Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Vol 35 no. 18. 27th July 1972
Sexual Repression and Abortion
Sexual Repression and Abortion
Who Opposes Abortion?
Who are the people who are strongly opposed to abortion who would join the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child? I think they fall into three general categories.
Firstly, people who are conservative on all issues, including extreme right-wingers. (Remember Hitler opposed abortion - he was a great upholder of the family, and of women's servitude. Under the fascists, abortion for woman of the "master" race was a capital offence - yet they forced Jewish women to undergo abortion and sterilisation against their will.) This first category, the real conservatives, are our worst opponents - they are intractable.
The second category- people, and especially men, who are liberal on some issues but never those which concern women's rights. These people want to keep women in the background while they concern themselves with the affairs of the world, even if those affairs directly affect women's lives. They won't recognise women as people with rights until women show them in the strongest terms, that we are capable of fighting our own battles.
Opposition Because of Repression
And the third category - women who are drawn into support of those against abortion on various grounds, all of which relate to their own oppression. Many of these woman an will eventually be on the side of abortion law reform or repeal.
Some of these women are won over to an anti-abortion viewpoint by the appeals to so-called maternal instincts. The emotive references to "unborn" children" is no more sensible than "unconceived child" or "unborn adult" for that matter. However, this "unborn child" approach gets across to some women who then say they are against abortion. We must explain to those women why it's nonsense to think of foetuses as children, and encourage them to think more clearly about what is really involved; women who don't want to continue a pregnancy, and potential babies which these women are not prepared to give birth to because they would be unwanted.
Fears About Sex
Another major reason that women come to support the anti-abortion cause is that they have misunderstandings and fears about sex. They feel that abortion makes sex for its own sake more acceptable (which it does) and they can't believe that that would be a good thing. These women are also opposed to such things as pornography and the use of the female body to sell products. It's well known that feminists, who support abortion, have a similar position on advertisements and other things which make women into sex objects. Why is there this seeming point of agreement between women who are opposed to each other on the abortion issue?
To begin with, both recognise that sex is often oppressive for women. But the women against abortion see sex itself as oppressive, while feminists see that it is the use, the exploitation of sex that makes it oppressive. Why should sex be oppressive to women? Why do many older women become embittered and angry at the youner generation's struggle for sexual freedom? To find the answer we have to look at the way our human relation-ships are structured in this society and the attitudes which arise from, and uphold these structures.
Family not Voluntary
Firstly, we've got to look at the family. The family is not voluntary association of people. It's basically just a convenient unit in which children can be fed, clothed and edcated into the ways of our society. That is what it is, but that is not what it is made out to be. The family is supposed to be the ideal situation for loving relationships. In reality, the family can be like a prison, in which all sorts of hatred is learned and from which both children and parents have no escape.
It would be far better for children to be brought up outside the nuclear family, to be brought up communally, so that they could have equal opportunities to develop their talents, and so that they could feel part of a wider human family instead of being alientated from all but a tiny few.
No Committments to Stop them
It would also be far better for men and women if they could form relationships with each other on a perfectly voluntary basis, so that if they want to part, there would be no laws or family commitments to stop them. It seems very strange to me that divorce between consenting couples, who both want to part, is made extremely difficult, even if they have no children. You're supposed to stay married for life whether you like it or not. And anyway, because you're all supposed to stay with one person for life, even if you do part, there are very few people with whom you can mix because most other people are sticking out their marriages, being "normal" couples, because alternatives simply don't exist.
The family and marriage do not meet the needs of most people for stimulating, warm human relationships - from childhood to adulthood, these institutions restrict the development of such relationships. They encourage selfishness, possessiveness, and competitiveness. These qualities are reqarded in our society - they are basic to it and that is why those who uphold the status quo most strongly are determined that marriage and the present family set-up must remain.
[unclear: ince] everything is geared towards keeping marriage and [unclear: he] nuclear family intact, it is easy to see why women [unclear: ave] had such a hard time to win control over their rep-[unclear: oductive] systems. The present debate over abortion is [unclear: 10] more intense than was the uproar over contraception [unclear: many] years ago. Contraception and abortion are difficult [unclear: o] obtain so that women will be discouraged from having sex just for pleasure, outside the family structure. The discouraging factors don't only include lack of mechanical means to prevent birth - the most pervasive and long-lasting means of discouraging sex is the life-long conditioning women undergo which makes them look upon sex as something dirty, wrong, unmentionable, a duty, something you have to do if you want a baby.
Men don't get the same conditioning, perhaps because they're not going to get pregnant before or after marriage anyway. They might be taught that sex is dirty, but they also know, much earlier than girls, that it's fun.
Filthy and Lustful
For many women, sex is never fun. Perhaps they never had sex before marriage - they "save" themselves for their husband. Perhaps they believed the myths that say sex before marriage is filthy and lustful but that after marriage they will be floated off on a rosy cloud. Then because they have shut off all their urges for so many years, they find they can't respond, the rosy dream is shattered; it does become a duty. When they've had a family, added to their dislike of sex is the fear that they might get pregnant again. And after they are past child bearing age they have no good experiences of sex to make them want it again. No wonder such women are against anything which enables women to have sex more often.' No wonder such women think that women's liberation means giving up sex altogether.
A Better Sexual Deal
I know that the situation is changing. Young women to-day are resisting the conditioning their mothers had to succumb to. They expect a better deal in sexual matters, especially since the pill was introduced. But we have to remember that many women's lives have been irreparably damaged; they have never been able to enjoy sex. Sex has become an oppressive part of their lives. Many more women will be in the same plight if we don't break down all the barriers now.
These women must be shown that it is in their interest to support abortion, not oppose it. They must be made to realise that establishing women's right to choose about abortion means a great deal. It means establishing women's right not just to sex, but to sexual enjoyment It means we can undercut the whole set-up which messed us up in the first place; the conditioning of women to dislike sex so that they won't get pregnant before marriage, thus undermining the family system. When women are free of the punishment for sex - the fear of having an unwanted child - they will be able to think about their own sexuality and how, if it isn't repressed, it can enrich their lives. Most importantly, winning the repeal of the abortion laws will mean recognising women as people, with a right to decide the course of our lives. It will give us the dignity we are denied while we are always vulnerable to unwilled childbirth. It will challenge our passive role, which has led to acceptance of discrimination against our sex.
What will Marching Show
In order to reach out to women with our ideas, we must show that women themselves are the main force behind the abortion law repeal movement. And the most effective way we can show who we are is to hold public demonstrations like those on May 5. There is no better way of showing the public the growing support for repeal than by organising these sorts of public activities which can attract many more women than we otherwise could reach. We publicise them, as well as we can afford; each time new people come along, and the publicity in the media keeps the issue in people's minds and shows them that large numbers are not only in favour of abortion, but are prepared to be seen to be in favour of it.
No more Whispering
Remember, it wasn't long ago that the word abortion was almost whispered. Since we came right out into the open, people are thinking and talking about abortion much more, and the more people think about it and hear of the growing numbers of women supporting repeal, the more the myths surrounding the subject will float in-to the background.
The May 5 march was probably the first such demonstration for a concrete demand for women since we fought for the vote. And just as the struggle to win votes for women was worldwide, so is the fight for repeal of the abortion laws an international one.
New Zealand women were the first to win the vote. I think we stand a good chance of setting an example for other countries again if we keep going, insist on repeal, not reform, and continue to bring women into action. On July 28, we'll be marching again, and in three cities this time, in the next big effort to show that we want the right to choose - for all women.