be able to coerce the other to abort, or reneg on their original commitment to each other.
Women would still have control over their bodies when providing an abortion is illegal, but would no longer have control over anyone else's reproduction.

McDuff said...

l33tminion already pointed out the inherent problems with this position. When two parties start from unequal footings, you cannot simply give them "equal rights" and expect it to equalise the situation. The impacts of pregnancy and childbirth on women are different from the impacts on men, and with few exceptions (so few that I cannot actually think of one) this difference is in the direction of greater magnitude.

To be honest, this seems like another excuse to sidle a pro-male bias into law, putting government where it need not be. If a man and woman have a healthy relationship, they will talk these things over and arrive at a decision between themselves anyway, and although the woman will legally have the last word, that is not to say that they will not be swayable by a partner who she loves and trusts. If they do not have a healthy relationship, then I would put it to you that, as the mother would be the one to bear the main burden of responsibility, she should not be forced to "compromise" with a man whose connection to her may only be that they've had sex.