According to the National Organization of Women (NOW), real reproductive justice for women requires “self-determination, equality, and the respect and support of her society” to help end “the discrimination and inequality that keep women from controlling their own reproductive lives.[i]
NOW’s quote suggests two things; that access to abortion on demand will engender more societal support for women and that women are currently unable to control their reproductive lives.
Ironically, NOW’s first assertion, that access to abortion on demand will create greater support in society for women–and ostensibly for women in all of their capacities–has not only failed to materialize in the 37 years since Roe v. Wade legalized abortion nationally, but in fact has created just the opposite obstacle for women.
In the Supreme Court case Planned Parenthood v. Casey, [ii] Justice Sandra Day O’Connor writes, “The ability of women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the nation has been facilitated by their ability to control their reproductive lives.” And concomitantly, women lawyers who support abortion, such as Dawn Johnsen who worked for the National Women’s Law Center, stress that limits on abortion affect women’s equality, going so far even as to say that pregnancy is “disturbingly suggestive of involuntary servitude” because of the physical demands involved.[iii]
Yet after 37 years of abortion on demand, perhaps the individuals who claim that more abortion will lead to more equality should ask themselves whether their fixation on choice prevents them from asking real questions about how to achieve further, actual, equality for women.
For one, pregnancy is an issue for men too. As pro-choice writer Sally Jenkins writes in the Washington Post, “the best way to deal with unwanted pregnancy is to not get the sperm in the egg and the egg implanted to begin with, and that is an issue for men, too — and they should step up to that.” [iv]
Hear, Hear. Yet accountability and responsibility for fathers is an element of equality completely missing from the abortion on demand ethos. By making abortion a women’s only issue, NOW and other pro abortionists bypass a true avenue for creating more equality in women’s reproductive lives–the acknowledgment that men must take on as much responsibility for the life they created as the women. Until this happens, there will never be reproductive justice.
Secondly, and perhaps more pressing, is the actual effect of abortion on women and the place of women in society. Abortion alienates women by pitting the choice to bear children against the choice to succeed in the work force (or succeed as mothers to existing children) as if the two were an either or proposition. This is inherently detrimental to women who have the capacity to accomplish both and more.
In fact, abortion is a symptom of inequality, not the cure. Abortion enables employers to not have to make concessions to pregnant women and mothers. In addition, not only is there a lack of good child-care, but many companies do not have flexible hours to help women with the additional responsibility of caring for children. In a regime of abortion on demand, it is the woman’s obligation to sort out the situation of an unwanted pregnancy by undergoing an invasive and emotionally draining procedure. This does not look like the equal participation for women in “the economic and social life of the nation ” that Justice O’Connor references in Casey. In the words of pro-life feminist Germaine Greer, “Historically the only thing pro-abortion agitation achieved was to make an illiberal establishment look far more feminist than it was.”[v]
As women moving forward, we should take down the artificial walls built up by the false premises of cases like Planned Parenthood v. Casey and the “feminist” legal community between motherhood and societal success. Real reproductive justice requires recognizing and nurturing the full and complete capacity of women.
[i] NOW’s website http://www.now.org/issues/abortion/reproductive_justice.html
[iii] http://www.womenstake.org/2009/02/professor-johnsen-testifies-no-one-is-above-the-law.html. in an amicus brief for the case Webster v. Reproductive Health Services, 492 U.S. 490 (1989)
[v] Greer, Germaine. The Whole Woman. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1999. 91-100.