A Niche Discussion of Reproductive Rights and Reproductive Responsibilities

IMG_497604574877~2Matthew Henry Smith, ’16

There is a part of the abortion debate about which you may be unaware. It’s one I hold a queer stake in, and one that you should be talking about.

I was reading the Providence Journal this morning while enjoying a big bowl of Raisin Bran when I came across an article by Randal Edgar profiling four pieces of legislation in Rhode Island that have to do with abortion. The last proposal Edgar noted was about sex selection, “Yet another [bill] would ban abortions in cases where ‘the decision is based on the sex of the unborn child.’”

To preface, those close to me know that I have a pragmatic opinion about abortion legislation. I dream of a world without abortion, but I know the way to get there isn’t to legislate against it. I understand some of the reasons why people pursue abortion and also understand the reasons why people abhor the practice.

Inasmuch as I want to see the end of abortion, I know that abortion won’t end before poverty and misogyny end. I know that abortion decreases when pregnancy decreases and that pregnancy decreases when women in every country are educated. My life-respecting philosophy in regards to reproduction involves an approach that is a multi-faceted combination of abstinence and safe-sex education. And I know that a view this moderate might appear a cop-out for some of my friends on the polar ends of this issue, (some of whom might think that, as a man, I have not right to have an opinion at all). I’ll tell you that I have arrived here after years of deliberation. It is also a position that will call me to shout, not at right-to-life marches, but in support of women’s groups who fight for equal access to education and resources. What’s more, my view on this is just one element of many in my philosophy on environmentalism and human population, (you should know I am not a speciestist).

Further, if you believe as I do that there is an enormous difference between abortion and contraception then you should consider that the institutions we think of as the abortion industry provide many service to prevent abortion (by preventing pregnancy). They offer sexual health and wellness amenities for men and women in need, educating on safe sex and pregnancy prevention, etc.  For more on this I recommend that you watch Aljazeera America’s fabulous documentary The Abortion War.

But while the majority of this issue – and the solution – centers around equity there is a part of it that does not.

And I have a queer stake in some legislation rising in Rhode Island.

America critiques other cultures for post-birth sex-selection. We look at China’s preference for males and we shake our heads. But our prejudice, inconsistent as it might be, is rooted in a far greater hubris. It is quieter, cloaked in the laurels of scientific achievement and discussed in thin-lipped, even tones. In America we terminate pregnancies when we don’t prefer the sex of the baby.

That is if it even gets that far. Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis, (or PGD) is the practice of fertilizing multiple eggs and then determining the traits of each. This often results in a person choosing only to implant the fertilized eggs with the traits they prefer. Often, this means that parents are choosing only to implant eggs of the desired sex. I’m not opening up the “where does life begin” argument. But I’m saying we need to talk about what we allow ourselves to expect from our kids and where we think we get the authority to have a sex preference in the first place.

There are two queer reasons why sex selection in preimplantation and pregnancy termination is unjust. The first is that it is another way our culture promotes the sex binary. We choose to believe that people are either males or females and, when a person is born with XXY chromosomes or ambiguous genitalia, we take away their sex identity and make them either male or female surgically. According to ISNA.org, incidents of “intersex condition” are 1 in 2000. This means that there are more people who are intersex than there are people with cystic fibrosis. This means that there are more people who are intersex in the world than there are Jews.

You can see how many people are degraded by the sex binary. When they are born we often assign them a sex surgically. I have spoken with people who defend parents in this case saying; “they thought they were doing the best thing for their child.” The argument is that parents just want their kids to grow up and have normal sexual relationships. But when we “fix” our intersex children to fit our sex binary, (or never allow them to be born), we reaffirm a dysphoric cultural paradigm that says the following: Happiness and achievement in its highest form is sexual and procreative. I believe this to be patently false. And so there is a great risk of intersex discrimination with PGD and sex-selective pregnancy termination.

The second queer reason to reject the practice of sex selection is that it reaffirms a cultural ignorance of the differences between sex and gender. While someone might choose to implant or terminate a zygote based on the knowledge that it is male or female, there is just no telling whether or not that male or female will (or would have) go up (or grown up) to be a boy or girl. We default to the cisgender  “rule” and in much the same way that we default to heterosexism. When we partake in sex selection we promote cisgender privilege and reject the dignity of trans people. When we choose not to carry a female fetus to term because we want a boy we are fooling ourselves into think we can choose gender.

We cannot.

So this is my queer stake in this issue. I’d like you to care about it. But even if you don’t, even if you are so far to the left that I appear to you some misplaced queer zealot, you still have a stake in this. Because this isn’t a faith argument about the origin of personhood: it’s a rallying cry for the unmasking of the illusion of human control.  And whether this law comes to pass or not, Friars, consider the assumptions you might hold about your future kids. Would you love your intersex child if love meant loving their birth body? Do you dream of one day having a “boy” OR a “girl?” Do you buy into this illusionary market of control?

It’s time to think about these tough questions.

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