I think I've now defined enough terms and given enough vital information about abortion to get to the heart of the argument. "When does life begin?" is a bullshit attempt to make a complicated, nuanced problem a black-and-white one. It's an assertion that to even consider the possibility of abortion is evil, because that's all there is to this argument: good and evil. Right and wrong. Pro-choice and "pro-life."
A thinking individual understands that few, if any, real life situations can be labeled this way, but this is an attempt to remove thinking from the issue. You're supposed to think, "Oh, an embryo is the beginning of human life. Oh, no! Hands off, then. Better to keep life sacred and don't start labeling some lives as worth cherishing and others not so."
Yeah, that's what the anti-choice movement is desperate to get across. They have tried to frame the argument as protecting the unborn, instead of restricting women's rights. On a recent interview on NPR, anti-choice activists admitted that they are far more successful when they focus on the life of the fetus, and move the debate away from the woman and her rights.
Bodily autonomy is the phrase I'd like to highlight. On another NPR interview between three young women at Georgetown University, it was brought up that this is an issue of allowing a woman to make her own, informed medical decisions. We, as human beings in the United States, are allowed to make our own choices about whether or not to treat illnesses and conditions every day. This is simply another medical issue, albeit one that has become politically inflammatory, and should be treated as such. The government has not interceded on a cancer patient's decision to proceed with chemotherapy, even when the situation is all but hopeless and would not likely help anyone. Yet, we, the voters of the United States, would be furious if sweeping legislation limited our rights as patients to decide which treatment options we had or which decisions we could make regarding that treatment.
The right to choose is no different. The big difference here is that it is decision that will only ever effect fertile women. Why the debate has been allowed to extend beyond the realm of people who are directly impacted by it, is beyond me.
Bodily autonomy means having the right to decide what goes on in your body, and having as much control as possible over the decisions to change what is happening within it. No woman should ever be reduced to an uncompensated incubator for an unwanted fetus, yet that is what the anti-choice movement wants. As human beings, women have lost all rights to their own body as soon as that pregnancy test shows two lines. Suddenly, the fact that she does not want to experience morning sickness, weight gain, stretch marks, contractions, dietary cravings and aversions, edema, permanent changes to her bone structure in her feet and hips, heartburn, gestational diabetes, hair loss, pre-ecampsia, bed rest, major abdominal surgery which cuts through the muscle, or vaginal birth itself, no longer matters. There are people out there who would have you believe that pregnancy is "no big deal" and that asking women to sacrifice of themselves for over a year (because, although pregnancy lasts 9 1/2 months, there is a recovery period afterwards!) is not asking for FAR more than we would ever ask of a man.
More than that, we cannot assume that choosing to keep the pregnancy is the best decision for her, physically. Statistically, abortion has always been safer than birth. When abortion was illegal, and abortions were unsafe, birth itself was even more unsafe. Today, in our medically advanced society, it is sadly still so. I think this says two things about medicine. One: we have over-medicalized birth itself, and women's healthcare is in a sorry state in the US. Two: abortion is incredibly safe nowadays. The former needs to be addressed with changes in our approach to childbirth, and the latter needs to simply be understood as reality.
Bodily autonomy is important, and it is a value that everyone should hold dear. The right to choose is not an outright endorsement of abortion. It is an endorsement of your right to decide what is best for you, in your particular situation, and no one else. I hate when women say, well, I'm sort of pro-choice. I mean, if other women want to do it, I wouldn't stop them or try to talk them out of it. It's just not for me. You are pro-choice. Your choice is simply not abortion. And every woman deserves the right to make that choice for herself.