My children value me for my ability to tie their shoes, read them a book, or comfort them after a difficult day. My husband values me for my ability to manage our household of six and have his favorite chicken chili on the table after a long day. My clients value my ability to analyze data and pull out insights. Yet, regardless of whether or not anyone values my abilities or my relationships, my rights as an individual remain the same.
In this “enlightened” age, the idea that rights are not related to how others value us is certainly not a revolutionary or novel idea. We acknowledge the inherent worth of all. We know that race, religion, or sexual orientation should not determine our self-worth and certainly not our rights. As women, touting the sentiment: “a woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle” seems archaic. It’s obvious that a woman can stand on her own and has rights and values irrespective of her value as a wife or mother.
Yet, this is exactly what we have done to our unborn children. Their most basic right—the right to life—is predicated on whether or not they are valued by another.
It is incomprehensible to imagine any other group of people’s rights being denied because they were considered inconvenient or unwanted. Would we deny the elderly in our lives access to decent housing and medical care even though their needs may be burdensome to us at this point in our life? Would we tell our LGBTQ friends that it is acceptable to discriminate against them in the workplace and in housing because some people will not be able to see past their sexual orientation and value their contributions as individuals? Would we tell a woman candidate that she is less qualified to run for President because she is a member of the “fairer sex”? To suggest that any of these scenarios would be acceptable or just would suggest a lack of morality.
Yet, each time we uphold a woman’s right to choose we reveal that we truly believe that rights are malleable and dependent on how another person values our self-worth.
A recent ad promoting Planned Parenthood goes so far as to explicitly call out that a child should be wanted. The ad shows a picture of a smiling baby girl, saying, “She deserves to be loved. She deserves to be wanted. She deserves to be a choice.”
How has it come to be that supposedly pro-woman activists and organizations would deny this baby girl the right to life if she is not wanted or loved? Throughout history women have clamored for rights separate from their husbands—rights defined by their individual self-worth—not based on whether or not we were wanted or loved by another.
When talking about her marriage at age 66, Gloria Steinem said, “If I had got married when I was supposed to have in my 20s, I would have lost almost all my civil rights. I wouldn't have had my own name, my own legal residence, my own credit rating. I would have had to get a husband to sign off on a bank loan, or starting a business. It's changed profoundly.”
If feminism is about civil rights that are not connected to another, how is it that this baby girl can only have her life protected if she is desired by another person? Does this not stand at odds with the basic tenets of feminism—that we recognize the equality and full humanity of females and males?
At this moment in history, we are watching a caravan of migrants press on to the United States. While we may disagree about what should happen once these men, women, and children reach the US border, as a mother it is hard not to find compassion for the mothers in this caravan who are risking everything to give their children a better future. It is hard to argue with the notion that a child’s future should not be determined by the circumstances of her birth.
According to the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies, thousands of girls and women are fleeing Central America to escape violence. The lives of these women and girls are threatened by rape and forced prostitution. The Center for Gender & Refugee Studies outlines countless stories of women who have been raped and beaten and suffered violence at the hands of gangs and who have come to the US seeking asylum. Unfortunately, for these women, they have not been able to find protection in their own countries and many believe that if they do not leave their homes they will be murdered.
One El Salvadoran woman recounts being raped by two men and becoming pregnant as a result, then being forced to pay her rapists “renta.” Another 13-year-old girl fled gang violence in El Salvador only to be kidnapped in Mexico, used for sex, and forced to be a drug mule. A Honduran woman was raped by more than a dozen gang members. After reporting the gang rape to the police, her family began to receive death threats.
These young women are looking to the future—a future where they are free from violence, where they can turn to the police for protection, where they have civil rights. These young women were born in a country that did not value them as women—that saw them as only tools of the sex trade—and did not protect their rights.
Yet, at no time did these young women stop fighting for their lives. Despite being devalued by the gangs in their home country and by law enforcement, these young women sought a better life, knowing that their lives should be protected.
And, isn’t that what we want for our daughters? For them to know their own self-worth. To know that they are not simply sex objects to be used by men? To never stop fighting for their rights, regardless of whether or not they are valued by others or deemed worthy of protection?
Yet, this is what we have done to our unborn children. We have declared that they are only worthy if they are loved. They are only protected if they are born at the “right time and right circumstances.” The rights of our unborn children are dependent on whether they are wanted. This is not the feminism I seek—where women declare our rights are subject to whether or not we are wanted. Where is the equality and humanity in such a stand?