The Rhetoric of Choice

I just finished reading a great article on RH Reality Check about choice.  The author, Pamela Merritt, concludes by saying: “Choice should be respected as a right, not a privilege.”  This statement is extremely powerful and really resonates with me.  I have always felt strongly that feminism is a movement that fights to give all people the right to choose what is best for themselves.  This right needs to be complemented with unbiased education, accurate information, and access to resources.

Although this seems pretty straightforward, choice is actually a much more complex issue.  What is the difference between choice and something that comes as a result of force, manipulation, or desperation?  What if you are able to make some choices but not others?  What if your social situations limits your ability to choose?  Can we distinguish between choices and decisions?

Here are some questions to think about:

– Is it a choice for a woman to stay at home and take care of her newborn child if daycare facilities are unsafe, too expensive, or too far from her home?  Is it a choice if a woman does not take maternity leave because she cannot afford to time off of her job without any financial compensation?

– Is it a choice if a woman has an abortion because her partner will beat her if she is pregnant?  What if a couple  has to give their child up for adoption because they cannot afford to start a family?

These are all conscious decisions that are made as a result of external consequences, not choices.  When considering whether or not someone has made a choice, it is important to imagine the same situation under different circumstances.  For example, it may seem like a choice if someone decides not to disclose their sexual orientation in the workplace.  However, would someone make the same choice if they did not have to worry about being discriminated and harassed because of their identity?

As Merritt mentions, the right to choose is currently associated with privilege (financial security, education, access to resources, etc.)  We live in a society in which this right is constantly being restricted by legislation and social pressures, which is especially detrimental for people that can’t fall back on their privilege.  Of course, access to choice has expanded with the work of social justice movements, such as the civil rights’ movement, the feminist movement, etc.  However, we need to keep challenging oppressive legislation and normative social constructs in order to create a society in which choice is a right for everyone, not a privilege.

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. ContraWhit
    Oct 11, 2010 @ 11:03:52

    I had an abortion in 2003.
    I gave birth via c-section in 2006.
    Now, I’m pregnant again and I’m really struggling with the fact that it appears I have NO choice in how I give birth. I’ve been sentenced to a c-section again, when all the medical evidence indicates I should be allowed to attempt a VBAC.
    I consider myself an advocate for reproductive choice. That includes abortion rights, birth control, and yes, the ability to have choice when you DO decide to carry a pregnancy full term.
    Yet now I’m facing less choice than I’ve ever faced, and to say it’s depressing doesn’t capture how I feel.

    Thank you for the great post on how choice includes more than abortion–an important choice and option, but not the only “reproductive rights” issue.


  2. Trackback: My Pro-Choice Click « my life as a feminista

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