Grace & agency

We are all going to be asked to think carefully about life and about abortion. I'd noticed the a-word debate hotting up again lately and now I see why: Steve Chadwick has proposed a bill in parliament reforming the current abortion law in New Zealand. I want to keep thinking about agency and about grace as I consider this question.

I aim to keep to "I" statements. This, to me, is consistent with my belief in female adult agency in this topic. It's also because why should I put words in other people's mouths?

I started life out somewhat immersed in Catholic doctrine. I had a couple of anti-Catholic teachers when I was at school and if Mum seemed to be asking too many probing questions about my work output (or lack thereof), I would pop in a concern about Mr X or Mr Y's anti-Catholic comments. Worked a treat on the distraction front. Or for a while anyway.

A key experience for me was supporting a Catholic friend through her discovery of her pregnancy, through the abortion, through the counselling sessions, through the event itself and the placard holding people at the hospital gates, through the experience of opening the paper very soon after to see a full page advertisement of a foetus. That was sixteen years ago. I've never thought she did the wrong thing.

I watched the movie Vera Drake when it first came out. Bawled for a BIG chunk. Not long afterwards I remember reading about the class ramifications of abortion law in Portugal. Not forty years ago but in 2004 when I was reading the article. Wealthy Portuguese women requiring an abortion could travel easily to Spain and get one. Poor Portuguese women could not and a number were facing prison. Thankfully, abortion can be obtained in a wider range of situations in Portugal now.

There have been some good outlines of the role of female agency in reproduction in the Hand Mirror recently. For example, here and here. I find it a convincing principle. But I have some quibbles, quibbles which relate to the comments section. My quibbles relate to positions which do not recognise the diversity of experiences which women have (not even up to the men bit!). The argument which says that oh how wonderful it is for the world that women have choice because then every child is 100% wanted is either naive or deliberately obfuscating the very difficult choices women (and their partners) make. Many women, including those with access to abortion, do find themselves pregnant against their plans, feel very ambivalent about it, and decide to go ahead and make the best job mothering the child they can. They grow into the job. Why oh why would we want to denigrate the difficult choice these people make by suggesting that abortion makes it all easy because any baby which wasn't actively pined for is aborted?

I don't think there is enough said about forced abortions. I know of plenty. Having an abortion because your partner insists and says he will leave if you don't have the abortion is not choice. Having an abortion because his family puts the pressure on is not choice. Having an abortion because you are young and your family insist is not agency. My principle is agency for the women who finds herself pregnant. Access to abortion does not magically infer agency to those women.

I've got a lot of privilege. I am married to a great man who has explicitly said he would never ask me to have an abortion, no matter what the circumstances. I have two planned and much loved children and we are both in secure employment with good wider family support should exceptional challenges cross out paths. If I had another baby, it wouldn't be planned, but more children is within what I know we can cope with. I don't see myself as ever having an abortion within this marriage.

But I will march to keep abortion legal in this country. I believe it should be available to all women. I had a powerful experience earlier this year when I found myself thinking that a person I know should have an abortion. If access to abortion on the West Coast wasn't so difficult, then I think she would have done so.

I see the theological purity in valuing all life, no matter what, from the moment of conception. I see it's appeal and why people believe it strongly and passionately. I also see many children, too many, who grow up amidst violence and abuse. I listen to children recommend to other children never to go into a social welfare home. They talk from bitter experience. Not that the kids get a say in these moves. Not that they have agency over their lives.

Women are human beings who must have the right to exercise agency over their bodies. Much as I struggle to see children born into terrible situations, I still uphold the right of agency of all mothers over their bodies. That is the paradox of life which we all struggle with, if our eyes are open. Nothing is cheaper than sex, and nothing is more costly.

I see the law reform bill proposes abortion after 24 weeks in certain circumstances. Sixteen years ago my Mum rang up to say that one of my cousins had just had a baby, at 26 weeks gestation. E was given 48 hours - if he made it through that, he would probably be okay. I went up to the neo-natal ward at Christchurch Womens and saw this tiny tiny baby, teeny tiny scary and his so so young looking parents and I was no help to anyone. Bawling bawling bawling. E is a big strong teenager now. My aunty, a nurse, told me that it had changed her views on late abortion, seeing how this baby born so early could survive. I can understand. On the challenging issue of time frames for abortion, I have no clear thoughts.


Anonymous said…
I'm going annon for this.

Being adopted I am grateful I was not aborted.

I have always been anti abortion - but not to the extent where I would do placards or voice my opinion - just something I felt strongly something I would never do.

That is until I had a pregnancy in a very happy marriage, an unplanned baby but very wanted.

The baby was growing with out a skull. An abortion was offered as the baby would not live past a few moments. I had an abortion. The stigma that goes along with the choice is sad.

I will be supporting the bill
Anonymous said…
I will be supporting this bill. Close friends in a happy family situation had an unplanned pregnancy, decided to have the baby as they have lots of love, sadly it was also not viable and the mother was offered a termination. She was sad but preferred this to carrying a non-viable baby for 9 months.
I had a miscarriage for a much much wanted baby but I too in my work see too many unwanted/neglected/abused children. I have mixed thoughts on the timeframe.
nova_j said…
to me it comes down to that cliched but oh-so-true sentiment of having to walk a mile in someone else's shoes.. except a mile isn't enough to understand all of the factors that go into people's choices, you would need to walk a lifetime in their shoes to just *understand* the reasons for their decision, and even then, does that give you the right to say that they were wrong?

as i write this i can feel my baby kicking away in my belly, and yet that doesn't make me qualified to say what is right or wrong for anybody else.
Thank you Anon 1 & 2 and Nova. I appreciate your thoughts and the sense of a community of empathy for diverse lives and experiences.
skatey katie said…
wow sandra, the a-word is such an emotional issue. i can feel my eyelids prickling. your thoughts about 'agency' are so well articulated. i became pregs with danny at 19, unwed, in a 'church' situation. i was pressured to make a pro-choice decision. i had no idea how to do that with the raging pregs hormones and at the last minute chose to keep him. so glad. but i will also supporting the bill because i believe that mama-decisions must not be illegalised X
skatey katie said…
PS having said all that, i think that the process i went through at the abortion clinic was very helpful, and gave me power to make a choice. some are calling the bill 'abortion on demand' which i'm not so sure i support X

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