This chapter was somehow the most difficult to sit down and write. Nerves I guess. The issue of reproductive rights seems to be a touchy one, and an issue that I as a male can never truly fully understand. And so I guess I didn’t want to get anything wrong. Or miss anything.
But that’s a stupid place to start from. Because I have to accept that I will get stuff wrong, and will miss a lot of things.
But here’s what came up in the chapter.
Reproductive rights was one of the first issues to become a focus of the feminist movement. Abortion in particular stood out from the other possible issues pertaining to reproductive rights. According to hooks, this issue coincided with that of free love “which usually meant having as much sex as one wanted with whomever one desired.” We can imagine how in a free love environment, unwanted pregnancy would become a major problem. And I hope most of us can see how this becomes an issue where gender inequality is important. As a male I could practice free love relatively consequence free, but as a women who could become pregnant I either enjoy less freedom than my male counterparts or take on the risk of becoming pregnant.
Many of us were the unplanned children of talented, creative women whose lives had been changed by unplanned and unwanted pregnancies; we witnessed their bitterness, their rage, their disappointment with their lot in life. And we were clear that there could be no genuine sexual liberation for women and men without better, safer contraceptives – without the right to a safe, legal abortion.
Another major point in this chapter is that class privilege played a role in how abortion became the focus of the movement. hooks points out how there were many other reproductive rights issues that were important to woman beyond abortion:
these issues ranged from basic sex education, prenatal care, preventive health care that would help females understand how their bodies worked, to forced sterilization, unnecessary cesareans and/or hysterectomies, and the medical complications they left in their wake.
But, hooks claims, white women with class privilege who were at the forefront of the feminist movement “identified most intimately with the pain of unwanted pregnancy.” She does not claim that only white women were concerned with abortion, but that it was not the most important issue to many women. She also points out that abortion caught the attention of the mainstream media because it directly challenged “the fundamentalist thinking of Christianity. It directly challenged the notion that a woman’s reason for existence was to bear children.”
I have never been able to imagine holding the point of view that women should be legally barred from having access to abortion. I just believe that women have a right to choose to be a parent or not. And for some it comes down to a debate about when life starts, which it seems is probably not a debate that will be easily settled (though here’s a compelling post about why you should be pro-choice no matter your beliefs on when human life begins).
As hooks says, reproductive rights will always be a prominent issue in feminism. hooks shares that feminist activists of the ’60s and ’70s believed that once they had “created the cultural revolution which made the use of relatively risk-free contraceptives acceptable and the right to have a safe, legal abortion possible” those rights would no longer be questioned. hooks points to the decline of an organized feminist movement and right-wing backlash when explaining how abortion made its way back onto the political agenda.
Reproductive rights will need to be an ongoing focus of the feminist movement, to ensure that everyone understands why they are important and to ensure that women continue to have them.
Series Guide: Feminism Is For Everybody