Reading testimony on the Internet by women who have had abortions, I am struck by the psychological complex in which many of them decide to have abortions. Undoubtedly, some women are motivated by serious health issues in which continuation of the pregnancy would endanger lives or seriously damage their health. But endangerment of life is not involved in this common personality complex. The women say they were, for all the familiar motives, having sex with their boy friend, or living with their boy friend and having sex. They did not use birth control regularly or they were unable to convince their boy friends to use birth control. They got pregnant accidently or carelessly. Something about their relationship with the man changed. They decided to get an abortion, because a baby would make their situation more difficult.
This story is not essentially different from the story of young women who choose to get pregnant to have babies. Teen girls get pregnant without any hope of marriage or support from the father of their child, because, they say, they want to feel needed. They want a boy to need them. Then they want a baby, because a baby would need them.
The common thread that links these different decisions about getting pregnant and choosing to have an abortion or to keep a child is the low social value of the women involved. I am carefully avoiding the term, self-esteem. I am not saying that the women's low self-esteem led them to get pregnant, or to have an abortion, or to have a baby. I think the issue linking these stories is subtly different. The women are devalued by society as women. A woman could have high self-esteem, but still have no social value. I do not mean to imply that women's value as women is a matter of their ability to reproduce. I do not define value, in this discussion, as monetary worth, though monetary worth is one source of value. I mean value as social bargaining power over sex and reproduction.
The women have little or no social bargaining power as women over their biological functions. They have no power over relationships and situations that derives from their womanhood. Their lack of social bargaining power leads them to have sex as a means of advancing a relationship with a man. Their lack of social bargaining power leads them to have an abortion, because they can't compel the man to marry them or compel social arrangements that would make having the baby more desirable. They must absorb the responsibilities and consequences of sex and reproduction, ultimately, as socially isolated individuals. Court decisions that give minor women the right to abortion without parental notification or authorization contribute to the isolation.
Why would women have no bargaining power as women? The explanation probably lies in the great triad of social changes of the past two generations. The birth control pill, legalized abortion, and entry into the wage labor force have devalued women at the same time that they have advanced women's individual rights and individual self-definition. Empowering women as individual human beings dis-empowered women as women. The pill and abortion removed the biological and social support for women to refuse to have sex with men. Participation in the labor force erased economic distinctions between men and women. If a woman can do a job as well as a man, then a man can replace her. As her labor becomes a commodity, her bargaining power is de-gendered.
This situation has been intensified, at least in women's politics, by the effort of the feminist movement to make gender less important in the lives of women.
The hypothesis I am presenting is that one of the causes of some women's decisions to have an abortion is the lack of those women's social value. It is one of the few solutions available to them. Lack of social bargaining power compels them to have sex with men. Lack of social bargaining power makes their pregnancies less valuable. Lack of social bargaining power makes their babies less important.
The problem of getting women not to choose abortion becomes a problem of getting society to increase the social value of women.
How could social bargaining power of women over sex and reproduction be restored and increased? The answer lies in the question - through social means. We must change how our society conceives of women and situates them, so that their value increases.
- Devaluing Women
- Who Gets Abortions
- Why Women Get Abortions
- Decision Context
- The Wanted Child
- Family Formation
- My Girl Friend's Abortion
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