I read a blog by the Radical Housewife entitled ‘Rights, not choices,’ which I found to be very enlightening so I decided to expand on some of her thoughts. The gist is that abortion is a part of the right of a woman to control her reproduction. As the author noted, Pam Tebow had a choice to abort, but she twisted “choice” for her purposes to insinuate that she is pro-choice, when in fact she only believes in the “choice” of being a mother. I believe that the language we use with respect to abortions is a part of this problem.
A choice to terminate a pregnancy implies that one must be pregnant before one gets that choice. A right to terminate a pregnancy implies that every woman has that right, regardless of whether they ever become pregnant. I believe that moving towards the language of the right to abort would be of great benefit for the pro-choice movement. In everyday life, we are confronted with endless choices. The common thread is that most choices have limits placed on them by the government. There are limits on who you may choose as a sexual partner, specifically the other person must be a consenting adult. You may choose to drive, but you must be licensed and you must follow the rules of the road. Our everyday choices are qualified for the safety of society and nobody questions that.
When abortion is framed as a choice, it naturally follows that, as with all other choices, the choice to abort may be qualified. As a result, the U.S. ends up with ultrasound laws, parental notification laws, and mandatory waiting periods. These laws are meant to inform the choice of abortion; framing abortion as a choice allows limits to be placed on that choice. In contrast, in Canada, we have the right to free speech, religion, security of the person, association, etc. When it comes to qualifying these rights, the courts are very particular. Laws that restrict Charter rights must satisfy what is known as the Oakes Test, which allows reasonable limitations on rights and freedoms through legislation if it can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society. Satisfying this test is not easy and as a result, restrictions on our rights are limited. In Canada, R. v. Morgentaler held that criminalizing abortion was a restriction on the security of the person that was not justified per the Oakes Test. As a result, Canada has zero restrictions on abortions.
I realize that I am extracting Canadian law and applying it to the “informed choice” laws of the United States, but I believe the principle crosses borders: rights should not be arbitrarily restricted. Abortion is a part of the right of a woman to control her reproduction. Just as it is unacceptable to put arbitrary restrictions on the right to freedom of religion or speech, it should be considered unacceptable to put such arbitrary restrictions on abortion access in the name of informed choice. Ultrasound laws, parental notification laws, and mandatory waiting periods do not inform the choice to abort, they restrict the right to control one’s reproduction.
So the question becomes: do we have informed choices or restricted rights?