My Cuterus, My Choice

Important Note: I don’t want to frame reproductive justice as a women’s issue because not everyone with a uterus identifies as a woman, not every woman has a uterus, and not every person with a uterus can carry a child. But I firmly believe that decisions about what goes into and out of a uterus, and when, should only ever be made by the person with the uterus in question. I am now picturing my uterus being cross-examined in a court of law.

One of the coolest parts of working in a Writing Center is having the chance to learn from students with all kinds of opinions and perspectives. A few days ago, I had a great consultation with a Chinese student who was writing a paper about her country’s One Child Policy. She taught me a lot about the late term forced abortions routinely carried out as a result of the governmental policy. Then, she wanted to know how abortion works in the United States. That’s a challenging topic to discuss when a language barrier is involved.

The session was really great, and not only because we spent some time teaching each other how to pronounce “uterus” in English and in Chinese.  The student wrote about abortion factually and calmly. It was so refreshing to discuss reproductive rights without being blinded by a fit of religious and political rage. During our discussion, the student observed that, “In China, some mothers die because they are forced abortion. In the US, some mothers die because they are not allowed abortion. Yet each government says it cares about the health of its people.” Bingo, baby.

I’ve thought about that student a lot lately, because the anti-choice group Justice For All has returned to our campus for their annual shame fest. I’ve been thinking about everyone whose only real exposure to the conversation around abortion in the US is coming through Justice For All’s garish, enormous billboards of bloodied fetuses. I’m not going to link to their webpage, because I really don’t want to support this organization’s efforts to garner more attention, but the motto/slogan/mission statement listed on their homepage reads, “Justice For All trains thousands to make abortion unthinkable for millions, one person at a time.”  Clearly, this group is utterly off base in their approach.

There are a billion reasons a person with a uterus might choose to have an abortion. Those reasons aren’t anyone’s business but the uterus owner’s. Conversations about what’s right for each individual uterus should only include that individual, a licensed health care provider, and maybe but not always the individual’s partner. Organizations like Justice For All should not exist. A group of people shouldn’t be able to make forceful attempts to deny access to health care, to compromise legal rights, or to shame others based on their legitimate and completely shame-free decisions. Here’s a message that needs to be heard much louder than JFA’s: Abortion is not shameful.

An undesired pregnancy is the only health issue I can think of in which treatment is mediated by origin. If you accidentally stab yourself in the stomach while overenthusiastically opening a present and need emergency gut surgery (this actually happened to someone I know) nobody says, “You fool. I don’t care if things didn’t go as planned, it was your CHOICE to open that package, so you can just deal with the consequences!”  But when the health issue is a pregnancy, people feel justified making absurd arguments like, “You had sex so you can deal with the consequences and the consequence is MOTHERHOOD!”

Justice For All is attempting to create a cultural climate in which terminating a pregnancy will result in social ostracization.  By “making abortion unthinkable to millions” this organization is attempting to eliminate choice. A choice that turns you into a social pariah isn’t a choice likely to be made- JFA’s entire goal. This is the difference between being personally pro-life and being publicly anti-choice. Choosing to terminate a pregnancy doesn’t mean the entire nation is going to adopt a One Child Policy and start forcing abortions. Choosing to carry a pregnancy to term doesn’t mean that no one is ever allowed to have an abortion. I have lots of feminist friends who identify as personally pro-life while loudly and proudly supporting reproductive justice. That’s the whole point of choice!

We, and only we uterus-bearing individuals, are allowed to make choices concerning our bodies. JFA’s approach is to present abortion as a morally repugnant act, thereby shaming everyone who has had an abortion, everyone who has considered abortion, and everyone who supports abortion rights and reproductive justice. Public shaming is not an effective rhetorical approach, especially when… there is no shame in abortion!

There's no shame in abortion.

Ty’s tank top speaks the truth!

I’m lucky to be part of a campus that has a vibrant array of social justice student groups who are peacefully and positively protesting JFA’s presence on campus. We’ll be wearing t-shirts with positive messages to show our support of reproductive justice. There will also be a human tunnel to help folks get across the plaza without being harassed, triggered, or shamed by members of JFA.  I’m so glad there are proactive groups filled with such smart, brave, and compassionate students on my campus!

SURJ shirt making

Madelaine and Justin make pro-uterus shirts.

This year, and every year, I find myself wishing anti-abortionists cared as much about the children who are already alive as they do about fetuses.  If all that energy and misguided compassion were directed at living-in-the-world humans, can you imagine how incredible our world would be? There is so much poverty and inequity in our country already. There are kids who don’t have access to basic resources. I wish we could stop fighting about whether or not we’re capable of making informed decisions about our bodies (we are!!!) and start making informed decisions about improving conditions for the people who are already here.

SURJ Shirts

Madelaine, Abigail, Lydia, and cuterus shirts!

We formed a ‘cuterus’ girl gang- why not add some body positivity into the mix? My cuterus ended up looking like a bunny. I’m going with it. Your morals, opinions, and legislations can hop right on out of my uterus!

6 thoughts on “My Cuterus, My Choice

  1. thanks for the opportunity to post. You are right, it is our bodies. But you never mention the untimely position of “being the conceived person” who also is affected. Pro-life people are not against women, they are for them. We promote adoption when it isn’t right for a woman to care or raise a child from an unplanned pregnancy. We acknowledge full rights of healthcare for the woman and child. But abortion isn’t health, it’s death; it removes from a healthy environment a healthy person. We don’t acknowledge the rights of killing another human being. She won’t give birth to a dog, cat or cell phone. It’s a human, it will always be a human. Why does she get to kill it just because it’s in her body? Don’t all people have rights? No you don’t have to live without care for a stab wound. But when you go to the hospital the stab wound is cared for yet still there for weeks or months depending upon the degree of the wound. A woman has to live with the inconvenience of a pregnancy for 9 months. Then she can be relieved and move on. That’s all we want. Instead, when she chooses abortion, she is now the mother of a deceased child. You never forget either. Been there, done that. They told me all of it too. But when you do give birth to a child, you realize what you threw away, convenient or not, violated or just unplanned. Ever watch the movie 180? Just saying, we shouldn’t be judgmental of others. And we shouldn’t chose the mother over the child. Today’s modern medicine can operate on a child in the womb. Certainly we can do better than abortion. If we put effort into social justice instead of opposing our views, we could make a difference to the generations that (might) be in our future. Hope I was calm and conversational in my post. Glad your mother had you to blog with me!

    • Thanks for sharing your opinions. I wholeheartedly disagree with them! It’s unethical to force a woman to carry a fetus to term; it’s unethical to shame a woman for choosing to end a pregnancy. We need to support all women, through whatever choices they make. Planned Parenthood’s “Not in Her Shoes” campaign might help you appreciate the complicated choices we make for and about our bodies. To suggest that we’re throwing something away by having an abortion is an unfair way to shame women who make hard decisions about what’s best for them and their circumstances. It sounds like you have been shamed for your own experiences with reproductive rights. I’m truly sorry that happened to you. Hopefully this has helped you to see how important it is for all of us to support and love each other, regardless of the decisions we make!

      It’s clear that you have a lot of compassion for living beings, so rather than trying to force women to give birth against their will, I hope you can turn that attention to the millions of kids who desperately need help and love right now. I think you could make a real difference there. Again, thanks for stopping by!

  2. Hey girl,

    This is Megan L. and I’m actually pretty excited you chose to write about this. I really respect you as a person, and I respect your opinions. And we’re friends. So I’m really interested to hear your response to my following argument. I’m pro-life (or anti-choice – we could talk all day about that rhetoric!!), and I’ve never heard a pro-choice argument that’s persuaded me. So perhaps you can! I don’t know; we’ll see. If you have time….I know we’re like totally in the midst of finals right now….I would love to hear your response. I generally don’t mention my “abortion stance” publicly, especially in higher ed., because I feel like the anti-choice philosophy is a marginalized position. Often, many anti-choice arguments are based on religious and / or moral concerns, but none of mine are. Mine are rooted in biology. So perhaps that will lend a little more credibility to my argument.

    Okay, so here goes…..

    1.) Roe vs. Wade was a court case that was ultimately decided by 9 justices. None of the 9 were biologists by profession. One of the points discussed during the court proceedings indicated that the unborn, biologically, is a parasite. A parasite only takes nutrients from the host. Therefore, the unborn should be able to be disposed of. The justices – who again, were not biologists – made their decision partly based on this faulty biology. The reality is that, biologically, the unborn is not a parasite. The relationship between the pregnant woman / the unborn is symbiotic. This means that the relationship is neutral, since the unborn in no way harms the woman. I think this distinction is incredibly significant, especially given that the justices made this particular practice legal, partly based on the lack of this distinction. Because of this court ruling, all constitutional rights were stripped from the unborn.

    2.) “Those reasons aren’t anyone’s business but the uterus owner’s.” Here, you indicate that the woman, the owner of the uterus, should have sole discretion over what happens to / does not happen to this body part. I agree, as long as her decisions do not operate at the expense of another human being. (Note: I’ll be using the terms human being / the unborn when I’m referring to an embryo / zygote / fetus because the organism inside of a woman is a living being; it’s just not viable. More on that later.) Many of our laws operate with the same philosophy: we are permitted a plethora of freedoms in our country, as long as they don’t encroach on someone else’s rights. I’m not going to link to any specific examples, but generally court cases that deal with 1st Amendment rights follow this precedent. And if you would like specific examples, just let me know. That’s why we have laws concerning murder, rape, theft, etc. People are free to behave the way they want, as long as their behavior does not violate the rights of other human beings. I would argue that a pregnant woman’s rights are being exercised (when she chooses to have an abortion) at the expense of an unborn human being’s rights. When the exact same practice occurs with two viable human beings, we call this murder (which is illegal). When this happens between one viable human being and one non-viable human being, we call this abortion (which is legal). Many pro-choice activists don’t think of abortion as murder, perhaps because the unborn human being does not resemble a human being, or perhaps because they don’t think an unborn human being has / should have the same rights as a viable human being. This lack of rights (for the unborn) was established, as we know, by Roe vs. Wade. This lack of rights has put us in a position where we privilege the rights of the pregnant woman over the rights of the unborn. And I find that to be unconstitutional, since the pregnant woman and the unborn are, in fact, two separate human beings. With abortion, we have one of those beings determining the existence or non-existence of the other being. Which, as I’ve stated earlier, would be considered murder if both human beings were viable. I appreciate your discussion of ethics, but by not acknowledging the unborn’s rights, we are further (and easily) silencing and marginalizing an already vulnerable and invisible population. You might counter that with the fact that the unborn have no constitutional rights, which is correct. I’m arguing that ethically, they do have rights, and legally they should.

    3.) One important distinction I would like to note is the difference between “living” and “viable.” One of the primary claims that supports the pro-choice movement is the belief that the unborn are not living. This rhetoric existed during Roe vs. Wade and continues today. Technically, the unborn is a living being at the moment of conception. It just happens to take our species 9 months of gestation to develop completely. The unborn, however, is not viable until he / she is born. Viable = capable of surviving on one’s own (ie – not having to receive nutrients through an umbilical cord). The reality is that the unborn is its own person, it has its own DNA, and it is a separate entity from the woman carrying him / her. Therefore a woman’s decision regarding her own uterus actually impacts another, different human being that’s being housed inside of her. As I said, this human is not viable at that point, but it is living. You can probably see where I’m going with this. If an unborn human is, in fact, living, he or she should be provided the same constitutional rights as any other (recognized) living human. Its viability should not determine its status as “human” or “non-human.”

    4.) I’ve established that the unborn is its own entity, whether or not it is viable. I would like to emphasize that it’s neither the fault of the mother nor the unborn that the gestation period for human beings is 9 months. Because it is 9 months, if the pregnant woman chooses to terminate the pregnancy, the victim is ultimately the unborn. Neither one of us would dispute that (I don’t think). I would like to raise a couple questions regarding this point, simply because I don’t know the answers from a pro-choice perspective. Hypothetically, if our species had a gestation period of 5 minutes, (which means there would be absolutely no time for an abortion), the pregnant woman…and very quickly, mother…would have absolutely no chance to terminate the pregnancy. Abortion rights would not exist. Your definition of “reproductive justice” would definitely need reworking. What if our species laid eggs immediately after fertilization by sperm? Since the eggs would not be inside of the woman’s uterus, would they still be able / should they be able to be disposed of? By limiting the argument to just “a woman’s body” or just “a woman’s uterus” we conveniently ignore the other party, the party that’s not simply affected, but literally terminated.

    5.) I object to the term “reproductive justice” probably in the same way that you object to the term “pro-life.” It’s reproductive justice for one party – the mother – but not justice for the unborn. It amazes me that the one party most affected by the practice of abortion, the unborn, is always ignored and made invisible by the pro-choice movement. To not be hypocritical and focus solely on the unborn, I would like to address a mother’s needs. I would agree that choosing an abortion is, for most people, a difficult decision. In our society, I think we have an obligation to help those who carry through unwanted pregnancies because it’s the right thing to do. I also agree with you that we should assist “the millions of kids who desperately need help and love right now” because that is also the right thing to do. Sister Joan Chittister, a Benedictine nun, once indicated that she was both “pro-birth” and “pro-life” which meant she supported all human life at all stages. I wholeheartedly agree with this philosophy. This is why I have such a difficult time voting in the general election. I support the Republican, conservative “pro-birth” (or anti-choice) stance, but I also support the liberal, Democratic “pro-life” stance (universal healthcare, Social Security, access to public education, welfare, etc.). I think as a society we should value constitutional rights for all human beings – viable or non-viable – and in doing so, create a culture that supports all human life. This is the reason why the only politicians I monetarily support are a part of Democrats for Life of America: They’re basically pro-life / anti-choice Democrats.

    As your previous commenter mentioned, the obvious result of an unplanned pregnancy does not have to be motherhood. It can be adoption.

    I guess the one thing I don’t understand is why it is unethical for a woman to carry a pregnancy to term. I would argue it’s unethical for a pregnant woman to put her needs and concerns above the needs of another human being. Abortion is one person’s rights at the expense of another person’s rights.

    Lastly, I agree with you that it’s unethical to shame women for having abortions. I am totally against shaming. I would argue that there is value in showing pictures of aborted fetuses to the public, since it shows the reality of this medical practice. Most pro-choice individuals I know are incredibly uncomfortable with those pictures. I think: “why are they so uncomfortable?” These individuals support the legality of this practice, but are uncomfortable with seeing the physical results of it. To me, that’s cowardly, shameful, and hypocritical. If you support something legally, you need to own it. Every part of it. Every person that’s affected by it. Every gruesome picture of it. Every woman who suffers post-traumatic stress after abortion. Every last, bloodied fetus. You get my point.

    I guess in closing I’ll respond to your quote: “To suggest that we’re throwing something away by having an abortion is an unfair way to shame women who make hard decisions about what’s best for them and their circumstances.” By privileging a woman’s decision regarding herself and her circumstances, we ignore what is best for the unborn. Both the woman’s rights and the unborn’s rights should never operate at the expense of the other. Both have rights. Both are human beings. And both should be treated as such.

    • Megan! Girlfriend. Thank you so much for sharing your views!! I’m really excited by different opinions, because I think we need to hear them to grow. And it would be boring if we all felt the same about everything. The problem is that too often we can’t have coherent, productive conversations about our opinions. I know I can have rational discussions with with you so I’m extra jazzed! (Also, it’s easier to talk to people you know than strangers online.)

      I’m gonna be totally honest, I haven’t read past the first paragraph of your response yet. BUT, I am going to, and I will have complete thoughts for you! For now, I’ll just say that I have many pro-life feminist friends. I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive, though many feminists and pro-lifers do. AND I think there’s a HUGE difference between being pro-life and being anti-choice. I know I’ll have more for you later! Yay!

  3. I’m not a female and have no uterus, but still felt compelled to weigh in after reading the comments.

    Since “abortion is not not shameful”, I guess someone thought it best to scare or gross the bejeebers out of folks, primarily women, with 180.

    As a mixed-race adoptee, I suggest that those who believe they know what is in the “best interests” of a fetus, and/or those who believe adoption is a glorious alternative to an abortion, have not considered much beyond what they might hope for as-yet unborn beings.

    • Thanks for sharing! (To clarify, I don’t believe that men should be making legislative decisions about abortion, not that they shouldn’t be socially and politically aware.) I appreciate your thoughts. You’re right, 180- and most anti-abortion campaigns- rely on a rhetoric of fear and shame. I think this is an ineffective and unethical means of persuasion.

      Anti-abortionist legislators tend to be the same people who deny welfare benefits to the poor. I am always amazed that these people will fight so ardently to “protect life”… until there are actual living children. Then, when the mother struggles to provide for the child, it’s her fault for ever getting pregnant. I wonder if these folks are even aware of their own hypocrisy.

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