Abortion As Subversion

More Than A Womb: Lessons From China and Turkey

My twitter feed this morning alerted me to a UNFPA statement condemning the recently reported forced abortion in China. The Chinese government sacked three family planning officials and apologized to the family. But as reports show, this is only one among the several women who are forced to have abortions in order to control the population in China.

What infuriates everyone in these cases is the violation of a mother’s rights to have children. But the feminist in me is rankled for other reasons.

Discussions on forced abortions, frame the woman as a “mother” and antagonize other women, whose rights over their bodies are being violated by laws that ban abortions, and force them to continue pregnancies.

It is true that it’s easier for the world to sympathize with the woman when she’s viewed as a mother. But there’s more than an oversight here. Scholars like Christine Battersby have pointed out that women have been able to attain some power within a patriarchal society in their roles as mothers.

A woman who seeks an abortion on the other hand, choses not to become a mother, and shatters this paradigm within which several men have learned to respect women, and several women have found power. Through the act of choosing when to become a mother such a woman opposes tradition, and constructs new paradigms of power that are independent of a patriarchal society’s needs.

In short, she stands guard over her own womb, and sets herself free from powers that seek to control the course of her life. This is precisely, why China as it is being discussed today needs to be criticized. When the UN, and the Chinese government jump in to control the damage done by the viral image of the aborted fetus, they are playing up to traditional paradigms of a woman as a mother.

By choosing not to set a woman free of these traditional roles, political powers still reserve the right to control women’s wombs in other regards. Fortunately, the furor over abortions across Asia, Eastern Europe and the U.S. show that women are ready to stand up for themselves. Kudos to the women in Turkey for standing up for their rights week after week, as a conservative regime tries to control their reproductive rights.

A win for safe abortion rights is not just a win for the basic right to health, but also a win for womanhood: it allows the woman to be more than a womb.

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