A woman’s sacred right to choose

Can you be a feminist and oppose abortion in all circumstances? Can you be a person of faith and support … Continued

Can you be a feminist and oppose abortion in all circumstances? Can you be a person of faith and support abortion in some circumstances?

These are the questions posed to us this week by the On Faith staff. Before I can answer them, I need to point out that their subtle framing. Both put the emphasis on abortion as the defining issue, which accepts the framework of the anti-abortion movement. Both contain an unstated implication–the first, that the mainstream feminist position demands universal and unlimited abortion, the second, that ‘good’ people of faith would of course oppose abortion no matter what the circumstances.

I don’t accept that frame. The core issue, for me for the pro-choice movement, is this: Who gets to decide what goes on inside a woman’s body?

My answer as a feminist is: The woman herself must have the right to make that decision, to wrestle with her own conscious, to encounter for herself those great issues of life and death that all of us must face in this mortal world.

Those decisions are never cut and dried, and no one makes choices in a vacuum. The opinions of others, of partners and doctors and friends and respected mentors of faith all come into play. So do the rights of others. But ultimately, the right to self determination begins with the right to make basic decisions about one’s physical self.

Feminism, however, is not a faith with a catechism and a belief-test for entry. People are capable of holding enormously contradictory beliefs, and I know women who hold widely varying opinions about abortion who still work stalwartly to advance the project of women’s overall liberation.

I am a person of the Pagan faith, which also holds no litmus test of belief or universal dogma. Pagans believe that nature and life are sacred–but that’s Life with a capital L, not every germ cell, seed, zygote, or individual spark of potential existence. Pagans vary enormously in how we interpret our duty to cherish life. Some Pagans are strict vegans while others honor the Way of the Sacred Hunt.

My own belief is this: to terminate a pregnancy is to end a potential and deny a possibility of life. That’s neither murder nor is it a decision to take lightly. In “The Pagan Book of Living and Dying,” my co-editor M. Macha Nightmare and I included stories and rituals for women choosing to end a pregnancy who want to honor the process as a sacred choice.

Pagans do hold that sexuality is sacred. We see that the intensity of the furor around abortion is fueled by a culture that fears sexuality and seeks to keep it under control. Were it not so, we would see the same vehement passion where loss of life is not connected to sex, where outright murder goes on through war, through hunger and starvation and environmental degradation.

We honor our sacred sexuality by exercising our adult responsibility to nurtue and provide for any children we choose to bring into the world. We can take up that responsibility in many ways–by using birth control, by choosing to end a mistaken pregnancy or by giving a child up for adoption, by working for a world in which all children will be cherished and provided with the means for a healthy and fulfilling life.

My faith and my feminist politics are strongly in accord, for Pagans place spiritual authority within each individual. No priest or legislator can tell us how to resolve our own dilemmas. For it is in wrestling with tough choices that our spiritual development takes place. In our face to face encounters with the great forces of life, death and regeneration, we come to know the Goddess.

www.starhawk.org
More about The Pagan Book of Living and Dying at:
http://www.starhawk.org/writings/livingdying.html

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  • cgburns28

    I have to say, as a former Pagan this is why I no longer identify with the path. Blanket statements like which forms of “life” all Pagans revere as sacred are wholly inaccurate. I believe that all forms of HUMAN life are sacred, from the zygote to natural death. Furthermore, as a feminist, I think abortion is a poor antidote for the social issues like poverty. The fact that we still leave women feeling like they have to either kill their unborn children or starve is a sign that we have failed our women and our children.All children deserve the chance to have a healthy life, and this cannot continue as long as we condone violence against the unborn.

  • Elsewind

    Conscise, clear, and puts the issue in perspective.

  • brynnscott

    This is not an attempt to start a flame war, but CGBurns28, Starhawk did not make a blanket statement, YOU did. You assert the sacredness of human life and I am assuming from your emphasis that you must put that above other forms of life; that is a blanket statement. The right of self determination allows you to believe and as as you will; it just also endows me with the same right and free will.The truest, most basic ethos of our (my religion and Ms Starhawk’s) is situational and experential. I can’t decide what is right for you, you can’t decide what is right for me because I am not you, I do not know what you know nor have I expierenced what you have expierenced. However, as part of God/dess, I will trust you and your expierences as they pertain to yourself.I’m sure you believe in equal pay for equal work, and equal access to education. And I am sure you are against female genital mutilation, but I am not sure that you understand how these things tie into the ultimate right of individual sovreignty. We may never control 50% of the wealth or the land (although I will keep trying to get women there), but we must “own” control our individual selves.

  • post_reader1

    I trust you would also argue that it is a woman’s responsibility alone to raise the child she ‘chooses’ to have? After all, as you say, feminism is about what a woman can do with her own body. Presumably, she would be responsible for the consequences of the choices she makes?(I personally believe that pregnancy–and parenthood–are joint responsibilities, particularly when sex was consensual. Fathers should have a say in the future of their own child and should be expected to share in the responsibilities of raising their child).

  • APaganplace

    This pretty much sums it up. The issue here in *what the law says* is who says what goes on in whose bodies. Who gets to choose what happens in another person’s body is simply a separate matter from the many religious beliefs about it. Someone having a religious belief that souls are created ex nihilo on the occasion of ‘conception’ (Something the anti-choice crowd want to extend back to the potentially-pregnancy inducing sex act itself, let’s be honest, here,) does not give them the right to impose that belief on others. The question of when the human experience begins in a lifetime simply isn’t something that meets legal standards: the anti-choice position that their belief overrides other people’s lives and autonomy is simply not legally tenable, whether one agrees to believe one religion or not. Pagans may have a diversity of beliefs on that question, but the simple fact is, the *political* question is not about sacredness. It’s about control. Thinking it’s sacred to not eat pork doesn’t mean you can outlaw it.

  • Athena4

    “I personally believe that pregnancy–and parenthood–are joint responsibilities, particularly when sex was consensual. Fathers should have a say in the future of their own child and should be expected to share in the responsibilities of raising their child”Absolutely, provided that the father is in the picture, not abusive, or (Goddess forbid) a rapist or a blood relative. However, too many men view sex as something you can walk away from without consequences. Or, if the girl does become pregnant, you blame her for being promiscuous and say that the baby isn’t your responsibility. Or worse, claim that you’re the “baby daddy” but don’t give her any child support. The plot of “Knocked Up” doesn’t happen all that often in real life. Ultimately, it is the woman’s decision to carry that child, not the man’s.

  • bruce18

    I find the perspective somewhat small. The statementWe honor our sacred sexuality by exercising our adult responsibility to nurtue and provide for any children we choose to bring into the world.seems to limit the sacred to sexuality and the view-any children we choose-is rather selfish. Rather, our entire lives are sacred and we are responsible for all of our relationships, not just the ones we choose.