Last week Sunday while driving through Cape Town on my way to Seapoint, I saw that there was an anti-abortion protest near the Cape Town International Convention Centre. I was in the car with my sister, a friend and my 8 year old nephew who asked in vain, “What is abortion?” His question was ignored and the silence in the car was palpable.
I didn’t answer the question because I felt it was not my place to do so seeing as his mother was in the car as well. Also, I wondered when it would be appropriate to tell an 8 year old about abortion and whether I could do this objectively by presenting the two-sides of the argument: pro-choice and pro-life.
Living in a country where people have the freedom to protest and pronounce their beliefs openly, I realised that the silence in the car was indicative of the silence around the issue of abortion and other issues affecting women and their bodies.
The abortion question is still wrapped in moralistic debate about who has the right to decide when life begins or ends and whether one is in fact killing a baby or terminating a pregnancy, a (seemingly) clinical procedure. I am pro-choice when it comes to the abortion question. The ethics of abortion always seem to be a toss-up of women’s rights and the right to life of an unborn child. There are also the emotional arguments about the damaging effect abortion (obviously) has on women. Then there are the questions of how women should learn to control their bodies better in order to avoid pregnancy at all costs. These are complex issues given the context of women and rape and their chances of getting pregnant if they are raped. When one is openly pro-choice, they run the risk of being perceived as an anti-natalist (as eloquently discussed in Tracy Morison’s post recently).
A recent class discussion with the Grade 9s I teach led me to consider the issue of reproductive rights for women and a country’s fertility rate. The discussion we had was sparked by statistics related to the fertility rate in developed and underdeveloped countries. One of the learners asked, “why do women in poorer countries have more children than women in wealthier countries?” The implicit question suggests that if a women is poor she should know better than having more children. This speaks to the complexities of class and gender and how this affects reproductive rights as well as access to health care and education about making the right choices when it comes to reproduction.
I have the luxury of being pro-choice because I have access to information and services that allow me the freedom to explore this idea. The reality is that this is not the case for many women across the world. Abortion and other reproductive rights are yet to be more central in conversations about women’s rights. Maybe, instead of celebrating women’s day (by having rallies and meetings for the “vulnerable group”)we should dedicate more effort to informing women about their reproductive rights and stop the imagined or real silence on a political and private struggle in our society.