In light of the congressional testimonies concerning abortion, and because abortion has been a popular topic on our blog, I thought I would try and look at the issue from both sides. As with all debates there is a lot of complexity and I don’t see an easy answer. To me, the differences between the pill, the day after pill, and an early abortion seem tenuous and somewhat arbitrary—the location of a few cells. No matter how you do it, birth control is unnatural and stops somethings natural. And yes, I am including abstinence in the list of unnatural acts, particularly among a married couple. But there are many unnatural things that have improved the world, and I think birth control is one of them. And here I can sympathize with some of the pro-choice arguments.
Woman’s liberation has been more than a political movement; it has also been a technological feat. Birth control has liberated women from the dictates of their own bodies—not just so that they can run around having sex all the time, but so they are able to function in society more conveniently. They can have a job, plan a family, and protect their bodies, all while having a healthy sexual relationship with their husband. These are all things Sarah and I have taken advantage of. Birth control has given Sarah the confidence to pursue a master’s degree. And so here I am, trying to support my wife through school. This is nearly unimaginable a hundred years ago.
The world is forever changed because of birth control. While there are still many who will argue against birth control, it is hard to imagine our modern world without it. As with all technology, there is something lost and something gained. And while I don’t see much use in trying to resurrect the past in this case, it may be appropriate to note what has been lost.
We have lost the primal womanhood, where a woman’s identity was inextricably connected to her procreative ability. A woman was not a “birthing machine” because of an exclusively male centric society alone, but because nature had made her that way. Her age and seasons kept time with a menstrual metronome. While her sexuality was much more complicated and less stagnant than people seem to believe, the reality of procreation was far more barefaced than it is now.
We have entered a new world. A world where what has been true of woman for thousands of years is no longer the case. A technological breakthrough as significant, perhaps, as the internet. And now we look back at the old forms of birth control and see how unsatisfactory they were. Abortion, in a way, is just old technology. Like seeing the computers that guided Apollo 11 to the moon. Our new technology is much nicer, cleaner, and safer. Perhaps it is time to do away with abortion. But it seems to me that the larger issue is defining the new woman.
What do we want the word to mean—“woman”—now that we have gained some control over it. It has entered a cocoon and we reshape it daily. And this is where I am most persuaded by pro-life arguments that try to draw a line and say where a woman’s dominion ends. It is a way of relinquishing control, surrendering choice. And it does not seem to be as backwards looking as many believe. To me, it says that the modern woman is okay. She does not need to spend all her time and energy thinking of procreation and the children that have been procreated. This is not the entirety of femininity. But, it also says with equal vehemence, femininity is still connected to birthing, to nurturing, to motherhood. That to some degree a woman is master of her body, but not in every degree. There is a line, they say, that must be drawn. And we must draw it. But when does a woman give up her individuation and allow the dominion of her body? When do cells reach a point that a woman has lost her right to define them? In some way, something that was entirely her own, a product of her body, is no longer so. And instead she becomes the product of her body. Yes, she becomes defined by the maternal dictates of a woman’s body.
But where is that line to be drawn? That is a good question.