Let’s talk about abortion
On the 30th of December 2020, Argentina, a country that has a highly influential Catholic Church in Latin America, legalized abortion. The world views this phenomenal milestone as a way to end the very obscure year of 2020 on a good note. From the news, we can see the level of catharsis painted on every face of Argentinians who have been fighting to take back the right of their body for decades. And they have finally succeeded.
This news, quite unexpectedly, re-fueled the discourse around abortion in the Indonesian media, particularly among its netizens. A good portion of netizens is exhilarated and genuinely happy for our sisters in Argentina for this achievement. We only wish that this country, which is rooted in patriarchy and heteronormativity, could take a step forward in dismantling the state’s regulation on women’s bodies one day. However, in every agreement, there will always be disagreement.
I, like many other gen-z, am a user of the social media TikTok. And what I came across is deeply saddening yet, not surprising. The first video that I found through my FYP is from a pretty famous Indonesian TikToker, meaning that she had quite a following. Although it is unclear what her market is, we can assume that TikTok’s algorithm allows her videos to enter the FYP of people of all ages. Her video began by showing a news headline on the legalization of abortion in Argentina. Like many others, she claims to be a pro-lifer with terms and conditions; abortions can only be permitted to rape victims and individuals with specific health conditions. In other words, pro-choice based on free-sex that entail unwanted pregnancies should not be supported. Therefore, it is clear that she is not necessarily a hard-line pro-lifer who rejects abortion in all contexts.
Two of the solutions she purported were first, to prioritize the promotion of sex education as a preventative tool for people to engage in free-sex, and second, to consolidate punitive measures that target men to take responsibility for impregnating the victims. In most cases, the latter would entail marriage between the two parties involved. In the next paragraphs, the critiques I will suggest will revolve around two of these solutions that the TikTok-er proposed. First, let’s delve a little more into sex education in Indonesia.
It is no surprise that sex education is still perceived as taboo by the community, hence, there is still a lack of promotion on the importance as well as the urgency of educating children about reproductive health. Although there is no reliable research on sex education around grade schools across Indonesia, this in itself suggests the lack of focus in the teaching-learning process of sex education. As sex education entail not only the biological aspect of the reproductive system and STDs, sex education also has to cover the topic of consent, sexuality, and ethics. When the factors above are dismissed, the community will remain tone-deaf regarding these matters.
Going back again on the claim made by the Tiktoker, I agree that prioritizing our focus to improve sex education is the first step in preventing unwanted pregnancies, thus reducing abortion. The reason is cliche yet simple; prevention is always better than cure. Other than the latter being medically riskier, it is also more expensive. In countries where abortion is illegal, pregnant women who wish to abort their fetus have to resort to illegal local clinics, where operational practices are mostly unsafe. In short, preventing abortion of all kinds by educating our children about the reproductive system and the morals and ethics — to also prevent non-consensual sex/rape — is crucial.
Proceeding to the second point, I truthfully find this solution very troubling as it is inherently patriarchal and misogynistic. How so? By simply assuming that pregnancies outside of marriage can be quickly resolved through marriage indicates that adding an image of a man or a father lifts all the burdens that come with bearing, and eventually raising, a child. This assumption disregards women/victims’ agency as it strips them off of their freedom of choice by limiting the options they could have.
Forcing women to get married against their will leads to a myriad of other consequences that range from those that impact the mothers (mental instability like baby blues and depression) or even long-term ones on the marriage and children (divorce and childhood trauma). When these consequences occur, wives and mothers are the ones to be blamed for their failures. This line of argument adheres to the patriarchal narrative that women are homemakers who must uphold the honor of their households. The best-case scenario is when both parties are of age, financially stable, and emotionally ready. When it is the contrary, the issues will be bound to multiply. But regardless, marriage as a solution is ingrained in misogynistic ideas and tone-deaf towards class struggles.
Following my previous argument that the topic of abortion does not stray far from the concept of privilege, we should approach this issue as a class-based issue. One could get away with safe abortion — perhaps abroad — or have zero financial worries to raise a child if they have the financial freedom. Meanwhile, the lower-class people do not have the same access to solutions as those who are privileged. They are also the same people who are also most likely to have less access to proper sex education. Consequently, the burden that they bear is ten-fold of those who are in the middle/upper-class.
If we can ensure better sex education that transcends class borders, then perhaps that would be the ideal solution. However, if we see the conditions now, notwithstanding the statement that prevention should come before cure, restricting abortion is the same as prosecuting individuals from the lower-class. Instead of providing them with a viable solution, the system further oppresses these individuals. Deeming the high number of unwanted pregnancies within the lower class as their own exclusive mistake and blaming them for their negligence indicates that people are still ignorant when it comes to class struggles. The government should be held accountable for this statistic as the status quo is the product of their negligence.
Now, you might still be unconvinced if you believe that the two parties are equally responsible for accepting the consequence, and that is by bearing and raising the child they conceive. What if I compare pro-life and pro-choice ideals against each other in their broadest sense. The main difference between pro-life and pro-choice is that the previous force their so-called moral beliefs, that is fundamentally embedded in religion or culture, into others, while the latter appeal to individual liberty. So if we illustrate this into the concept of a syllogism — which I think is very plausible —, we can consider pro-choice as the major premise and pro-life as the minor premise. For the sake of this argument, we premise the definition of pro-life in its broadest sense:
“the belief that all human life is created equal regardless of size, level of development, education, and degree of dependency. Therefore, taking the life of a preborn baby is a violation of the fundamental right to life.” (Piper 2020)
Fundamentally, pro-life disapproves of abortion based on moral and ethical reasons, while pro-choice respects liberty and bodily autonomy. While the previous disregard the latter, the latter still regards the prior. To reiterate, if you are pro-choice, you automatically respect the ideals and choice of pro-lifers. So while being pro-life is restrictive, being pro-choice embraces all decisions made by individuals.
Furthermore, one thing that we all should realize is that illegalization is never been about morality. It has always been about control and power relations; who have more power over who and in this case it is mostly men over women. It has simply been about policing women’s bodies that is deeply rooted in, once again, patriarchy and misogyny. It is no newsflash that this is the case as the ones in power have always been predominantly men; those who draft and pass laws that are inherent to control the liberty of women’s bodies have always been mostly men. This is a fight against the power struggles of gender, a fight to own back our bodies. And again, the only way we could win is to completely dismantle the patriarchal culture.
Now, it is finally our time to reflect on the status quo. Has the stick method of restricting abortion been effective to prevent abortion among women in Indonesia?
The restriction to abortion is not only limited to punitive law but also the deep-rooted social stigma against abortion — and also pregnancy outside of marriage — in Indonesia. Instead of being a solution to the problem, it instead creates more problems. In this case, the action of restricting abortion, making it difficult to access by citizens, is evidently counterproductive because it is simply not an effective solution. Even if they end up choosing the safe and legal path to abortion, the process is extremely complicated and bureaucratic. By the time they wait, they might have passed the maximum week to get an abortion.
Remember that no one intentionally plans to have an abortion. No one has sex and thinks, yes, I am going to get an abortion. Hence no one wishes to have an abortion. But when you restrict abortion, you restrict a woman’s liberty and choice. Not only you are impeding her individual future, but you are also targeting the rights of all individuals who own a uterus. The effort to legalize abortion is a step to depatriarchalization. The effort to improve sex education is not enough if our bodies are still controlled, as the idea of consent will remain incoherent and trivial. Control is not always moral nor ethical, especially when it targets a certain group that has been long weaker and marginalized.