Trigger warning: Dismissive language re: reproductive rights; fictionalized misogyny to the extreme.
Setting: Somewhere on the internet. You're thumbing through articles on Ohio's recent "heartbeat bill", a potential ruling that would ban abortions from the moment the fetus's heartbeat has been detected, which usually occurs six weeks into the pregnancy. A day like any other, except you've run into a stranger in the form of an oppressive male counterpart who has found your public posting on reproductive rights personally offensive to him, and has instigated a conversation...
Outside Force: Hey there, sweetheart, I see you're voicing one seriously loud opinion from a pro-choice stance on Facebook. Couldn't you be doing something more productive with your time?
You: I'd like to begin by requesting that you refrain from using any and all childlike pet names during the course of our conversation -- along with any other conversations you hold with any woman moving forward -- including but not limited to "honey," "sweetheart," and "little lady," the reason being that A) They are wildly inappropriate given that we are two adults who have never met each other I.R.L, let alone reached that comfortable threshold where it would be acceptable to use such names, and B) There is a fundamental level of disrespect that comes with addressing a woman in such a way, whether or not you know her I.R.L. Especially when she is speaking passionately on behalf of a political subject, or of any other topic she finds important for that matter. You know, showing her a basic level of human dignity. That sort of thing.
O.F.: You're kind of asking a lot of me.
You: Yeah, no I'm not.
O.F.: Okay, well, you do know this is the internet -- right? While I don't consider myself a troll, exactly, I reserve the right to loudly disagree with anything you say.
You: I can work with that. At least that's better than the literal silence of every man on my friends list pretty much any other time I post something relating to reproductive rights.
O.F.: You're not serious.
You: Unfortunately, I am.
O.F.: So, explain this to me. You're not a doctor. Don't you understand that people aren't going to take your opinions seriously if you're basing everything on the way you feel, not on the actual, medical well-being of the women being affected by these types of laws?
You: *deep breath* Let's play a game, all right? It's called "Cigarettes are Still Completely Legal in the U.S.A."
O.F.: Sounds dirty.
You: Chemically, it is. Here's how the game works: Any sentient being over the age of 18 with a valid I.D. in this great country of ours has the right to walk into a minimart and buy a pack of smokes on a whim. And in case you're wondering, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that the current number of those sentient beings sits right around 42.1 million. Now, there are a couple of different ways in which long-term smoking can eventually kill you. You're aware of that, right? Like, I'm talking scientifically proven and universally known ways.
O.F.: Yes, but --
You: No, listen. I won't waste too much time on this because like I said, everyone knows it. Smoking damages the structure of your heart; it thickens the blood vessels inside of it, which leads to a more rapid heartbeat, heightened blood pressure and increased clotting of your blood. If you already have diabetes or take birth control, these effects can be even more severe. Smoking doubles -- or in some cases, quadruples -- your chance of having a stroke. Do you know how many different chemicals a single cigarette contains?
O.F.: Five hundred.
You: Over 7,000 -- many of which can cause a variety of cancers which are definitely not limited to your lungs. And finally, it goes without saying that smoking causes seriously detrimental respiratory problems by slowly eroding the effectiveness of little hairs on your lungs called cilia, which, in a smoke-free world, are supposed to filter the foreign materials we inhale. Without their proper functioning, you run the risk of triggering asthma attacks and contracting C.O.P.D., a condition which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
O.F.: I've gotta say, that wasn't a very fun game. What's your point?
You: I only brought up smoking to point out the absurdity of the health-based arguments that pro-life forces enjoy falling back on so often. Abortion services provided in this country -- in addition to plenty of other health services specific to women -- are coordinated by well-trained physicians and nurses whose commitment to women's health is absolutely irreplaceable, no matter what modes of rhetoric you choose to employ to argue otherwise.
O.F.: So what does smoking cigarettes have to do with anything?
You: Let me just put it this way: There are valid, legal ways to systematically harm, or even kill, yourself available in America. I am not against the sale of tobacco products, and I'm sure not many other people are, either. The last time I checked, we're living in the Land of the Free, and autonomy is something we consistently celebrate. To put it simply: Abortion, when administered in an official medical setting, is safe and can contribute to the betterment of an average American's health. But here we are, fighting to defeat it, while some folks are going through a pack or two a day? So let me ask you, random stranger on the internet: It's getting increasingly hard to ignore the male-dominated crusade against women's ownership of their own bodies. Can you tell me why the need for legal measures?
O.F.: Because there's someone else involved.
You: Good! Let's talk about that. First, we need to be clear about these "someones". They are, anatomically, fetuses. Not independent, breathing beings like you and me. I understand that that can be awkward or even painful to admit, but we all know that life isn't pretty. Can we agree that they are not quite people by the standards we impose on say, undocumented immigrants? No social security cards. No paperwork, besides existing on a medical record. They don't even speak English yet.
You: Okay, so that may have been a bit of a stretch. But, humor me a little. Is it possible that you, as a man, might be grappling with your ability to come out on top, as you do in many, many other gender-based issues on a day-to-day basis?
O.F.: I don't think so.
You: But I do. And it's important that you listen to me, and to any other woman as well, whether we are simply fighting for our basic human rights or for our own personal choices in the event that we're faced with an unplanned pregnancy ourselves.
O.F.: Well, usually I do listen, and if you're asking me honestly I think I am a very good listener. Now can I ask you a question?
O.F.: Are you currently pregnant, or running around without using birth control?
You: Ignoring the inherent sexism of that statement, the answer is no.
O.F.: Then why do you care? Don't you think that tighter abortion controls could actually reduce the amount of unnecessary promiscuity and irresponsibility that plenty of women demonstrate? In my opinion, unlimited access to abortion would essentially say, "Go for it, ladies! No consequences here."
You: Well. That's a bit of a loaded question! I think it would help you to consider this: A fully funded women's health network in this country would include more than basic access to preventative healthcare and needed surgeries. It would mean access to therapy, to counseling, to open discourse about romantic and sexual relationships as they pertain to a need for healthcare. I don't know a single woman who would advocate for the destruction of unborn lives on a moment's notice just because we can. This has become an unnecessarily political issue, and I just want to know why you -- and your brothers -- aren't more spoken opponents if you know how much harm it can do.
O.F.: Shouldn't all policies stemming from the government be open for debate?
You: THAT'S JUST IT. This should not be considered a government-regulated practice! Whatever happened to patient-doctor confidentiality?
O.F.: Oh...I sort of forgot about that. Nothing that serious ever comes up in conversation when I go in for a checkup.
You: Yeah. Now I'm going to pitch one last idea at you, and be aware that this is the most radical one in my book, so it's okay if you feel you need to deflect it upon first listen. But for just one moment, consider it: A fetus is a woman's creation and while it is in the womb it should be considered her own living property. What happens to it should absolutely be her decision.
O.F.: That is radical. I'm not sure how I feel about that.
You: And like I said -- that is okay. But please consider that the next time you're faced with a topic relating to women's health. This is the twenty-first century, and so many other things our society done in the name of progress has worked! Why not reproductive health?
O.F.: Hm. I'm not sure. I'm sorry.
You: I appreciate the apology, but just those words aren't going to help the cause very much. I need you to keep the conversation going and to respond when you see these types of accusations being hurled at ordinary, hardworking women. I need you to be sharing articles that demonstrate this sort of injustice, and to be calling your lawmakers when the situation calls for it. And most importantly: Let's agree to stop labeling each other as pro-choice/pro-life. Let's agree that we have work to do, and that we owe our female counterparts a little more credit and respect.