January 22nd is Blog for Choice Day 2010 and I’m supposed to blog about this question: “what does the slogan Trust Women mean to you?” But if I just did that blindly, I’d be doing a disservice to the pro-choice movement that has helped safeguard the dignity of American women. Instead, I’d like to take this opportunity to reflect on where the “pro-choice” movement is at. For the record, let me first state that I’ve always thought the frame “choice” (as in “it’s my body it’s my choice” mantra) has always seemed like a total loser to me. I mean “loser” in terms of how it actually hurts the cause of women’s reproductive rights and also works against the overall strategy of keeping abortion legal because it fails to connect with a modern populace.
The messaging problem stems from multiple failed strategies, the likes of which were analyzed over at DailyKos on an aptly titled “Feminism Fail” post. Setting the frame of abortion and reproductive rights purely as a matter of “choice” always sets liberals up for failure because it plays right into the hands of the conservatives’ stereotypes about them of “men and women using abortions as a lazy/irresponsible method of birth control”. Not only that, but the frame “choice” runs counter to progressive identity. C’mon fellow ‘pro-choicers’, for once, let’s be honest here: arguing in terms of “me, me, me, MY choice My body My decision” only communicates to the average person an individualist, dismissive, seemingly selfish, and ironically quasi-conservative (in the traditional sense) position, which is diametrically opposed to the sense of community, social, and mutually bonding responsibility that progressive ideals are supposed to uphold.
Don’t get me wrong: I do not for a minute believe that the majority of women who choose to have an abortion are selfish or any of the things that I just described above. In fact, I agree with Jessica Valenti of feministing.com on what she said back in 2007 in this piece that appeared on AlterNet.org:
Trust women to know what’s best for themselves and their families. Many women who choose to have abortions do so out of concern for their existing children. It’s time to put to bed the bullshit stereotypes of women having abortions out of “convenience” or selfishness.
However, I think Jessica overlooks something key in terms of “trusting women”: there’s a difference between doing that in isolation and in doing that as a community that cares. What do I mean by this? Well, Rabbi Michael Lerner said it best in his “The Left Hand of God” book:
…we should seek to create an ethos in which women feel invited to consult and receive support from others affected by their decision to abort, and conversely for those involved to offer support and comfort should such a decision be taken by the pregnant woman.
I just simply do not understand why ‘pro-choice’ groups do not co-opt the “life” slogan from the conservatives and expand their brand to frame abortion in terms of a healthy quality of life, which would include health care for all-especially for children, access to constraceptive education, and the fostering of pro-working family policies that give parents the support to provide a better quality of life for their children. The middle class is under attack by our society’s modern obsessions of corporate materialist bottom lines of greed. Yet, the ‘pro-choice’ groups fail to grab onto this narrative and run with it, opting instead to dig their heads stubbornly into the sands of stagnation. It’s time for them to abandon their tired and isolating slogans of “choice” and instead embrace the slogan of being pro-HEALTHY families, meaning, as Rabbi Lerner put it: keeping abortion legal, safe, rare, and cultivating a culture that rewards the parents that opt to undertake the beautiful task of raising children.