These words, so sacred to our free press and to liberals everywhere, confuse me every time I hear them. What they purport to mean and what they actually mean seem to me strikingly different, the words and real meaning warring with each other, as two dogs in a dogfight.
I am a woman, I am 41, I’ve never been pregnant because I have chosen not to be, and I am here to witness that there are a throng of decisions to make before one comes to the ultimate moral choice of life or death. There is no denying that the fetus, the child, is alive and that an abortion kills it. An abortion is a choice for death of the child. Birth is a choice for life of the child. This is simple reality and the sane cannot argue about reality.
If the debate on this issue is to reflect reality, rather than a political agenda, it is necessary that we hold the facts of the matter firmly in our hands and regard them with the solemnity necessary to the matters of life and death. We would all, I believe, wish our own lives to be so held and regarded.
The slogan "a woman’s right to choose" only relates to abortion and not to all the other choices and decisions at hand. This is its entire meaning: a woman has the "right" to choose to destroy her unborn child, should it be any kind of problem for her to bear it.
Almost every woman and man my own age I know has had, or been involved with, an abortion. As a nation, we have been needlessly killing our young, and, most of the time, merely for the sake of that ugly item convenience. In witness of this fact, I have seen powerful, sad tears welling up in our eyes and rolling down our cheeks at the most surprising times and in the most surprising places. We have hurt ourselves for the sake of convenience, but we do not need to continue to do so. Deep and damaging pain results from immorality and irresponsibility and as a nation we feel the product of that pain, which is guilt. Let those tears flow. They are necessary.
Like other women, I have practiced all of the choices before "the right to choose" arises. For a woman, these decisions must be based on her physical nature. We are different from men: if a child is conceived, it will live and thrive in our bodies until it is ready to be born. Please excuse this basic lesson in human biology, but it seems necessary today. Every human life must come through a woman’s body. This is not the sum of any woman, but it is part and parcel of our sex. I have decided for various reasons not to exercise this power; nevertheless, until the "child-bearing years" are over for me, I have to consider this every time I look at a man with desire.
As women, our choices begin at the very thought of physical intimacy that could lead to pregnancy. In order to have sex some males will push females to the point of aggression and attack — but there is a name for this and it is rape. However, except in the case of rape (which rarely results in pregnancy), pregnancy is the result of certain decisions, each of which contributed to the probability of becoming pregnant. These are decisions we have made without taking full responsibility for the consequences.
Men, of course, will push for their desires to be considered favorably. One cannot blame them, this is as natural as a blue sky on a summer day. Desire is natural for both sexes, for that matter, and sweet in its proper place. But we do not have to give in to desire, ours or theirs. To all women and girls everywhere, I say this: if a man says to you that he will die if you don’t participate in sex with him, tell him to go right ahead and that you’d like to watch.
With sex comes the risk of bringing another life into being and we are responsible for that life. Abortion purports to be a solution to a problem; however, what really is the problem? Is it pregnancy, or the lack of responsible behavior? It strikes me that abortion is no solution to the problem of irresponsibility. Deliberately harming or killing another outside of self-defense is wrong. It is also not necessary. Abstinence is the first common sense step.
The next wide level of choices is birth control. Women and men fought long and hard to be able to determine and rule their own reproductive systems. Both Church and State, usually hand in hand, have wished to control people by controlling their sexuality and their ability to reproduce. This is historical fact. Without access to birth control and the knowledge of how to use it correctly, there will be infanticide, abortion, and unwanted children. With birth control, and responsible use of it, all of those are simply unnecessary. They may and do still occur, but they are not obligatory or numerous.
This is the second, and hard-won, choice. With the practice of abstinence and the appropriate, consistent practice of birth control, there is no need for 99% of abortions.
Human beings are not simply another resource, although the State has always thought so. We are not merely a tax-base and cannon-fodder, and people should battle that attitude whenever it raises its ugly head. Nor should we allow the Church to rule us on this matter of reproducing ourselves — it is an intimate, deep, part of our human life, and the bearing of children is a matter of individual conscience and morality, and of ability to care for them.
However, what has happened in America since 1973 is a gradual eroding of that conscience and morality. We have always had abstinence, and now we have cheap, effective, and accessible birth control. And yet we are told, repetitively and constantly, that "a woman’s right to choose" means abortion, and only abortion. Hitler killed 6 million, Stalin killed 10 million, and we the people have killed approximately 30 million, all for the sake of a quick roll in the hay with no forethought and no afterthought. This, when we have all the choices we do, is repugnant. Women and men share equal guilt for this, as we share equal responsibility for engendering children.
Shall we continue to pretend that the only important choice is for us to be able to abort our children legally, cheaply, and indeed, paid for by the State? This is raw, undiluted hogwash. "A woman’s right to choose" is a political slogan for a political agenda, and should be recognized as such.
I used to be pro-abortion. When I even thought about it, rather than "going with the flow" of my generation, I tended to value a full-grown woman’s life and rights over those of "a group of cells." However, as my moral and political thought evolved, I came to realize that this "group of cells" is as much another human being as I am, just as I am equally only "a group of cells." We share human life, that unborn child and I. In all honesty, my former position was lacking in morality, conscience and logic. I am not proud of this.
However, if we make the right choices, we don’t need a woman’s "right to choose." Nor does the State need to be involved in our decisions about human reproduction. The Constitution of the United States is our contract with and our mandate to the State: these things you may do and no others. There is nothing about abortion, birth control, or human reproduction in the federal Constitution or in any state’s original constitution. And that is as it should be.
When there is human slavery, slaves are bred or not bred for their owner’s profit and convenience. When there is human freedom, with its attendant corollaries of responsibility and choice, we may breed or not breed within the limits of our ability to care for the children we bring into the world. The choice is ours. It is a matter, not of convenience, but of responsibility.
"A woman’s right to choose" may seem like the crowning point of the entire battle for women’s civil and political rights. However, women fought for these rights as adult, moral people of conscience. Abdicating that stance is dangerous. "A woman’s right to choose" is an illusion of female control over her reproductive system, for by becoming pregnant, she has lost her right to decide. A woman’s choice ends at conception, for then her only choice, if she wishes no baby to be born, is to kill. This is simply wrong.
Moreover, this political slogan, "a woman’s right to choose" has more to do with the State’s desire to increase or lessen its "human resources" than it does with a woman’s individual choices. After WWII, the State wished to increase its "human resources" so it encouraged women to quit the jobs they held during the war, get married, and have lots of babies. Nowadays, the State wishes to decrease its "human resources," so it makes abortions legal and cheap and encourages "a woman’s right to choose."
If we wish to be free, rather than the slaves the State attempts to make of its "human resources," we need to take full responsibility for our own lives and actions. This is a matter of conscience on the one hand, and of securing greater political power on the other. The more control we are willing to exercise over ourselves, through taking responsibility for our actions, the less we can be manipulated by outside forces: the whimsical and changing laws of the State, and its media-operated propaganda and slogans.
Control, essentially, is at the root of "a woman’s right to choose" and women and men must make better choices if they wish to be free human beings.We must make up our own hearts and minds, act accordingly, and accept the consequences of our actions. There is no freedom otherwise.
A true tale: My brother and his wife created Caitlin, and in the latter portions of Caitlin’s time in Carol’s womb, they learned that Caitlin could not live, her poor little body was not made for life. The doctors recommended abortion, which Terry and Carol decided was out of the question. God, you see, gave them Caitlin. Carol went through the entire pregnancy, gave birth, and three days later, Caitlin died. She is buried next to my father, and was as much a person as any of us. Caitlin was destined to be born and her birth changed all of our lives powerfully. But she wasn’t destined to live.
In my life, I have made my choices for responsibility and thus for freedom. Carol is the bravest woman I know, and she too made hers and willingly paid a much higher price. We have both exercised our "right to choose."
Patricia Neill is managing editor of a scholarly journal on the life and work of William Blake, the 18th-century artist and poet.
© 1996 by Patricia Neill