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Notes on Pregnancy and Privilege

In a previous thread, again buried in a huge pile of comments, there was one I wanted to highlight:

Now you talk of pregnancy as a real life threatening thing to do like crazy acrobatic motorcycle tricks. Pregnancy is natural, women’s bodies are prepared for it.

I’m bringing this remark to the forefront because it reveals an attitude that I think is common among anti-choicers, and because I have some relevant knowledge that bears on it.

As I mentioned before, I just recently turned 30, and that means I’m getting to the age where people in my circle of friends are having babies. And though I’ll obviously never have firsthand experience of it, I can witness to the enormous stress that pregnancy puts on a woman’s body.

One of my friends had her baby twist into the wrong position while she was giving birth, resulting in a very difficult and extremely painful labor that ultimately necessitated an emergency C-section, which required weeks of painful recovery while nursing a newborn. Another had such severe, persistent morning sickness that she lost over ten pounds during the first trimester, and near the end of her pregnancy, developed gestational diabetes that seriously jeopardized her health. Another spent the last two months of her pregnancy in enforced bed rest, not even allowed to sit up, to prevent a premature birth or miscarriage. (Imagine how easy this makes it to take care of chores around the house, or to care for children you already have – which she did.) All these pregnancies had happy outcomes, but all the people involved were fortunate in having access to advanced medical care, which isn’t true everywhere in the world or even everywhere in America.

Complications like this don’t happen every single time. I also have friends who’ve had easy pregnancies and hassle-free natural births. But, even from my own limited personal experience, they happen often enough that pregnancy is never something to take lightly. Mansplaining commenters who blithely inform us that pregnancy is a “natural” function of a woman’s body either don’t know or don’t care that “natural” is by no means a synonym for “easy” or “safe” (and if you think it should be, absurdity results). Even in the best case, pregnancy is very much a medical condition, with all that that entails.

And let me make one more thing very clear: all the pregnancies I described were wanted pregnancies. The pains, dangers, inconveniences and indignities that inevitably come with pregnancy are burden enough when the pregnant person actually desires to have children. The idea that anyone should ever be forced, against their will, to endure all this and carry a pregnancy to term that they didn’t want is so abhorrent that it chokes me with anger just imagining it. Forced pregnancy is a revolting violation of human dignity and autonomy – an intrusive slavery of the body – and I firmly believe most pro-lifers advocate it only because they’re either comfortably isolated from the possibility, or they’ve never imagined exactly what it would entail. (It’s not at all a coincidence, I think, that when I volunteered as a clinic escort, the overwhelming majority of the protesters were men. Nor is it surprising that many nominally pro-life womenend up getting abortions when they themselves are put in that position.)

In the previous thread I introduced the term “mansplaining”, so let me define another relevant word: “privilege” is best defined as the inability to imagine life from another person’s viewpoint, often occurring because the person lacking that imagination has never had a need to do so. For example, celibate male clerics who are fed, clothed and housed by the church will never be in the position of a pregnant woman who’s poor, unemployed or in ill health, and they can thoughtlessly issue edicts from the pulpit with no consideration of what they actually mean for the lives of their followers. That’s an extreme case, but by no means an uncommon one, and what makes it worse is that the ignorance of the clerics is used to promote and justify the same privileged unawareness on the part of so many of their followers.

Image credit: Shutterstock


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