March 11, 2010

The right to privacy does not preclude the right to speak out

Posted in Feminism, Reproduction at 12:22 pm by The Lizard Queen

I’ve been way behind on reading blogs and, especially, blogging (as my regular readers have surely noticed!), but Evil Bender sent me a link to this Salon article by Mary Ann Sorrentino in which she bemoans Angie Jackson’s decision to live-tweet her medical abortion, and I felt moved to respond to it.  (Read: it pissed me right the fuck off.)

It started with the title, “The right to hate Angie Jackson’s choice.”  I appreciate that the title was most likely chosen by an editor rather than the author, but the idea of hating another woman’s choice strikes me as extraordinarily problematic, sort of in the same vein as the “love the sinner, hate the sin” bullshit.  The things we do, the decisions we make, the actions we take, they’re all part of who we are.  That’s not to say it’s impossible to love a person and hate what they do, nor is it to say that Sorrentino isn’t free to hate whoever or whatever she pleases, but it begins the discussion on an antagonistic note.

And then Sorrentino comes to this charming thought:

If . . . [Jackson’s] decision about ending her child-bearing is solid and responsible, one has to wonder why she didn’t just have a tubal ligation.

I can think of a few possibilities: Because said procedure is expensive, and I’m not sure whether Jackson has health insurance?  (I read enough of the tweets to know that Jackson and her partner paid for the abortion out-of-pocket.)  Because it’s difficult to find a doctor who will perform said procedure on a woman in her twenties?  Because Jackson believed (understandably) that an IUD (which she had) would suffice?

Furthermore, does the fact that Jackson went public with this particular choice mean that all her other choices are fair game for scrutiny?  How far, truly, is “if you didn’t want a baby you should’ve had your tubes tied” from “if you didn’t want a baby you shouldn’t’ve had sex”?  On the one hand, sure, it’s pretty far, but on the other, it’s merely a difference in degree, not in kind.

Sorrentino goes on to reassure readers of her pro-choice cred, and asserts that  

Those of us who drove in the dark of night to deliver or pick up a friend in a back-alley clinic, terrified that that friend hemorrhaging in the back seat of our car might die on our watch, know things that Ms. Jackson clearly cannot fathom.

I’ve poked around enough on Jackson’s blog to suspect that Sorrentino is actually pretty far off the mark here.  That aside, though—just going off of the knowledge Sorrentino and I have in common—I’m not sure what makes her think that Jackson “clearly cannot fathom” how terrible things were in the days before abortion was legal.  Jackson experienced a difficult pregnancy and childbirth, and she’s now experienced a legal abortion as well, which suggests to me that she could pretty easily imagine what it was like before.

Furthermore, I’m really just not sure what kind of sense that makes.  After all, it used to be that pregnancy and childbirth were taboo subjects for discussion, and they were certainly a great deal more dangerous than they are now.  Does that mean we shouldn’t talk about such things openly?  (If so, I have seen way too many sonogram printouts for someone without children of her own.)

What kills me about this, though, is the knowledge that Sorrentino does have that pro-choice cred.  Presumably we’re on the same side—which means I expect more from her.  I appreciate that there’s a generational divide coming into play here, and that these days people in their teens and twenties post about things on their Twitters and MySpaces and Facebooks and blogs that older people would never dream of discussing in such a public forum.  I get why such a frank discussion of a medical procedure might make people uncomfortable.  But there’s “uncomfortable,” and then there’s basically saying, “We won you the right to have that procedure, so shut up about it already.”  However, having the right to privacy does not equal having the obligation to keep particular things private.  (Similarly, the Lawrence v. Texas ruling does not mean gay people have to stay closeted out of a sense of privacy.  Can they if they want to?  Of course!  But they don’t have to.)

As Evil Bender put it in his e-mail to me, “I’d be inclined to say that fighting against moral scolds who tell strangers what they should do is an EXCELLENT reason to discuss one’s abortion.”

Precisely.

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