Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Radical Doulas

I found this editorial piece today and thought it was very interesting. The author explores the similarities and contrasts between birth and abortion. In particular, these paragraphs caught my attention:

Birth activism provided me with a new outlet for my feminist politics and a way to support women during an important time in their lives. After a harrowing experience in a public maternity ward in Ecuador, where I briefly lived, I became a doula, accompanying women during labor. Unfortunately, working as a doula—while an incredible opportunity—was not the empowering experience that I had hoped it would be. I found that I had little ability to influence births and I could be in the birthing room only as long as I kept my mouth shut and stayed out of the way. I accompanied four women during their labors and deliveries in this hospital, but by then I was at my breaking point.

Activists working in the abortion-rights field have similar experiences. It is almost impossible for a woman to have an abortion in a totally safe and supportive environment, free from social and familial stigma. No matter how much we pro-choice advocates fight, there will always be a loud and ever-present group on the other side (often just outside the clinic doors) telling women they should feel guilty about their choices and that they are based on selfishness and sin. Women are rarely allowed the freedom to make these choices in the idealistic environment that we abortion-rights advocates dream about, free from the influence of divisive politics. This is where the connection between abortion-rights advocates and birth activists seems exceedingly clear to me: Both are attempts to fight back against rhetoric that prioritizes the unborn fetus instead of the adult woman.

The author writes -- and I agree -- that pro-choice birth advocates are often reluctant to talk about this aspect of their beliefs for fear of alienating the many pro-life supporters who are allies in the birth arena. I suspect the same is true in reverse. We don't want to be divided, so we don't talk about abortion.

I know that is true for me. I am sensitive to the fact that many readers (or at least commenters) on this blog are religious. From that, I extrapolate a concurrent, though perhaps falsely assigned, disapproval of abortion.

What I like about the editorial's message is its focusing on the denominator of women's empowerment in both birth and abortion. With the recent Supreme Court decision, it is time for us women to take stock of our liberties and advocate for their preservation.

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Blogger Louisa said...

You are one smart mama-doula-lawyer.
Ain't that the truth.

11:11 AM  
Blogger Bekah said...

Feel free to delete if you don't want to engage this discussion, but I'm one of those pro-lifers who wouldn't mind an intelligent, open and "friendly" discussion. ;)

I wonder about your use of the idea of preserving women's liberties in this arena? In the traditional sense, liberties are those rights which by virtue of our humanity, we have right to free exercise of. The personal exercise of liberty does not impinge on another individual's exercise of liberty. These are "inalienable" because even if a totalitarian government sought to remove these liberties, we would be just to continue the exercise of them outside of the law. Just laws protect our liberties.

How does abortion fall within these parameters? Just having claimed that such and so is a liberty does not make it so.

Claiming the liberty to own slaves did not make it so. Claiming that other races/creeds were not human enough to deserve liberty did not make it so. It seems to be a recurrent historical theme in every era that a certain segment of society is viewed as not human enough to qualify for liberties. Later, enlightened societies recognize the truth of the matter and seek to correct the imbalance.

In order to accept the pro-choice ideology, it is necessary to willfully ignore science, historical philosophical understanding, and the true definition of "liberty" in preference of a nebulous understanding of "privacy rights", which in any other scenario would be full recognized as a complete violation of another being's liberties.

I really just do not understand how the pro-choice point-of-view is palatable or defensible.

11:21 AM  
Blogger kris said...

that's very interesting. and i can definitely see the parallels between the two, although i had never thought about it myself b4.

8:42 PM  
Blogger doulicia said...


I spent a lot of time thinking about a response to your questions and desire for a discussion.

What I ultimately came up with is unsatisfyingly relativist.

I believe each of us has a gut level reaction to the issue of abortion. These reactions range from "sure, whatever" to "absolutely not" with most people falling, I suspect, close to the middle: either "I suppose it's a necessary evil" or "I sympathize but can't condone it."

From whatever gut reaction we have, we find support for our position. People who find it morally untenable, have religious tenets, and interpretations of science to support them. People to find it acceptable, look to inalienable rights and other interpretations of science. I don't think either has a higher ranking moral authority than the other.

In brief, I believe a woman's liberty to inhabit her body freely and choose her reproductive capacity outranks a fetus's liberty to grow therein.

I suspect most of us would be comfortable saying, as you do, that we just can't understand the other side's position and leaving it at that. Except that both sides feel compelled to protect the rights of who they see as the vulnerable party.

Whether that party is the woman or the fetus is the critical issue. That I see it as the woman and you see it as the fetus (if that is correct -- I don't want to speak for you) is just individual reaction, no more, no less.

I'm not sure how to wrap this up. I'm repateing myself now, I can tell. I'm trying to avoid the point by point debate about fetal viability, when "life" begins, etc. because I think those are interpreted based on the underlying world view.

The underlying world views are not easily if at all reconcilable.

What then?

8:46 AM  
Blogger lawbrat said...

This post is very interesting. I believe in pro-life, yet its not that cut and dry.

Even being- what I thought to be- very pro-life, never would I do it, I wouldn't judge others. Its their choice, decision, and completely up to them.

Then, I found myself in a situation where it was my choice. I did the deed and paid the price, made a choice, and did what I felt I needed to do. Does that make me a hypocrite? I don't think so. If I were to judge others, look down upon them, think less of them for their choices- the YES! I would be a hypocrite.

This is a very thought provoking post. You wrote it very well.

10:30 AM  
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5:48 PM  

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