Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Fight for Your Right to Party

Jill Filipovic at Feministe recently put forward the thought experiment:
Would you limit abortion to 12 weeks if it meant getting a full range of other reproductive health benefits?
And then went on to answer in the affirmative, using France as an example with such a system that has produced relatively positive results. It's a thoughtful article, and worth reading.

Unfortunately, it's also ultimately the wrong question and posed in a thoroughly useless way. As far as it goes, it's almost a meaningless thought experiment (I use that term instead of hypothetical since the entire conceit is - as the author admits - beyond the realm of plausibility). Of course given a choice between two extremely sub-optimal options, you go with the one that will produce the best results. If we're limiting rights either way, best to go the route the causes the least suffering, duh. That's not a particularly clarifying result.

In fact, Filipovic's hypothetical has the most in common with the false choice presented by sweat shop apologists, which always goes something along the lines of "well, sweat shops are better than all of those people being jobless and starving to death." Well, yeah, when you restrict the options in front of you to those two results, sweat shops look like the best thing on the table. But, of course, the basic underlying framework that the sweat shop apologists promote is fundamentally flawed: it's a choice that makes assumptions about the basic validity of property and wealth distribution schemes as promoted and enforced by the international Neo-Liberal ruling class. There are lots of other alternative choices that would be even better than the two presented by sweat shop apologists: labor capturing and controlling the means of production being just one alternative that should be considered and advocated for.

So it goes on the body rights question. Would you limit one set of rights in exchange for broadening of another set of rights? Well, set aside for the moment that I passionately reject the very idea that the state has any business limiting the human rights of anyone and let's consider the harm caused by restricting the question in such a way. Filipovic short circuits the possibility of advocating for the expansiveness of all rights, something that advocates should generally be striving for. She also short circuits the possibility of addressing the underlying structural issues in play here, i.e. what I had just said I would set aside but apparently won't: that the state has no business restricting any of these body rights in the first place. Filipovic's question - like the sweat shop apologists - tacitly accept the frameworks of the ruling class by accepting body rights (especially female body rights) as something non-essential to be traded for other (apparently-not-really-) rights.

In the daily grind of policy making, trade-offs are often required to produce least-bad outcomes. No one disputes that. But the vantage point of ethics- and rights-free advocacy has moved out of lawmaking territory and come to infect the intellectual framework of advocates and activists. When you accept the underlying structural limits that the ruling classes have imposed on the rest of us, you limit the horizons you can strive for.

And when feminist advocates push for limiting abortion rights for women, they don't create a space for other rights to be expanded (as the author says they won't), they just provide more cover for those who would seek to limit the rights of others to go on with their terrible business.

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