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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

On the “rights of women”

I’m very mad right now.  It’s because I’ve made an important discovery.  I’m sure other people have discovered it before me (in fact, I believe the u.s. supreme court discovered it before me), but there’s just something about coming to an important conclusion on your own, through your own work and thought process, that makes it that much more startling.

I have discovered that popular rhetoric (often unknowingly) denies women full rights to control their own bodies.  By making certain arguments and by believing certain things, people implicitly argue that women cannot have rights equal to those men have.  I don’t even think I’m talking about legal rights or government-given rights or even “god-given” rights.  I’m talking about rights that relate to the ability to control your body by whatever means necessary, and also the right to not be prosecuted or persecuted unjustly or in a discriminatory fashion.

I have discovered this because I am writing a paper for a professional writing course on the prosecution of pregnant drug users.  These policies are notoriously racist.  Since my teacher is crazy, I can’t use the word racist because it’s “loaded”: I have to use the word “discriminatory.”  Well goddamnit, prosecuting Black pregnant women who test positive for drugs ten times more often than prosecuting white pregnant women who also test positive for drugs is not discriminatory, it’s RACIST.  R-A-C-I-S-T.  RACIST.  It can even be argued that it’s genocidal, because the prosecution is based upon her delivering the baby: if she has an abortion, the “child abuse” charges are dropped.  Goddamn.

But I digress.  I am allowed to argue those points to my teacher in my paper because there is absolutely nothing inherent about being a Black pregnant drug-using woman that makes her any different from a white pregnant drug-using woman.  Therefore any policies that prosecute Black pregnant drug users at a higher rate than white pregnant drug users are discriminatory.

But prosecuting pregnant drug users, Black or white or Latina or Asian or anybody, also discriminates against women.  This is because in order to be prosecuted under child abuse laws as applied to fetuses, one must be pregnant.  In order to be pregnant, one must be a woman.  I can’t argue this in my paper and it kills me.  If I argue this, my teacher will tell me that I will have to consider “fetal rights” and “paternal rights” in addition to “women’s rights” (despite the fact that up until now the supreme court has, for the most part, not let the rights of the fetus or the father interfere with the legal rights of the woman – if it has, it has (such as in the case of a “viable fetus”), it has not done it to this extent).  But what happens when we consider fetal rights and paternal rights?  A policy that was tailored to prosecute women and only women is not considered discriminatory because “she has another life inside of her that a man has a stake in as well.”  Here’s the kicker:  she isn’t being prosecuted for using the drugs.  They can’t prosecute you for having a positive urine toxicology test.  Not under standard drug law.  They prosecute her under child abuse laws: child abuse, assault with a deadly weapon (drugs), trafficking drugs to a minor (via the umbilical cord during the 40-60 seconds the baby is out of her body but still attached to the cord), etc, ALL ON THE BASIS OF A POSITIVE PISS TEST.  You CANNOT prosecute a man for ANYTHING (aside from probation violations) on the sole basis of a positive urine toxicology test.  But you can prosecute a woman.  So, by considering the rights of the fetus to not be “abused” or “assaulted” or “trafficked” to, and by considering the stake the biological father has in the fetus, we detract from the rights of the woman to not be discriminated against on the bases of her sex alone.  And while an overwhelming majority of women prosecuted for using drugs while pregnant have been Black, women in general are the ONLY ones prosecuted under these policies.

Let’s face it: these prosecution policies allow society to use the concept of fetal rights to detract from women’s rights in a way that can NEVER be used to detract from the rights of men.  EVEN if we concede that fetuses do have some rights (which I don’t concede at all), then the rights of the fetus will ONLY detract from the rights of women, never men.  This is not because of women’s inherent, biological link to fetuses – it’s because society links fetuses ONLY to women and considers fetuses and babies the sole responsibility of women.

It’s not just right-to-life rhetoric that supports the “fetal rights” idea.  People who consider themselves pro-choice often support this idea when their main argument for keeping abortion legal is that it’s better for the potential child to be terminated than to live.  All other problems with this argument aside (such as who is worthy of being born and who isn’t), this argument allows for the concept of fetal rights and weighs the fetus’s apparent right to live against a woman’s ability to provide an “adequate” standard of living for the potential child.  A woman’s right to determine when and how she becomes a mother never enters the equation:  it’s all about the fetus.  While this is a noble effort to counter right-to-life arguments that so-called fetal rights outweigh the tangible rights of women, it falls into the anti-choice trap of “the fetal right to life” which INHERENTLY interferes with the rights of women to determine when and how we become mothers.  We refuse to allow the anti-choice movement to control our bodies, so why are we allowing them to control how we discuss our rights as women and as humans?

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