A Pro-Choice Society: What does agency really mean?

“If feminism is a movement to end sexist oppression, and depriving females of reproductive rights is a form of sexist oppression, then one cannot be anti-choice and be feminist. A woman can insist she would never choose to have an abortion while affirming her support of the right of women to choose and still be an advocate of feminist politics. She cannot be anti-abortion and an advocate of feminism.” – Bell Hooks, Feminism Is For Everybody

My introduction to Feminist literature happened with reading Bell Hooks and Gloria Steinem. I was hooked and in for a life-time of passionate politics. I have lived and worked with these politics and understood that there is no feminism which does not affirm reproductive rights. I have worked with women and young girls who have had these rights violated, and yet they have struggled against all odds, against all evidence that history does not seem to provide, to rise. But I have also met people, who have been broken as a result of botched abortions, blame, poverty and intimate partner violence.

Feminists world over are fighting for stronger legislations, removal of legal and financial barriers to safe abortions. This is a fight that has a long road ahead. Part of which, I have come to realize is to truly build pro-choice societies. This goes beyond what only legislation can ever possibly offer. If an eighteen year old girl still cannot access safe abortion despite seemingly progressive laws, quakes with fear to tell her partner and has no choice but to go through this alone, there is no meaning left in her personally being pro-choice.

Having spent a good part of my time thinking and musing about this in the past months, I have this to say- being pro-choice is not just about placing the agency of choice on women. It is about ENABLING choice. A choice is truly a choice when it stops being a major life stressor.

I firmly and truly believe that a choice can be enabled through building a pro-choice society, where agency is encouraged at every level. It begins with relationships that ALLOW authentic communication, exploring and talking through the decision, building trust, support and empathy. Your marital status or age does not make your choice obvious. A partner who recognizes this is pro-choice. Enabling agency means having access to all information, choices and knowledge systems to do with making the choice and living with it. It includes having access to a support system which is not just designed to look at financing (if the woman wishes) but looking at very real concerns of mental health and coping practices. It begins with trained and sensitive service providers who are non-judgmental and believe in privacy and quality care regardless of who you are. It begins with families, friends and relationships understanding that the personal is always political. It begins with comprehensive sexuality education.

It is only then that we can truly say that we are building agency in women. Laws take us only so far. But if we look closely at the dynamics of a botched relationship or in the series of unfolding events on a doctor’s table, it is safe to say that even if abortion manages to be a physically safe experience for you, mentally it will still be a rollercoaster. To build an enabling society that is truly pro-choice, you need to be feminist. Feminist in how you treat your partner, how you communicate, feminist in how you provide care, feminist in support systems you build. Passionate politics is the key.