Kate Harding made a very interesting point last week when she compared the rhetoric of anti-choicers with the rhetoric of people who are anti-childfree*. It’s a comparison I actually had never drawn before, which is I guess why people pay to read what Kate Harding writes, and it’s also a very fascinating comparison to look at.
If the beliefs of “pro-lifers” center around the sanctity of life, their stated goal should be to reduce the number of abortions. But, as has been clearly demonstrated, very few people in the “pro-life” movement actually promote abortion reduction in the form of making birth control and family planning options accessible, which would seem to belie their claims. Nowhere is this more obvious, as Harding points out, than in the rhetoric directed at women who opt not to have children.
In fact, women who pursue permanent sterilization, which would ensure that they never needed abortions, are criticized for their “unnatural” choices. They are told, much like women who get abortions, that they will regret their choices, and this claim is backed by spurious statistics pulled out of thin air. Childfree women are told that once they behold Their Amazing Child™, they will understand the joy of parenting and change their minds, just like women who are pro-choice are informed that they will change their minds once they get pregnant and behold The Miracle Of Life™.
Women who seek sterilization are, in fact, subjected to an exhaustive patient interview in which the doctor repeatedly reminds the woman that the procedure is irreversible, and she may regret it. Usually, the consent of a husband or partner is also required. This goes well beyond the ethical obligation of informed consent, veering right on over into moral preaching, and so does the language that is hurled at childfree women.
One could argue that anti-choicers are opposed to birth control because they believe that birth control is murder (as some do), which also explains why so many are pro-abstinence. But I think that being pro-abstinence has a lot more to do with the idea of preserving a specific set of values which surround sexuality and reproduction, not because abstinence is a (highly effective, if you can do it) method of birth control which doesn’t involve “murder.” After all, there are methods which prevent sperm from reaching the egg, like the sponge, condom, and the diaphragm, and these methods are not supported by “pro-life” people, despite the fact that they specifically prevent fertilization, and therefore no zygote is created. Furthermore, if “murder” was really the issue, than voluntary sterilization by a woman who wishes to remain childfree shouldn’t be a problem.
The problem with being childfree is that it explicitly decouples sexuality and reproduction. Having an abortion underscores, in a way, the fact that heterosexual sex can be used to create another human being, while being childfree is a way to thumb your nose in the face of “traditional values,” saying that you can enjoy sexuality without needing to have children. That you can make a choice that children are not right for you and never will be, but that you can still be sexual, and are not required to permanently abstain. Childfree women are a double threat, embracing not only the right to choose, but the right to permanently choose not to bear children.
And they highlight the crux of the issue, which is that anti-choicers don’t care about “murder,” but about women’s sexuality. Where’s your middle ground now, political moderates?
*This is really, really clumsy, I know. But I can’t say “anti-child,” because childfree people can be pro-child, just not for them personally. “Opposed to the beliefs of the childfree movement” sounds a little pompous and it’s too windy, so “anti-childfree” it is, despite its imperfections.