War can be an intimate experience, often in a deeply personal way, even though it’s a shared collective event. People experience the physical effect of war through their bodies and perceive their emotional experience in their minds. My grandmother lived through an occupation, and her strongest memories were of being hungry. Of her brother being killed. She never mentioned religion or politics because her experiences were rooted in her own personal survival. Theoretical frameworks often fall short in times of desperation or intensity, when decisions need to be made in real life and real time.
The reason I am pro-choice, and why the fight to keep the right to choose is so important to me, is because I want to retain ownership of my most personal, intimate possession– my own body. The title of Merle Hoffman’s new book, “Intimate Wars,” accurately reflects how the abortion battle occurs on terrain that is personal property.
Intimacy is closeness – a factor of proximity or nearness. Some people say that sex is the most intimate physical act that exists between two people. Sex can be the ultimate expression of love or intimacy. But when sex is unwanted and forced upon someone, violently or non-violently, sex becomes the most intimate of violations. A violation of the most sacred thing a person possesses – and in many ways the only thing a person can ever truly possess: our body.
Pregnancy, the state of a body being enclosed/engulfed/surrounded entirely by another, is also an intimate physical experience two human beings share. To me, the intimacy of sex pales in comparison to the intimacy of pregnancy, of a person using the air they breathe, the food they swallow, and the blood their heart is pumping to sustain another. So isn’t an unwanted pregnancy, violently or non-violently occurring, also an intimate violation? An occupation of intimate space that was not welcomed.
Sex and pregnancy are similar to war in that there are two opposing sides or experiences that contradict each other, as well as an act of moving into another’s personal space. It seems absurd that there can be two diametrically opposed truths about the same set of circumstances. But it exists. To invite a person to share your body can be one of the best human experiences and yet to have someone do the exact same actions uninvited can be one of the worst.
Abortion opponents are insisting there is only one truth and one option that will work for America. But like war, there are no limits to the messy and unclear factors that shape our decisions about our most intimate experiences, even those that are the most common. The right to choose is a right each woman needs to have because only she can judge for herself whether an experience is welcomed or intruding, a pleasure or a violation. No one should be forced to suffer a violation of their own body or have their bodies subjugated for someone else’s purposes – the ‘innocence’ of that someone else is not the point.
Legal and safe abortion allows women to choose the decision that is right for them. It allows the existence of more than one universal truth, more than one option. Choice is about preventing women from being forced to give up possession over their physical self because of other people’s theoretical frameworks, needs or desires. The end (someone’s birth) does not justify the means (someone’s violation). I believe each woman has the right to make her own decisions about her own body for her own purposes.
This post is part of the Intimate Wars Blog Series appearing at Fem2.0 and On the Issues Cafe January 17-18, 2012 in celebration of the anniversary of Roe v. Wade and the release of Merle Hoffman’s memoirs, Intimate Wars. You can purchase a copy of her book here. To submit a post for the blog series, please contact us, and don’t forget to follow us on Twitter using #intimatewars.