It totally blows my mind how women’s private decisions can become the focus of intense and sustained public debate. Can you imagine if you woke up one day and strangers were insisting that all women should rub coconut oil under their arms instead of using deodorant? Never mind the odour they’d say, every man knows that coconut oil is healthier for a woman’s body than those overpriced and toxic anti-perspirant concoctions.
I mean, wouldn’t it be out of this world if random Kenyans on social media held the opinion that every young woman should use pads instead of tampons because hey, we all know that tampons can turn a virgin into a whore. Or if the rabble-rousing Twitter wing demanded that women on their period stay indoors for seven days to avoid contaminating innocent non-period-havers with their impurity? Can you imagine if women were required by law to shave their legs? Wax their pubic hair? Let their eyebrows grow wild?
Bonkers, right? Why on earth would someone else attempt to prescribe what women should do with their bodies? Well, it seems when it comes to abortion, all bets are off. No crazy, prejudiced or ignorant opinion is off limits when it comes to the terminating of pregnancies.
When the abortion debate gains momentum, as it does periodically, it feels like a woman’s body is turned inside out, aired in the court of public opinion, and dissected for the world to see. And while the arguments, both for and against, are as predictable as Nairobi traffic, they are still as annoying as hell. Especially the one’s made by fringe rabidly pro-life elements.
During this latest pro-choice/pro-life bout, I read a comment from someone who questioned why it was that women could have more rights than their unborn children. "What about those innocent souls who are being denied the right to choose life?" she asked. Well, when it comes down to it, the one thing an unborn child does not have is the capacity to exercise any kind of agency over the trajectory of its own life. And that’s because unborn children are wholly dependent on their mothers for survival, especially in their first few months in the womb.
Think about it; an embryo attaches to the uterine wall and remains attached until birth. This means that an unborn child is part of a woman’s body. She and her baby are one. Closer than a woman will ever be to man. Because of that – the fact that babies are not only attached to, but housed by their mothers – it is ultimately a woman’s decision whether to carry a child to term. The decision to abort, or not, rests with her. No one is claiming that it’s fair, but it is what it is.
And as it should be because should anything go wrong between a woman and a man, the woman will be left holding the baby. A man has the option to put his hands in his pockets and swagger into the sunset whistling a freedom tune, while the woman he created life with begins the uphill journey of parenthood.
This is why it’s baffling to me that men are often at the forefront when it comes to defending the sanctity of life. Their defence of unborn children is at its strongest while the children remain in vitro. Once some of these children are born, the men don’t want to know. Not many people want to know anyone else other than the baby’s mother because she and the child are one.
So if you don’t have a uterus the safest thing for you to do is to keep quiet about what other people do with theirs. Also, if your pro-life argument is marinated in religious bigotry, please, eat that meal on our own. Don’t bring your piety to the table without a full understanding of the practicalities of pregnancy, birth, and parental responsibility. And don’t judge people for real-life, real-time life decisions from the comfort of your ivory tower.
And then there are the folks who are notorious offenders; those women who have had repeated abortions, and those men who are professional abortion procurers but who shout the loudest about morals, good Christian values, and all the rest of it. Y’all can go to the corner, have a seat and reflect on the absurdity of your hypocrisy.
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I’ll draw a line under this debate with this: I’m not advocating for women to have abortions like they have baths. The stress on their minds and bodies would be extreme. All I’m saying is that they should be enabled to safely terminate their pregnancies, on their own motion, if that’s what they choose.
Ms Masiga is Peace and Security Editor at The Conversation Africa