The Rhetoric of Choice

If you asked me my position on abortion, I would probably tell you: I’m pro-choice. If I’m feeling incendiary, I might express my point of view more explicitly: I am in favor of abortion. I support women’s right to choose. I believe in that choice; I support that choice; I will fight for women (and, let’s face it, girls) to have that choice. Also, it should be said: I think a lot of my own opinion. I’m pretty self-important. But my support of your choice is not what’s relevant. Choice is really not what’s relevant. As a feminist, choice is not what I want to talk about.

When I hear debates about abortion framed in terms of choice, I start to get nervous. Choice is the rhetoric of the opposition. For my purposes, it doesn’t matter if you’re “pro-choice” or “pro-life”; these distinctions are irrelevant. On a personal level, I am all about choice. If you find yourself host organism to an unplanned pregnancy, you can choose to have the baby. I know. I did. Admittedly, that was my choice. It was, or at least, it should be, your choice.

My choice had nothing to do with being against abortion, because I’m not. Against abortion. If you don’t believe in abortion, you’re probably not going to have one, and bully for you! (Likewise, if you don’t believe in gay marriage, don’t go to any gay weddings. You’re probably not going to be invited anyway, so there’s really no need to become too invested in the problem. But that is another issue for another day.) My point: everyone should be able to do what they want to do, to agree to disagree, to choose their choice, so to speak, and be done with it. That, I am told, is what being pro-choice is all about.

I fully and completely support the right of women to choose to have abortions, if and when they make this choice.

Of course, first you’d have to be able to access an abortion. Safely and legally. Free of undue risk, and without fear of retribution.

And herein lies my central problem with choice: in the context of reproductive rights, arguing about choice is like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

By framing the issue in terms of the opposition’s constructs (pro-choice vs. pro-life), we neglect the actual issue: in the United States, abortion is a legal medical procedure. Yet since its legalization in 1973, the right of a woman in the United States to access a safe, legal abortion has been eroded immeasurably. See Planned Parenthood v. Casey and the Carhart cases for two major examples. Stare decisis has gone the way of the toilet.

There is no getting around it.

I am guilty of engaging in the rhetoric of choice, but it’s the wrong argument. For me, abortion is not about personal belief systems; people will always have theoretical and theological criticisms of abortion, and that is perfectly fine. If I haven’t made it clear, I am pro-abortion, or if you’d prefer, pro-choice.

But abortion in the United States is not a matter of choice. It is a matter of access. It is not a matter of personal philosophy. It’s a matter of rights.

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