Thursday, February 16, 2012

Female Bodies and the Issue of Choice: Part Two

Click here for Part One

When it comes to Birth, I am Pro-Choice.

I believe in a woman's right to choose every single aspect of her health care during her pregnancy and during her labor and delivery. She has the right to choose what kind of care provider she wants. She has the right to choose her location of birth (and I don't mean which hospital, I mean home birth or birth center as well). She has the right to refuse glucose rests, HIV tests, amniocentesis, and any other prenatal examination she desires. She has the right to have an unmedicated childbirth or a medicated one. It is HER CHOICE. Despite what biomedicine says, or the authoritative knowledge of care professionals, or a book says, or her mother says, or what a politician says: A woman has the right to CHOOSE what happens to HER body. She has the right to make an informed decision that is right for her.

Erin Rockwell from RH Reality Check writes:

The right to choose how a woman gives birth is not confined to just whether she’ll have a cesarean or a vaginal delivery, or whether she’ll have an epidural or go natural. In many states, the right to choose the very place where a woman gives birth is a contentious subject. While maternal and infant mortality rates in the United States continue to rise, legislatures continue to refuse to grant licenses to Certified Professional Midwives, the most common type of midwife who attends home births. And even in states where home birth is legal, hospital policies can prevent a woman from being accompanied by her midwife should she need to be transferred during or after the birth. Women are ostensibly free to make the choice---in most states it is only midwife-attended home birth that is illegal---but the choice often comes down to going to a hospital and risking losing their autonomy or planning a home birth and losing their advocate (and the person with the medical knowledge) if something goes wrong.

And Miriam Perez writes:

There are many negative effects of the medicalization of birth, but let’s keep it simple. Childbirth is more medicalized now than ever, with more interventions, more drugs, and more surgeries. Our Caesarean section rate is up to around 30 percent, despite World Health Organization recommendations of 15 percent. Are women and babies healthier? Safer? Happier? The answer is no. The United States continues to rank near the bottom of developed countries in relation to infant mortality, coming in second to last in 2006. Experts disagree on why. Some cite sub par health care for low-income pregnant women, while others point to increasingly complicated neonatal surgical interventions for otherwise unviable pregnancies. The simple fact is that Americans have one of the most costly health care systems in the world, but in many respects our health outcomes are nothing to brag about among our developed-world peers. Beyond all of this, what the birthing rights movement addresses is the narrowing scope of women’s choices about how they give birth. Hospitals and doctors have increasingly specific requirements and regulations about childbirth, many times based on standardized ideas of how a “normal” birth progresses. When women fail to meet these standards, interventions are employed, many of which are costly and cause a landslide of further intervention. Let’s not forget the emotional and psychological component. Many women give birth in environments where they feel unsupported, a fact exacerbated by hospital staffers who are overworked and face increasing productivity demands. They instead rely on family to give emotional support, but not all women have the familial support they need or want.

And this is why I am a Birth Activist.

I think it makes sense that this pro-choice sentiment rolls over to generally being pro-choice when it comes to all issues related to an individual's body. Most people would agree that this right belongs to male bodies, but unfortunately do not always extend this right to female bodies. And the issue lies mainly with aspects of reproduction.

And so I define myself also as Pro-Choice when it comes to choosing NOT to be pregnant, give birth, or parent (and yes, I'm talking about Abortion now).
Arwyn at Raising my Boychick is a fellow birth activist and pro-choicer who describes why she is pro-choice in her post "I'm pro-choice because..." and here is part of it:

    I’m pro-choice because I can’t but see a difference between a blastocyst and a baby.
    I’m pro-choice because the personhood of a embryo/fetus is irrelevant: no person has the right to impose themselves on another’s body.
    I’m pro-choice because without the right and ability to say no, we lack the ability to say yes.
    I’m pro-choice because every child should have the right to be a chosen child, whether or not their conception was intended.
    I’m pro-choice because parenthood is way too damned hard for anyone to be forced into it.
    I’m pro-choice because people with uteruses are, y’know, people, and capable of making their own decisions.
    I’m pro-choice because there’s no way to ban abortion without upping the death rate of women.
    I’m pro-choice because intended or not (and I’d argue it mostly is), the outcomes of abortion bans are misogynist and reify patriarchy.
    I’m pro-choice because my opinion on anyone else’s choice is irrelevant — and your opinion is irrelevant to mine.
    I’m pro-choice because it’s about so much more than abortion: not just whether but when and where and with whom to birth.
    I’m pro-choice because it’s about so much more than pregnancy: whether and when and how to transition, whether and when and with whom to have sex.
    I’m pro-choice because birth is far safer than we think it is — and abortion, when legal, is even safer still.
    I’m pro-choice because a forced “choice” — whether to birth or to abort — isn’t a choice at all.
    I’m pro-choice because I refuse to tell you what to do with your body, and I wish the same right extended to me.
    I’m pro-choice because in a pro-choice society, one can be against abortion for themselves, but in an anti-abortion society, one is disallowed choice at all.

Unfortunately, not all Birth Activists are with me. Despite the fact that birth activists agree with a woman's choice in birth, they do not always agree on a woman's choice to not be a mother.

And the Pro-Choice movement tends to ignore the fact that though some women want the choice to not be pregnant and give birth, some women DO want that choice.

As Erin Rockwell writes:

I am a woman “of childbearing age.” I know Planned Parenthood, NOW, Choice USA, et al, will defend my right to choose abortion if I were to get pregnant and needed that option. I know they would provide me with subsidized birth control and pap smears if I didn’t have insurance and couldn’t afford to pay full price, or they would at least direct me where to go. And I know they will fight hard to ensure that legislators cannot stomp out my right to choose, or my access to subsidized birth control and yearly exams. Yet, when it comes to where I choose to give birth, they are silent. It would appear, in their eyes, that ensuring “choices” essentially ends with the decision to have a baby--more specifically of where and with what kind of attendant to give birth. How is that possible? The birth of her child is for many women one of, if not the, most transformative moment in her life. And the circumstances surrounding it can be just as empowering or disempowering as those surrounding a woman accessing her right to an abortion.

 I really like how Miriam Perez puts it here:
When a woman is giving birth in an American hospital, the doctors, nurses, and extended medical team are almost wholly focused on the status of the fetus inside of her—constantly employing technologies to monitor it and drugs to regulate it, allowing fetal well-being to be their dominant concern. When we think of a woman with an unintended pregnancy (and this could be the same woman, in a different phase of her life), a similar logic applies. Anti-choice activists don’t trust women to make responsible decisions about their lives and ability to parent; they instead focus on the potential life inside a woman, and place all emphasis on the future of the fetus rather than on the future of the woman. Anti-choice activism and overly-medicalized birthing practices are both based on a lack of trust in women. Consider the many restrictions imposed on birthing women: rules regulating out-of-hospital midwives, mandatory waiting periods for abortions, forced C-sections, and biased pre-abortion counseling are all examples of how people do not trust women (or their support networks) to make responsible decisions about family well-being.

I realize that not all readers who enjoy my blog will agree with my opinions, and that's OK! But please note that I will not host an abortion debate in the comments of this post.

Additional Reading: Why Birth is a Feminist Issue


  1. I just want to say Thank You for putting this into words: there are two sides of the debate, but it all boils down to one concept- CHOICE. I want the ability to manage my own body, which is the same ability I extend to others. (Scratch that- how they regulate their bodies isn't my business!)

    I find it true, also, what these partisan-imposed regulations imply: they consider us to be incompetent in dealing with our bodies ourselves. I wish that message would become louder: that they don't think we women are capable of these "big" decisions- misogyny at its finest.

  2. Sorry, the link on my name didn't work. Here's my Twitter page...!/Bry_ana

  3. Women are perfectly capable of making choice for themselves, and I think you worded it very well. Write on and right on!

  4. Thank you for your comments, Bryana and Amanda!


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