In the jungle, the mighty jungle

Posted on 8 February, 2009. Filed under: The world | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

Did you miss me? Cause I missed me. Four exams, followed by a bout of flu, interspersed with a mixed array of houseguests; I’m only starting to find myself again now. So today I started catching up on some blogs that I’ve neglected these last few weeks, and boy, are there some interesting things happening out there! So come with me on this jungle safari. I don’t fully know where we are going to end up, if you’ve read the “about” section on my blog, you will know that the blog is a journey that “I hope … will lead me to understand the meaning of life, the universe, and me.”

Don’t worry too much, we’ll start slowly, looking at the guinea fowl running through the tall, dry grass, followed by a string of chicks.

Some woman in California went and had herself some children. No, I hear you say, that’s bad language. She didn’t go and have herself some children, it takes two to tango. Mm-hm, I say, I meant what I said. She had herself some children. Eight of them. Single-handedly. A soliloquy. All by herself. Wonderful thing, modern technology. And she already has six others. Also solo efforts, apparently. Now I know somewhere in this assembly process a man contributed, by committing some of his sperm to a small plastic vial, and clearly the workers on the assembly line of in-vitro insemination played a role, but essentially their involvement ended when the client took delivery of the merchandise. So we are presented with the spectacle of a 32-year old, single mother, apparently unemployed, living in a two-bedroomed house with her parents and 14 children. Are these unwanted children? Apparently not. The mother, Nadya Suleman, made a choice to have all these children.

But then, Nadya Suleman has got nothing on 43-year-old Michelle Duggar, who popped out Number 18 in December. Except she had help, in the form of husband Jim-Bob. I kid you not. No, it is not an episode of the Waltons, although the family do have their own reality TV show in the USA. (Ozzie, you started this! Now end it!) And the name of the baby is not Number 18, at least that would have been a bit creative and original, it is Jordyn-Grace Makiya Duggar. And the other 17? Let me introduce Joshua, Jana, John-David, Jill, Jessa, Jinger, Joseph, Josiah, Joy-Anna, Jeremiah, Jedidiah, Jason, James, Justin, Jackson, Johannah and Jennifer. Among the 18, there are 2 sets of twins; the other 14 were all single-births. And Jim-Bob says he and Michelle would just love to have more. So that’s their choice. I just love choices, don’t you?

My husband and I have 2 children. We decided that 2 were as many as we could reasonably take care of, materially. If we could financially have afforded more, I might have wanted to add another 1 or 2, but no more. Because children need more than just clothes, food and university fees. They require a tremendous emotional investment, and I just don’t see how it is possible to provide them all with the quality time they deserve, when there are so many you have to do a roll-call every hour to make sure you have not miss-placed one. So we made our choice.

The pro-choice movement contends there is another choice. Abortion. Oooh, careful there! Rhinos ahead. Just walk softly now, don’t let them hear you, their charge can be lethal!

Back to abortion. You see, we women have the right to decide what to do with our bodies! In some countries, at least. But things get iffy here. Some people think that Ms. Suleman in California should have chosen to abort at least some of the eight foeti. Some of them feel quite strongly so. So strongly that they seem to forget that if it’s a choice, she also has the choice not to abort a foetus. So having babies, whether 1, 2, 4, 14 or 18, is as much a choice as is aborting a foetus. You think? Because this is where I find myself in murky water. And let me tell you, I don’t like murky water, seeing as how you can’t see the crocodiles. Until you step on them. By which time it’s probably too late. Many feminists are staunch advocates of a woman’s right to make choices about her body. And because historically, denying women the right to abortions was associated with the oppression of women, and in many instances it was, somehow the right to choose has been translated into abortions, forgetting that a choice of only one outcome is not, in fact, a choice at all. For a choice to be a choice, there need to be at least 2 possibilities. Such as terminating a pregnancy, or not.

 

Now be very quiet, now, softly, softly, there are some elephants ahead…

I am not comfortable with the notion of abortion on demand. There. I’ve said it. I am a woman. I am a feminist. I used to advocate for the legalization of abortion back in the eighties in South Africa when it was illegal. I knew some girls who went through back street abortions, because that was the only way to get them done. The girls I knew who had abortions all lived to tell the tale. Many others didn’t. Or almost didn’t. But right now, 2009, I am not comfortable with abortion on demand. (Let me take a deep breath.) Here is why.

One: Because for too many women, it has become the only choice they choose to make about reproduction. What happened to all the other choices? The contraceptives: the pill, condoms, female condoms, cervical caps, diaphragms, IUDs, injectable contraceptives, to name but a few? Or even that time-honoured stalwart, abstinence! Failing which, what about carrying the baby to term, and letting someone who wants a baby, adopt him or her? More than half the women who choose to abort, have done so before! What I don’t know, is how many times before. I knew a girl at varsity who, in three years, had as many abortions. This was when abortions were largely illegal! No condoms, or pills, or IUD for her. Abstinence? You must be joking. No, her choice of birth control was abortions.

Two: Because somewhere in all this talk about the rights and freedom of women, we seem to choose to ignore the rights of the children. Stop. Stand still. Very still. Lions ahead…

 

I know all the debates and arguments about when exactly life begins. I respect all the different opinions on the matter. I just don’t agree with all of them. I don’t know when life begins. I can’t think of an embryo as a baby. But at around week 8, we stop talking about an embryo, and start talking about a foetus. Also somewhere between week 5 and week 8, the heart starts beating. By week 10, the foetus is distinguishable as human. So now that we have something that looks like a human being, with a heartbeat, I have to think of it as human. And human beings have rights. All of them. The men, the children, the women, the mass murderers and the rapists, they all have rights. So why not the unborn ones? Why do they not have rights? And specifically, the right to life. How come my right to determine what happens to my body supersedes another human being’s right to life? Shouldn’t I have worried about my body before I got pregnant? Maybe kept my legs crossed, taken the pill, or used a condom?

Let’s just pause a bit here. Take a deep breath, have a sip of water. What about women who didn’t get to make a choice? Those who were raped? Victims of incest, even? This is where my pragmatic self wins out over my ideological self. The world is not made up of black and white pixels. There are entire universes between two extremes. And women who have been victims of sex crimes deserve special consideration. As do under-aged girls. To a certain extent. I’ll get to that just now.

So, no, I am not a fundamentalist about abortion. But I can’t deny that I often get the impression that abortion has become just a little too easy to obtain, too convenient to choose.

One of my favourite bloggers (although she sometimes makes my head ache with her incredibly intellectual discourse), Daisy Deadair, posted South Carolina Abortion Bill. She does not agree with this bill, which seeks to enforce a 24 hour waiting period between viewing an ultra-sound, and undergoing an abortion. I happen to hold a different view, but fortunately I believe Daisy will defend my right to do so. As will I hers. I understand some of the objections, especially the one contending that poor women, who might have to travel some distance to the clinic in the first place, can’t afford to come back a second time. But this, like so many other reasons why people think it should not be difficult to obtain an abortion, mostly serves to convince me that government and NGOs and Health Care companies need to spend a lot more money on enabling people to exercise informed choices. Young people should be taught that there is a price to be paid for teen sex, protected or not. And it is not just the possibility of a pregnancy. Childcare should be far more accessible and affordable. As should contraceptives. And counselling. Including post termination counselling.

In South Africa, when a woman presents herself for abortion, which she can do up to week 20, she may receive counselling, including a discussion of all available options, and the physical and emotional side-effects of those options. Or she may not. The same with post TOP (termination of pregnancy) counselling.

Is that a cheetah up there in that tree?

And children! Girls under 18 must, by law, be advised to get parental consent. But they can choose not to. A 15-year old girl cannot have an appendectomy, or have her wisdom teeth removed, without the consent of a parent or a guardian, but she can have an abortion! If a family is truly so dysfunctional that a girl cannot discuss this matter with her parents, then social services should intervene. Otherwise, no, I’m sorry, she’s fifteen years old and should get the consent of her parents. Or their refusal. Not an easy situation, I understand. But life is not always easy. And actions have consequences. Part of growing up is learning to take responsibility for your actions, and to face the consequences of your choices.

Now I am talking from a South African experience here, and if you strongly believe that it is very different elsewhere, please let me know.

I am not advocating against abortion all together. But I do believe that women who choose to have abortions, should do so within the first 3 to 4 months of pregnancy. With counselling both before and after the procedure. Later terminations should only be allowed in situations where the life and physical wellbeing of the mother or the child are in serious danger.

What then about Ms. Suleman, and Mr. and Mrs. Duggar? I don’t know what to make of that. Maybe you can help me. I do not agree with their choices. Because of the children. Do those children get the material and emotional support that they need? That they deserve? I listened to Ms. Suleman talking about her choice on TV. She sounds very sane, but here is the scary part. She calmly explains that her desire for so many children stems from having grown up as a single child in a dysfunctional family. Now there’s more than a bit of irony in that. Today she is a single parent, living in a small house with her parents. Presumable the same parents from the dysfunctional family she is now trying to compensate for. She’s a psychology student, for goodness sake! Can’t she see how wrong that is, and on how many levels? She also tells us that her children help her connect. She doesn’t specify what they help her connect to, though.

Maybe I am too judgemental about these families. Maybe they are happy, well balanced, superbly functioning families. Like the Waltons, or the Brady Bunch.

Or maybe I am right. Maybe this is abusive, a different kind of violation of the right of the child. What do you think?

What I am sure about, is that people generally need to think more about reproduction. They need to think about the cost, materially, emotionally, on themselves, the children, their families, their societies, the world. Because we are all part of the greater ecology. And every child, born or unborn, produces a butterfly effect.

 

…No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were. Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee…

John Donne

 

I trust you enjoyed your journey through the jungles of my mind. I got a few scratches in the process, but am still breathing. I hope you are, too. Please let me know what you think. But do not become abusive. To me or others. This is both a contentious and a complex issue, let’s try to show each other our different points of view, rather than just the sharp end of our spears.

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4 Responses to “In the jungle, the mighty jungle”

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PS: Don’t mind at all, if you link me.

Yeah, I do think it is different here, especially in the southern USA. For one thing, abortions are not nearly as common as you describe. For another thing… GOP politicians like Senator Mike Fair, whom I named in my post, use the anti-abortion position to consolidate working-class support for conservatism. SOCIAL conservatism (anti-abortion, anti-gay) has kept the Republicans going since Ronald Reagan. Otherwise, I believe working class people (who are often religious) would see that conservatism is NOT in their best interests. So, I also resent what I see as abortion-used-as-right-wing-manipulation. A really good book about this whole phenomenon is WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH KANSAS: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America by Thomas Frank

This may not apply so much to where you are, but this book is SPOT ON about the USA.

How about pro-adoption? Now wouldn’t that be the most sane thing — for that mother of eight to give the babies up for adoption….
I would also like to see her doctor brought to justice.
This story is very distrubing on so many levels. I didn’t know they lived in a two bedroom house!

Thanks, Daisy. You raise an interesting point here, and something that is stirring in the back of my mind, and will find its way into a blog at some stage, are the issues surrounding “set menu” politics that we usually find in party politics. As opposed to a more “a la carte” independant candidate approach. I don’t think “set menus” encourage people to think and critically analise policy positions. You get hooked up on one issue that is close to your heart, and then you buy into the all the policies of that party, or alternatively, as you point out, because of one issue, you totally disregard another political party, never realising how, on almost every other issue, they represent you far better.

Exactly! So many alternatives. And anyone who has seen the heartbreak of parents who desperately want a child, and can’t have one, or who have lost a child, will make the effort to seriously consider all the alternatives, including adoption.


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