Monday, November 26, 2007

Pro-Choice Organizations and Issues of Color and Disability

I've been thinking about this topic for a long time. Over the years, I've witnessed some complicated and heartrending situations arise that caused me to drastically amend my views on abortion. To get it out of the way, let me explain where I used to stand on this.

Unless the woman was dying-- I mean dying at that moment, not just some potential result that might happen in the future--then it's wrong to have an abortion. The one exception for this would be an ectopic pregnancy because I considered that a pregnancy that was completely un-salvageable. My view was the standard party line passed down to me from my ODD.

I still remember when NOW came on my campus to talk to us about "women's issues". One of the (all-white) group called to me as I was passing by. The girl wanted to discuss how our abortion rights were under threat. She tried to appeal to the fact that I was in the bio-sciences in an attempt to try and sell me on the idea tell me about how there's no reason to see abortion as problematic because it's just the removal of a bit of tissue, a cell clump, which doctors do all the time with other parts of the body. She also went into how the majority (about 90%) of medical schools make abortion procedure training optional and that she felt it should be mandatory.

I had several responses that visibly annoyed her. For one, saying that a fetus is just a clump of cells doesn't make it unproblematic because it assumes that there are no ethical issues involved with the removal of cell clumps. Secondly, it was improper for doctors to perform abortions according to the Hippocratic oath that many of them take before going into practice and, even if it wasn't, I don't think that med students should be forced to violate their religious beliefs when they have already decided that they will not be abortion providers. Lastly, if NOW purpose was to support women's issues, then who decides which positions they take? Did they also support and provide information favoring the views of women who are against abortion? Obviously, that conversation did not end well.

Looking back, there are some flaws in my arguments but there were also many other problematic issues that I didn't bring up, didn't understand or recognize back then. Since that first brush with NOW, I've become pro-choice but I still have a lot of issues with NOW, NARAL, and similar organizations. The way that they dismiss all those who disagree with them as "right-wingers" is a major one. This totally eliminates the ability to dialogue with women whose views are as important as those who are (already) pro-choice and in agreement with their platform.

What about women of color and women with disabilities? Do our views matter or are we simply props to be used in appeals to those who think of themselves as caring about the plight of the poor, poor, minorities?


Lisa Harney said...

I'm militantly pro-choice - or perhaps pro-bodily autonomy, but I think that feminism in general centers on that issue a bit too much - or rather, doesn't really address issues of race, disability, trans, etc enough.

It's not just enough to focus on "women" when women are so diverse. It's necessary to focus on all women and what affects those women.

Plus, stuff like Planned Parenthood's eugenics history scare the hell out of me.

bint alshamsa said...

I'm militantly pro-choice - or perhaps pro-bodily autonomy

Me too, perhaps to an extent that might make some people with disabilities uncomfortable. However, like you said, I see it as counter-productive to ignore the views of women unless those women agree with you. I feel like disabilities and race and transgenderedness only get dragged out when the major organizations want to use us as a selling point.

I think that women should be allowed to have abortions for any reason or no reason at all. However, I'd be lying if I said that I don't see anything problematic about how women carrying babies with disabilities (or even those who may have a disability) are encouraged to abort and how women of color are denigrated (when they choose to have a bunch of kids or they choose to have a bunch of abortions) to an extent that we just don't see occurring with comparable white women. Well, perhaps that's the problem. We (WOC and PWD and trangendered women) aren't seen as comparable to the average, non-disabled, white, cisgendered woman.

Lisa Harney said...

Yeah, the whole eugenics thing, of aborting just because a baby will be disabled, also scares the hell out of me. I'm really opposed to that.

I think that availability of abortion is a life or death matter, and that making it illegal will result in needless deaths due to the fact that legality does not affect the abortion rate, and how women would possibly have to deal with unsafe conditions.

It's complicated, and this stuff really needs to be discussed, not just shoved aside or justified without question.

Lisa Harney said...

Er, this stuff is, but there's so much more to focus on, stuff that is just as or more pressing than abortion, things that women have to deal with because of intersections, and things that make abortion itself problematic.

I'm not trying to force this down the "abortion is totally required," but rather saying "Even though I think abortion is necessary, all this other stuff is too."

cripchick said...

good blog entry. i think these groups will never be able to fully discuss or listen to what disabled people say about disability because it makes everything fuzzy for them and they always feel like they have to put forth this one black and white stance. when you have discussions that could potentially mean they aren't the experts on EVERY SINGLE THING IN THE WORLD it makes them too nervous to have any discussion.

i still have hope though.

Lisa Harney said...

Here's a good example of how white, middle class-centric feminism has interfered with women of color:

Unfortunately, CESA’s important advocacy work and the influential guidelines they proposed were not met with widespread support within the mainstream feminist movement. Two of the major organizations leading the pro-choice movement, Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) opposed the CESA guidelines to end the sterilization abuse of women of color, arguing that they restricted white, middle-class women’s access to voluntary sterilization (Roberts 1997: 300).