The Hanging Gardens

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Insight isn't always fun
I had my first face-to-face conversation with someone who's anti-choice yesterday. That is, I'm sure I've had plenty of conversations with anti-choice people, since we typically don't walk around with labels on our foreheads, but this was the first time I ended up arguing about the right to abortion with someone I know, respected as a peer, and need to interact with on a regular basis.

I am not a good debater unless I am emotionally disengaged. When I get nervous I get flustered, I talk too fast, my palms start sweating, I start second-guessing myself and playing out threads of possible arguments and counter-arguments like a crazy unraveling tapestry of potential futures until I lose track of the points I need to be making in the moment. What I need to do is slow down, listen to my partner's arguments as they're articulated, and respond to them one by one. Once the adrenaline shock of having something I care about deeply under attack hits, that logic invariably fails.

When a man looks at me and calmly says that he would have no problem letting me die, or my mother die, or any of my friends with uteri die, my immediate reaction is an overwhelming mixture of fury and fear that makes it very hard to disengage. Of course, it's never couched in those terms. It's always "the woman," a comforting abstract. He wouldn't have any problem letting a faceless, nameless woman die even if the pregnancy would kill her, or maim her, because there might be a chance that the fetus could survive, even if it were only for a few weeks past birth. I let myself be drawn into a confused argument about how we judge the percentage of risks to the mother and fetus, which in retrospect was an incredibly bad choice. I tried to explain that bodily autonomy shouldn't be eliminated in this case and only in this case; we wouldn't let an adult human use another person as life support without that person's consent, so why should it be different for a fetus? I brought up the classic comparison with forced organ donations - he has two healthy kidneys, shouldn't he give one up, since the health risks to him are so minimal and somebody else needs one to survive? "Why would I do that?" he asked, and that was all he would say when I tried to make the parallel more explicit. I have rarely wanted to seize and shake somebody so badly in my life.

That was when he quite literally told me that being forced to carry a pregnancy to term and face all of the health risks associated with it was just the consequence of being born with a uterus. It wasn't his fault, it was just nature. You could probably hear the gears in my brain grinding against each other while I stared at him in sheer, abject horror. I pointed out that he was currently wearing glasses, which was going against nature, and that if he developed cancer as a result of a genetic predisposition he wouldn't decide not to treat it just because nature had given him that vulnerability. He didn't care. Those arguments were simply not applicable in his frame of reference. He blatantly did not care about any of the points that I made, and I probably wasn't making them as effectively as I could have.

Fortunately, he has no intention of going into ob-gyn. Even more importantly, he's willing to refer to another physician so long as there are doctors willing and able to prescribe or perform the appropriate services. I'll never be able to look at him the same way, though. No matter how reasonable and kind he seems when interacting with our classmates, there'll always be the little internal voice reminding me that he thinks a woman should be forced to carry to term even if it kills her.

I wonder if he'll have the opposite reservations about me, or if it just doesn't matter enough to him.

Emotions aren't a weakness. Studies have shown that without emotions we make decisions that produce more harm than good, often to ourselves; it's one of the major reasons that bad sociopaths are caught so easily. (Good sociopaths learn how to mimic emotions well enough to fool most everyone.) When somebody tells you that they don't believe you have the right control your own body, it's irrational not to react strongly. What I need to do is learn how to take a mental step back and channel the initial emotional gutpunch into a galvanizing force rather than let it throw my thoughts into disarray.

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