The debate on whether as a country, abortion should be made legal or not rages on. In the past week, the public discourse has centred around this issue with both pro-life and pro-choice sides passionately defending their position—in some instances, people have diverted from the debate and got too personal attacking the person instead of their viewpoint.
As expected, the pro-life side which includes religious leaders and institutions has been quite vocal and blatant in calling abortion as “murder”, “killing” and “evil”. This group argues that life begins at conception and goes on to call those who seek abortion services, safe or unsafe, as sinners who will face the wrath of God.
This group’s narrative on the issue of abortion is mostly accompanied by threats and emotional blackmailing. Random verses are thrown into the discussion to justify their position and mostly importantly, to silence any dissenting views. On the other hand, the pro-choice side’s voices are somehow hushed.
Since the debate resurfaced few weeks ago, what has been conspicuously missing is the voice of women the subject of the debate. It is the men that are controlling and dominating the debate.
Women are not things. Women are human beings whose human rights matter, including women’s basic reproductive rights. Those who argue that abortion should not be legalised do so with the intent to control the sexual autonomy of women. It is about owning women as things.
“Termination of pregnancy is killing babies” the anti-abortion movement argues. Those who grew up hearing nothing else are not lying when they say they believe life begins at conception. They are entitled to that belief, as long as they don’t weaponise it to punish women and girls. The question of whether a fetus is a person is conveniently unanswered by the anti-abortion. The question of whether a woman is a person, however, is not up for debate—and it is female personhood, not fetal personhood, that should decide the issue of basic bodily autonomy.
I am pro-choice. I am for women having autonomy over their bodies and I support legalising abortion so that women and girls who for one reason or the other seek abortion services, do so in a safe environment.
But my personal feelings about the meaning of life don’t matter here. As the philosopher Judith Jarvis Thomson put it, what matters more—far more—is women’s freedom to control their own lives. Even if abortion ends a human life, forcing a woman to give birth against her will is worse.