Today is Blog for Choice Day 2011 in which folks around the blogosphere take a moment to write about abortion access and reproductive justice. You can read my previous contributions for 2008 (the radical idea that I am a person) and 2010 (the radical act of trusting others) by clicking through. This year’s prompt was: “Given the anti-choice gains in the states and Congress, are you concerned about choice in 2011?”
It’s a tricky word: “choice.”
I believe that human beings always have choices, and thus we must always make choices. Most of the time, we make those choices, decisions, based on complex internal and external equations of risk vs. benefit, right vs. wrong — equations we often aren’t fully aware of laying out and solving before we say: “this. this is my choice.”
Yet we move through the world making choices. Some small (what to wear to work today; what to have for breakfast) and some large (whether to speak up when a colleague bullies you; whether or not to carry an unplanned pregnancy to term).
Philosophically and ethically speaking, I’m a big supporter of the concept of “choice” and the recognition that people are moral agents constantly making moral choices. Even in situations where there seem to be few or no options — or no good options — left. As I wrote last year, one of the most radical acts we can choose to perform on this earth is the act of trusting other human beings (even those we do not know and have no control or influence over) to make decisions about what is right (and moral) for them.
Yet the language of “choice” can also be used as a weapon, as a judgment. “Whatever; that’s their choice”; “They’ve made their bed, let them lie in it.” With increasing frequency, I hear the language and concept of “choice” being used in ways that punish those with the least agency, the fewest options, and those who are facing the highest cost for exercising their decision-making abilities. I see people being punished for brazenly acting as though they had moral agency, as if they expected the people around them to trust them to make moral choices for themselves and their families.
You see, while everyone has the ability to exercise their freedom of choice, only some people are considered worthy enough to actually exercise that ability without being judged. Rich, white, straight folks to be exact. People with enough material autonomy to act independently (and thus privately), without needing to rely on extensive formal and informal support networks to actually access the resources they need to follow through on the moral decisions they have made.
You need help and support to follow through on your choices? You need some public assistance to raise the child you decided to give birth to? You need your health insurance to cover that abortion you decided was best for your family? You need affordable daycare? A job with flexibility in order to balance the demands of care-giving and career?
Fuck you: Having kids was just a “lifestyle choice” … why should we as a society help you out?
Fuck you: You “chose” to have sex when you know the only completely reliable method of birth control is abstinence. If you can’t afford to pay out of pocket for an abortion? Tough.
As I said, it’s a tricky word: “choice.”
The pro-choice movement has been advocating for decades now that we recognize women as moral decision-makers when it comes to their reproductive health and choices. This is all well and good, but I think it’s important to realize that those who are anti-choice, anti-abortion, anti-reproductive justice are perfectly willing to recognize that women can make choices. Anti-choice politicians and activists just want to make sure that we lack the ability to follow through on those choices in a meaningful way.
So you bet I’m “concerned about choice” this year, as I am every year. I’m concerned at the way our culture and our political system seem unable (or more likely, I suspect, unwilling) to take a long, hard look at the way in which we collectively constrain access to meaningful choices for the majority of the population. Particularly the way we target already-vulnerable populations and strip away their ability to be moral decision-makers who can actually act on their decisions in ways that promote well-being. Children and adolescents, people of color, people living below the poverty line or on severely limited incomes, immigrants, people without health insurance, folks without job security, folks in non-hetero-normative families. As a nation, we should be making it possible for all of these folks to make — and follow through on — moral choices for themselves and their families.
Instead, we seem hell-bent on stripping those abilities away even further. And I see the rhetoric of “choice” in some ways aiding and abetting that evisceration. Because, after all, if someone is “free” to “choose” … then what do they need from us?
It’s the responsibility of those of us who are pro-choice on abortion and reproductive health to articulate what people do need to follow through on their choices. Because if we don’t, we might have a “choice” … but not much of a chance to act on it.