Attacks on women’s rights in the US have come so quickly recently that they’re hard to keep up with. Most recently, the US House of Representatives voted to cut off funding to Planned Parenthood ostensibly because abortion is one of the many reproductive health services PP provides. (See here for more deets on this radically devolutionary piece of legislation.)
But instead of recounting and bitching over these anti-woman efforts, I’m more interested at the moment in how reproductive rights progressives have passively ceded the terms of debate to our adversaries, and what that means for our ability to respond to attacks from the so-called pro-life side.
I’m thinking (still) about how the term “pro-choice” — the most commonly used term to describe progressive reproductive rights positions — is unable to get at what reproductive rights are really about.
Yes, in theory, “choice” shifts the emphasis (properly, strategically, arguably) away from abortion to include the full range of reproductive choices. In practice? “Choice” politically functions as a synonym for abortion and an antonym for life.
Maybe, once upon a time, it was a good idea to collapse abortion, as the most contentious reproductive right, into the friendlier and less-charged notion of “choice.” But today? Still?
“Pro-life” and “pro-choice” are not commensurate, and they’re sure as fuck not opposites. Of course, repro rights progressives know this. And we know what we mean when we say “choice.” But I believe that today the word choice is inadequate for carrying the full weight of that meaning, or for branding the concept of repro rights, or for effectively transmitting the importance of reproductive rights and freedom to people who don’t spend their time obsessing over this shit nonsense like it was of world historical significance.
Pro-life = anti-Rights
Those who call themselves pro-life are more accurately tagged anti-rights (never mind for a moment how their beliefs and policies are actually anti-life.) Their concern for and fetishization of the fetus is just a big bloody emotionally charged decoy to distract from their goals and their motives — just as “forceable rape” language was a decoy to distract from the real intent of the bill it was so charitably excised from.
It’s not about abortion, or about choice (whatever that means), it’s about reproduction, its regulation, and its control.
It’s about reproductive behaviors, that is, things people do that are more or less related, in one way or another, to reproduction, which is to say it’s about sex, which is to say it’s about permutations of genders and sexualities (and vice versa) and their non-reproductive expression and oppression (and vice versa.) And as convenient as it is — and has been, for ages — to bundle all that up in “choice,” I don’t think it works as well as it could, or as well as necessary, and a change in tactics is (over) due.
Pro-choice = pro-Rights
The terms of debate have been to our adversary’s advantage. What would happen if the terms of debate were changed, and instead of talking about “choice,” we claim — reclaim — the idea and banner of Rights?
“Rights” is a sacred and mythic term of Unitedstatesean patriotism. And while there are some deeply fucked notions and overtones in the “patriot” idea, why NOT appeal to patriotism — when our opponents so clearly act against the interests of our country? Their actions are yet another example of how so-called patriarchy fucks itself.
Fact is, if these creeps assholes douchebags postbirth abortion candidates fine upstanding Americans didn’t have a monopoly on vapid jingoism, I might even call them “un-American.” Not a hard case to make.
“Rights” is one of the most resonant words and concepts out there — maybe even trumping “life,” since rights, and the freedom to exercise those rights, are what people risk sacrificing life for.
What would happen if, when the term “pro-choice” is on the tips of our tongues and fingers, we considered if maybe there’s a more effective way of saying what we really mean, even at the cost of some extra syllables?
“Choice” today operates as a term of marketing, of plenty, if not of excess, easily reduced, as we’ve seen, to life-style choices whose ultimate consequence is wanton baby-killing by irresponsible sluts on whoremones. As a political and ideological brand, Choice has seen better days.
Besides, rights do not become choices until they’re secured. And they have not been. Yet.
It’s past time to reframe this “debate” as about RIGHTS, and not simply abortion rights, but about reproductive rights, and what they mean and why they matter more than ever, and become more urgent, in a post-reproductive world.
Some hand picked related posts:
Reproductive Rights & the Macroeconomics of Pussy, or, Why Is Feminism’s Image So Unpretty?
Waking up the Pro-Choice Public
Choice & the Neon Elephant
Limply fungible ‘choice’
The problem with ‘choice’
Is feminism afraid of something?
Since when are Coke & Pepsi pro-choice?
Paul Ryan on Reproductive Rights: “You’re not going to have a truce.”