7 Jan 2014

Childfree. Pro-choice. No apologies.

To my mind, making the decision to be and remain childfree for life, and being pro-choice, are inextricably linked. You can't have one without the other. Like other childfree people, I am also a big supporter of birth control - this meme pretty much sums up how I feel about contraception.

To be honest, I don't really understand how anyone can proclaim they intend to stay childfree for life and not be pro-abortion and contraception, unless they also intend not to ever have sex, but leaving that aside for a moment, I recently started thinking about how the aggressive questioning of those who decide to remain childfree is often underpinned with anti-choice thinking. Case in point - an openly childfree female friend of mine posted an article in support of the childfree life on her Facebook wall. Within minutes a Facebook friend of hers had posted a prime example of  what those in my childfree discussion groups tend to call "breeder bingo" - i.e. a question hurled at childfree people with such tedious regularity that you can pretty much tick them off one by one. In this case, his question was along the lines of "But what if you got pregnant by accident, would you think about keeping it?".
To me, this question is one of the most passive-aggressive and manipulative that can be asked of a woman whose voluntarily childfree status has long ago been made apparent. For one, it assumes that the woman's decision is not absolute. Before everyone clamours to emphasise that sometimes people do change their minds, please bear in mind that number one on the breeder bingo card is "But what if you change your mind?". The idea that childfree people, and in particular women, do not know their own minds is patronising and obnoxious, and also fails to acknowledge how heavily weighted in favour of parenthood our society is, regardless of the cost. Is it socially acceptable to point at someone's child and say "What if you change your mind about that?" No? Then I don't see how it's any more acceptable to suggest that what a woman says she will or will not be doing with her reproductive organs is just a mere whim, and to imply that she might just throw her carefully considered decision, not to mention her whole life, up in the air at the sight of a blue line on a pregnancy test.
Which brings me to my next point. Childfree discussion groups can be quite a liberating or shocking place depending on your point of view, insofar as they seem to be where women discuss abortion with more candour and a notable lack of regret than in any other arena I've seen. This goes against the grain of a pro-natalist society, which dictates that you should either have children, want children, or at least have the decency to be totally ashamed of the fact you deliberately aborted something that would have turned into a child. While the stigma of abortion may have decreased somewhat - and that's by no means to say that women are not still being persecuted and guilt-tripped for the 'crime' of undergoing a legal medical procedure, because they are - we are still nowhere near a point of women being able to freely admit they have had abortions, or would have one if the circumstances demanded it, without feeling that such an admission should be accompanied by shame. As Caitlin Moran puts it (and I do feel that, for all her other crimes against feminism, she is spot on here), "However liberal society is, it assumes that, at its absolute core, abortion is wrong - but that a forgiving state must make legal and medical provisions, lest desperate women 'do a Vera Drake' down a back alley."

So to publicly ask a childfree woman "What would you do if you got pregnant?" is to basically dare her to make this admission. It's a double bind - either you confirm the view of women who don't want children as heartless, baby-killing harridans by saying "I'd have an abortion, of course" or you buckle and say "Well, you just can't know how you'd feel in that situation", therefore allowing those who have never believed in the integrity of your decision to be childfree to feel vindicated, because you've shown a chink of doubt.
The truth is, either answer is valid - and so are any others. Who knows, maybe there are childfree people out there who are against abortion and would rather give birth then adopt - although my experiences of childfree people suggest they would be in a serious minority. But that's not even the point. Even if someone's answer is the desired (and incredibly unlikely) response of "Well, I might feel so overwhelmed by hormones and emotions that I would change my mind about motherhood and decide to keep the baby!", the questioner has no damn right to be asking in the first place. Not only are they asking someone an incredibly personal question which demands they justify themselves in a way that those who breed/wish to breed are rarely, if ever, asked to, but they're also asking a person to proclaim themselves pro-choice, knowing that there are very few platforms upon which this is a safe or uncontroversial statement to make. Going back to the example of my friend, I pointed this out to her questioner, who took the lazy line of 'If you put something on Facebook, be prepared to be asked questions about it'. To me, this defence basically condones the equivalent of seeing your friend post something in support of gay rights, and proceeding to leave a comment saing "Are you SURE you wouldn't be attracted to someone of the opposite gender, even if you tried it?". It's invasive, it's obnoxious, it shows you don't believe in the integrity of the person's decision, and it's asking them to reveal a part of themselves on social media which could well disadvantage them.

So just don't do it. Or if you do, acknowledge that it's about as appropriate as asking a pregnant woman "But what if you miscarried? Might you then change your mind and decide to remain childfree for life?". Women - mothers, childless, childfree - know their minds, and that's all you need to know.


Banner said...

I'd not thought of it in this way but once you put it out there, it totally makes sense.

Zima S said...

Well put! Whenever anyone asks me what I would do if I accidentally got pregnant, I say, "I wouldn't be pregnant for long." You can imagine the reactions I get, I'm sure.

D said...

I completely agree with just about everything you said here. The only thing I would take issue with is the idea that abortion being legal is what makes it all right or acceptable (although not really acceptable, if you know what I mean), which I think might not even be what you were saying and may be me splitting hairs- but I'm a citizen of a woman-hating country where abortion is not legal. Thank Christ I didn't grow up there, but people would ask me (when it came up) what I would do if I got pregnant, as though they had caught me in my "I'm not having children" lie.

Have I made even a modicum of sense here?

critter said...

Now and then the question comes up on various forums.
"would you abort?"

My response: "I did."