Thursday, February 02, 2006

The intimate link between reproductive and sexual freedon

Pro-choice activist and author Cristina Page

If you're a (hetero)sexually active woman capable of getting pregnant, your freedom is in danger. Access to abortion and birth control is increasingly under fire from conservatives who think all sex should result in pregnancy. Go beyond the bloody-fetus placards and you'll see the religious right isn't out to simply reverse Roe v. Wade, but to combat birth control and promiscuity while they're at it.

Cristina Page, vice president of NARAL Pro-Choice New York, exposes pro-lifers' secrets in her new How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America: Freedom, Politics and the War on Sex (Basic Books, January 2006). Even this longtime activist was shocked to find that pro-life groups, across the board, are "opposed to anything that leads to people having sex and not having a baby."

One needn't look far to confirm Page's argument that sexual freedom and reproductive rights are intimately entwined. In the eyes of the pro-life movement women are designed for making babies, and men's pesky sex drives are something to be suffered or used to procreate. According to, "Abortion enables the woman to become a reusable sex object without any idea of fidelity, and it gets the father out of having to pay for child support." Someone recently posted to a Pro-Life America website, "There is no such thing as an accidental pregnancy. Pregnancy is the outcome of sex and is the sole purpose of sex. Sex is not a game and is not for pleasure only. If it were . . . then pregnancy would not be an outcome." Even the group Feminists for Life (feministsforlife .com) points to women as the kinder, gentler, less horny gender: "No one can deny that women have always had a higher biological investment in sexual union; abortion seeks to undo that tie. Is the ideal a world wherein sex can be (and often will be) commitment-free?" While Page's title is deliberately provocative, wading into the minds of those who consider women baby-making vessels is more disturbing. To hear them tell it, we're off having careless sex 24-7, then blithely aborting. Anyone who's sweated out a pregnancy test knows nothing could be farther from the truth. Says Page, "There's a pro-life war against Americans' sex lives and the pro-choice movement is a relief agency. We're the levee that keeps this wave of fundamentalism from washing over the American public."

The pro-life movement, through its language and extreme shock tactics, attempts to make us feel guilty about abortion and pleasurable sex. It has co-opted the very idea of freedom, insisting that it's OK for pharmacists to refuse to dispense emergency contraception (see to protest). It's distorted the debate so much that we sometimes forget very basic facts: Those of us who are pro-choice are also, passionately, pro-life. Most of us love babies, love children, and love our liberty—not to mention loving sex and our right to have it when, how, and with whomever we choose. Page, who has one child, says, "People are interested in having babies; they're just not interested in having 15 babies. The average American woman spends 23 years of her life preventing pregnancy. No one's going 23 years not having sex." She finds opposition to birth control especially appalling. "It's the injury adding to the injury. It's not like they have child-care campaigns under way or were supportive of the Family and Medical Leave Act. They're opposed to any effort to make having a child easier," she claims. According to Page, pro-life groups believe (though they don't explicitly state) that woman's proper place is in the home, knocked up, completely domesticated—a much scarier vision than a world without abortion.

The strength of the reproductive-rights movement is in its diversity and ability to welcome dialogue, debate, and difference. True choice means more than just the option not to become a mom. We need to safeguard all forms of consensual sexual expression, including sodomy and kink, for "choice" to truly matter. The pro-choice movement and the GLBT movement should work together to ensure our right to sexual autonomy. We need to provide cultural, social, and financial support for struggling parents so more women can embrace the choice to have kids.

Just because you wouldn't have an abortion doesn't give you the right to decide for someone else. My mom is ardently pro-choice, even though, after giving birth to me prematurely at 26 weeks, her outlook changed. "After that, I could never have had an abortion. But I support a woman's right to choose; quality of life matters for both parent and child." We're entitled to believe in a woman's right to choose whom she fucks, how she protects herself, and what to do with an unwanted pregnancy, without supporting every tenet of pro-choice ideology or the reasoning behind Roe. We don't have to like any given woman's reason for aborting—it's her body, not ours. I'm all for encouraging sexual responsibility and safety. In an ideal world, everyone who doesn't want to get pregnant would use protection, and it would work. But when unwanted pregnancies occur, women shouldn't be punished by having to give birth.

In an old Our Bodies, Ourselves I saw a photo of a woman holding a placard reading "Menstruation Is Murder." As a teenager, I couldn't begin to fathom the meaning of such extremism, but now it's clear her motto is the natural extrapolation of anti-choice logic. On the other hand, the socialists at my alma mater had Day-Glo stickers proclaiming "I Fuck to Come, Not to Conceive." I found those too bold, perhaps because many of us who fuck for pleasure, our own and our partners', will also be those who fuck to conceive some day. People have sex for many reasons—pleasure, boredom, curiosity, peer pressure, and, yes, baby-making. It's presumptuous, condescending, and infuriating to be told what my reasons should be.

I'm pro-choice because I couldn't fully enjoy sex were I consumed with worry about the potential consequences. I'm pro-choice for all my friends who've had abortions and gone on to do great things, who are better women for being childless (for now). I'm pro-choice for the new moms and dads I know who were able to actively choose to become parents. I'm pro-choice for all those babies, like my new cousin Adam, born knowing they're 100 percent loved and wanted.


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