What We Talk About When We Talk About Choice*

When it comes to the issue of choice, there are an array or terms flying around.  Pro-Choice, Pro-Life, Anti-Choice, Anti-Abortion, the ever absurd Pro-Abortion.  Since election season is upon us, I thought this was a good time to check our definitions.

See, in my lovely state of Oregon, we have a very interesting governor’s race going on right now.  Democratic candidate and former governor John Kitzhaber is running against Republican candidate and former basketball player Chris Dudley.  Clearly, there is a vast difference in experience there.  Early on in the campaign, Dudley was labeled a pro-choice candidate, because he supports the principals of Roe v. Wade.  But he’s for abortion restrictions.  And abstinence only education.

So what does it mean to be Pro-Choice?

To be Pro-Choice means one believes that women have the right to decide when and how they have children.  That, in the event of an unplanned pregnancy, a woman has the right to make the decision that she sees best, and that all options must be safe, accessible, and legal.  Being Pro-Choice also means that you believe people should have access to contraception and comprehensive, medically accurate, sex education, so that they can make healthy decisions for themselves.

Abortions restrictions, such as parental notification, mandatory biased counseling, mandatory waiting periods, requiring women get a sonogram before getting an abortion,  and other laws that make it more difficult for women to access abortion, while treating them as though they’re children who can’t possibly comprehend the situation, are Anti-Choice.

If you support abortion restrictions and do not support comprehensive sex education, you are not Pro-Choice.

The issue of Choice and reproductive rights has a lot to do with trusting women.  In many of the conversations I’ve had with pr0-choice men, they will cite the women in their lives, recognize them as smart, capable individuals, and declare they believe all women have the right to make their own decisions about their health.  It always puts a smile on my face because they get it. As a Pro-Choice feminist, I believe the right to decide when and how to have children is essential if women are to truly be equal in society, and that we must have the resources to make our choices.  I do not believe you can be Anti-Choice and still be a feminist.  You cannot be pro-women and not trust women.  This is the number one reason I’ll never believe Sarah Palin when she labels herself a feminist.  I think it is possible for a person to be personally against abortion, but believe each woman should make her own decisions when it comes to an unplanned pregnancy.

The great irony is that the Pro-Choice movement does more to prevent the Anti-Choice movement (I don’t use the term Pro-Life because I find it absurd; who isn’t for life?  Plus, the only lives they really care about are those of fetuses).  The way to prevent abortion isn’t to block women from obtaining one.  The way to prevent abortion is to prevent unplanned pregnancy, which happens when you give people the tools to make healthy sexual decisions.  I believe you can support comprehensive sex ed and access to contraception and be against abortion.

So no, Chris Dudley is not Pro-Choice, even though he let the media label him as a Pro-Choice candidate.  It’s deceitful and insulting.  It’s insulting because he seems to think it take so little to be called Pro-Choice.  For me, the issue of choice is essential.  I don’t want to vote for someone who doesn’t respect my right to make decisions about my reproductive health.  Those are personal, private decisions and should be respected as such.  It’s not a lot to ask for, but we have to work so hard to even have that right.  And I’m certainly not going to elect someone who wants to erode my rights.

*apologies to Raymond Carver, but it was too good of a title not to


Happy 90th Anniversary!

On August 18, 1920, the 19th Amendment passed, granting women the right to vote.  The fight was a long one.  The Seneca Falls Conference, which was the first conference on women’s rights in the U.S., took place in 1848.  This is where The Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions, which spelled out all of the injustices towards women, following the form and style of the Declaration of Independence.   Only one woman who the declaration signed the was alive on election day in 1920.  Her name was Charlotte Woodward Pierce, and when she was asked if she would vote, the 90-year-old responded, “I’m too old and too ill.  I’m afraid I’ll never vote.”

There are too many women to thank.  There’s Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Alice Paul, of course, as well as the Grimke Sisters, Lucretia Mott, Martha Wright, Lucy Stone, Ernestine Rose, Ida B. Wells, Sojourner Truth, Victoria Woodhull, Virginia Minor, Julia Ward Howe to name a few.  Frederick Douglas deserves a special mention, as he was one of the only men to return his energies to women’s suffrage after the abolition of slavery.

Celebrate the work and sacrifices of the suffragists today by reading up on the upcoming elections in your area, and raising a little hell.  Also, Iron Jawed Angels is a fun movie about the passage of the 19th Amendment, and great to watch while drinking with friends.

Special thanks to Beverly Hudson-Wirtz, her awesome U.S. Women’s history class, and easy-to-follow lectures.