James Croft has a new entrant in the #UpForDebate who gets to talk about abortion rights how many decades do we have to keep discussing whether women get to have bodily autonomy wars.
A couple of years ago he took part in such a debate, and realized while it was in process that it was basically a sham and he shouldn’t have agreed to do it. It was not a pleasant moment.
What I had failed to realize, despite my weeks of preparation, is that my ability and willingness to enter into a space of “debate” around the issue of abortion is a manifestation of privilege. What you are wiling to debate – what is effectively “up for discussion” – is frequently a reflection of what you think, in principle, you might be willing to give up. What you are able to put on the table of public discourse are the things you don’t feel too threatened to let go of. During all my discussions on the topic before the debate it had never occurred to me that my ability to conduct the research and weigh the arguments in a reasonably dispassionate way was due to the fact that I simply will never have to face the decision to abort. I was discussing, and discoursing, and debating rights which are not mine to put up for discussion. By opening that debate, even taking the pro-choice side, I was essentially putting women’s right to autonomy on the table in a way I have no business doing. Engaging in abstract philosophical discussion about other people’s rights in a public forum, when those rights are constantly under threat in the current political and social climate, and when the answer to the questions you raise will never effect you directly, is a callous and thoughtless thing to do.
I know how this feels to some degree, because I feel a certain sense of outrage when straight people debate the rights of queer people. I have many times found infuriating the way that straight folks can casually discuss my right to get married the same way they might discuss where to go to lunch that day. When it is my fundamental rights being debated, it is very easy to see when the issues are being discussed with too much intellectual remove, and too little righteous anger. I have, more than once, tried angrily to impress upon those arguing against equal marriage (say) that it is my life they are talking about, not some topic for a class paper. My life. It is sadly less easy to see this happening when you are on the other side of the equation. The fact is that as much as I try to be an ally to women, I do not feel the sense of threat and personal affront when confronted with an argument against abortion which I feel when confronted with an argument against gay rights. It doesn’t hit me where I live – which makes me a very bad person to judge when and to what extent such discussions are appropriate.
I think that’s right. It’s a hard thing for people to hear, because it seems inimical to open free discussion…but I think it’s right anyway.
I should have known better, then, than to have reposted on Facebook, without any critical commentary, an article by Kristine Kruszelnicki recently hosted on Hemant Mehta’s Friendly Atheist blog presenting a secular case against abortion. The case presented is shoddy and unconvincing, and it would have been far better, were I to post it at all, to have done so being explicit that I disagreed strongly with it and was posting it for the purpose of attempting to improve the arguments in favor of a woman’s right to choose. I should have been particularly mindful of posting that piece in such a way given the fact that the secular community still seems incapable of agreeing that women are indeed full people, and that it is not OK to proposition them endlessly at conferences, invade their personal space, grope them, make demeaning comments about their appearance all the time etc. Furthermore, I should have recognized that the posting of that article came closely on the heels of what seems to be a signal from Dave Silverman that American Atheists, Inc. might be willing to make common ground with conservatives on the question of abortion in order to further other “more clear-cut” secular aims (it is particularly stupid that I didn’t think of this given the fact I criticized Silverman myself for his statements at CPAC). When the bodily autonomy – and therefore fundamental dignity – of women is not firmly established, it is simply inappropriate to treat as an academic exercise questions of abortion rights – especially without framing those questions in any way.
And the bodily autonomy – and therefore fundamental dignity – of women is not firmly established. We keep seeing that.