Friday, April 29, 2016

Abortion




Visitors here can know one thing for certain. The singular, most driving motivation I have for maintaining this space is to shed light; to respectfully offer something of value to critical discourse about what we’ve been given to hold sacred about Human Sexuality. It’s precisely that impetus that keeps me here, compels me to re-examine the “givens” of human existence in ways that lift us up, rather than mow us down.

And in the scheme of how we choose our directions in life, this is pretty important, I think. Motivations count. In and of themselves, they’re repositories of power, fully capable of doing pernicious harm or bestowing us with healing.

So recently, when a certain misogynist buffoon currently bidding for the US Presidency argued that some sort of punishment would be in order for women who choose abortion should the laws in the US change, the need to raise our voices yet again resounded with new urgency. Now as ever, there seems little left for actual human beings to do except call this craziness out, in word and in deed, for the insulting, oppressive and invasive denial of basic human rights that it is.

I’m not sure when it is that most of us become aware that having agency - that is, having the right to self-determination - is inextricably bound to the status of being human. For many of us, I think, that spark of illumination comes sometime in the pre-dawn of infancy, when we want with all our hearts to escape the steamy confines of suddenly too-tight wombs. And in the synchrony of primal energies that we surely take for granted, most of us emerge when the time is right, our entrance into the waking world catalyzed largely on our own, by powerful, mystical essentially inscrutable forces within us. For the most part, the maternal bodies that host us take their cues from our own, the onset of labor almost always induced by developmental changes in the fetus itself.

But the agency embedded in the birthing act aside, societal inequities invariably come to bear - doing pretty much all they can to deny our right to self-determination - through the odious machinations of racism, gender bias, classism and patriarchy. Indeed, in most locales, this process begins prenatally. Just contemplate the effects of social inequality on maternal malnutrition, environmental pollution, maternal and family stress due to economic deprivation and unequal access to prenatal care if you doubt my words.

So when phallocentric forces propose punishing women who choose abortion, it’s critical to understand the pernicious kind of lunacy they’re proposing.

First, and ironically enough, such a mindless move would put us in league with many of the same nations many loudmouthed phallocentric US conservatives have argued are less … shall we say, evolved than we are, wherein various interpretations of ancient religious laws demonize women’s every attempt to have agency - sovereign control - over their bodies.

But contrary to the notion that this sort of thing only takes place in other, more “backward” exoticized cultures, we should all be assured that the unrelenting grasp of gender inequality is alive and thriving in the US as well.

In fact, while indigenous people of the US often had a highly evolved ethos regarding gender equality in reproductive rights, self-determination and the like, the idea that female bodies ought to be subject to the rule of the church or the state has been evident on US shores since the arrival of the Europeans.
Today as I write, Chile, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Malta and, of course, Vatican City outlaw abortion entirely. These locales give no exception even to save the life of the mother. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia, Eritrea, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Pakistan, Jamaica, Peru, Costa Rica and Liechtenstein at least allow health of the mother exceptions. They don’t, however, allow exceptions for rape and incest.

Amazingly, the otherwise relatively forward-thinking Ireland’s Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act of 2013 has made terminating a pregnancy in that country, sans an extreme and verifiable risk to the life of the mother, a nightmare of clandestine activity that can land a woman in prison for 14 years. The law is draconian and cruel, so much so that it forces women to carry dead fetuses to term, and likewise, to carry fetuses so irreparably, hopelessly damaged that they have absolutely no chance of survival outside of the womb.

When you think about it, though, the title of Ireland’s law, The Protection of LIFE (my emphasis) During Pregnancy Act, pretty much highlights the pivotal, troubling crux of the matter. I could be mistaken, but it sounds to me that the good and thoughtful people responsible for this wording assume that “life” - human life as we have come to conceptualize it over time - is fundamentally the same prior to birth as it is after the fact. Their belief, I assume, is that the essence of human life essentially remains unchanged by the awesome, mysterious, still largely incomprehensible process of being born.

Well…. it should come as no surprise that some among us vehemently beg to differ.

The fact of the matter is this: Determining when human life actually begins – in all its complex, interrelated, and nuanced multidimensionality – is not a simple matter. And were we to venture outside of the rigid perimeters of dominant religious dogma, we’d perhaps develop a more holistic view, assuming we can maintain a critical enough stance to open our minds and hearts.

Most indigenous American people of many cultural and tribal groups, for example, have never stigmatized abortion. Rather, they have approached it as a pragmatic and responsible decision made by a woman for whatever reason she herself deemed appropriate. Nor was the decision to abort ever considered to be murder, or the unjustified taking of a human life.

Why?

Because in most indigenous American cultures, human life was believed to begin only after an infant drew her or his first breath OUTSIDE of the womb. Up until that point, indigenous wisdom has it that all our souls exist in disembodied, untethered, inorganic form.

In this construct, the human soul only enters the body with the drawing of first breath. It’s at that precise moment when the discarnate soul swoops in on the initial breath and takes up residence in the flesh. Up until the moment of the infant’s first breath, there is no soul present in that unborn collection of skin, blood and bone; there is a body in human form, but it exists as an empty vessel - without the required spiritual component that qualifies it as a human being.

And let’s be clear: ending unwanted pregnancies is not a new phenomenon, brought on, as some would have us believe, by a wanton and Godless postmodern world. Rather, women of indigenous cultures have been making this decision for eons. Seen as an incontrovertible right, abortion was wholly within the purview of women themselves - sans interference from men or tribal government bodies.

Using what methods were at their disposal, in the past as well as now, indigenous women of the Americas used a variety of wild plants and their extracts called purgas to induce abortion. Some of these materials, including slivers of slippery elm, were inserted into the cervix, or neck of the uterus; certain botanical extracts and herbs were ingested.

In none of these cultures were women punished for ending unwanted, difficult, or potentially fatal pregnancies. In none of these cultures were women required to ask some third party for permission to control their own reproductive activity.

So….

I have long suspected that Europeans’ decimation of indigenous people was a whole lot more than a colossal land-grab. And although the theft of real estate was certainly part of the agenda, it seems clear that an over-arching motivation was the desire to obliterate indigenous norms and values – particularly those that flew in the face of European ones. After all, many indigenous cultures of the Americas were, and are, matrilineal, that is, predicated on the mother’s lineage so that women are the primary property holders, children are seen as belonging to their mothers rather than their fathers, and so on.  In these cultures, when a marriage dissolves, marital property including the marital home, belong to the female spouse.

In dominant cultures today, whether here in the US or elsewhere around the world, one essential fact remains indisputable in my view. A woman’s body is her own, and legislation that deprives women of their basic rights to personhood, that is agency and self-determination, have no place in societies that pay lip-service to the concept of equal treatment under the law. And at the very least, it seems logical to surmise that the process of birth matters. And how could it not? It’s a line of demarcation between a new organism’s actual personhood and its previous pre-born status as a complicated collection of differentiated body parts.

Is the moment of birth the absolute point in time that what we call the “soul” enters the body, as indigenous American wisdom holds true? I confess that I’m not at all sure. 

And then there’s this: science and technology being what they are, the day may soon be upon us when a uterus embedded in a human female body will no longer be required for the process of human gestation to come to fruition; it may be possible then - even routine - for fetuses to develop to full term outside the body, in carefully regulated artificial environments. Nutrients pumped in, waste pumped out... No fuss; no sweat. Hollywood science fiction, you say? Perhaps it is for now, but in the future, who knows?

And think of the benefits to women for whom pregnancy is complicated at best: No vomiting, no swollen extremities, no enlarged hearts. No pregnancy diabetes; no elevated blood pressure; no displaced organs; no shortness of breath; no uterine prolapses from repeated pregnancies; no fistulas from protracted labors leaking urine and feces.

Until that time, however, while women’s bodies are the sole environments in which human fetuses must gestate to term, the choice must be ours about if, when and how we surrender our bodies to the process of producing another human person – a wrenching, rigorous, potentially lethal ordeal that, even in the best scenarios, will change us forever.  

Of course, as the mother of three daughters, I know full well the connection beyond words that carrying and delivering a child can engender; the existentially moving power of giving birth can inspire awe in the belief in the magnificence of creation in the way that spiritual epiphany often does. 

But regardless of all that, not all of us want to be mothers and that's absolutely fine. There are economic matters that come to bear, and the truth is, most women who choose abortion are mothers already and know full well the life long demands of parenthood and the enormous complexities of all that's required.

In the end, the choice to host a life - to surrender our physical and emotional selves - must be ours and ours alone. It should be made on our own terms, without intrusion from the state, from significant others, from well-meaning crusaders of any kind. In a 21st century world, the decision can only be ours, for justice. For fairness. For the sakes of our daughters everywhere.






photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/36521982494@N01/5284193">I had an Abortion</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/">(license)</a>

photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/44550450@N04/6865729352">Occupy Women's Rights - A rally to honor the many struggles for women's liberty</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">(license)</a>