I remember a while back during one of my courses, I got into a heated discussion with a professor about the wearing of the Muslim veil. Needless to say my colleagues were surprised to hear that as a former Muslim I opposed the Muslim head scarf (the burka, hijab, and niqāb).
For its entire mystique the Muslim head scarf, in all its form, is nothing more than male ownership of female sexuality. Little do western observers realize that often the choice between the wearing of the hijab and not wearing it comes down to severe physical harm. Instead, it is assumed that women who wear the veil do so of their own volition.
And while this may be true in some instances, the concept of choice can only be used as a valid reason in the context of an environment free of medieval sexual apartheid. Consider this, currently in the Islamic republic of Iran the penalty for not wearing the veil correctly is seventy-five lashes. The lashes are sometimes administered publicly for the purpose of discouraging others from following suit. Similarly In Saudi Arabia (the birth place of Islam and home to its holy shrines) the punishment can be as severe as beheading by sword.
We also hear Muslims and their defenders espouse the concept of modesty, often perversely citing examples of sexual assault on women whom dress provocatively as evidence of the hijabs necessity. But this line of argument assumes that women who dress provocatively are asking to be assaulted and further whitewashes the fact that in cases involving women that have been raped and assaulted in a Muslim country the women are sentenced to stoning while men pay a mere fine.
It is important to also consider the hijab to be more than a religious obligation. This is especially true of women who wear the head covering in western countries. Immigration is a traumatic and emotional experience. It is often the case that as immigrants we find comfort in familiar customs that not only distinguish us from the rest of society but also gives us a sense of communal solidarity.
The western observer should be weary of assumptions behind the wearing of the veil. There are many women around the world to this day that struggle against sexual oppression in places like Iran and whose rights have been ignored for sake of medieval traditions. Whatever the politically correct view may be, the Muslim head scarf is a form of sexual repression whose sole purpose is to validate male ownership (father, husband etc) of a women’s body and “honor”. There are many women around the Muslim world that would relish the opportunity to dress as they please, and would only dream of not being harassed because of the way they dress themselves. It irks me to see women in Canada “choosing” to wear this medieval costume, knowing that there are women elsewhere who are being severely harmed because they “choose” not to wear it. To me, this is akin to a freed slave wearing a slave collar proudly!
“What is this ban on abortion? It is a survival of the veiled face, of the barred window and the locked door, burning, branding, mutilation, stoning, of all the grip of ownership and superstition come down on woman, thousands of years ago.” – Stella Browne
Does person-hood begin in the womb or after birth? Is abortion the murdering of an innocent human child or is it simply terminating a mass of cells? What do abortion rights have to do with women’s equality? Why even talk about abortion in the first place?
Why we need to talk about abortion.
I know you may be wondering why I would even want to discuss abortion when it appears as though most people have made up their minds on this debate, and there’s no turning back for them. However, this notion is wrong. Change is possible. Opinions and moral convictions are not stable. Remember the good old days when society condemned premarital sex and divorce?
Our views on abortion are evolving rapidly, just like the topics that people have debated over in the past, such as child labour, the voting rights of women, and slavery. All of these issues are now universally agreed upon. It’s vital that we discuss abortion so that awareness can be brought about.
A woman is a person. So…?
“No woman can call herself free who does not own and control her body. No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether she will or will not be a mother.” Margaret Sanger
To begin, I give you the basic premise that women are indeed persons, and therefore deserve equal rights, respect and dignity as do all other persons. There is no longer a question about the person-hood of women. Although the reality of equality has not completely been attained, we can agree that women are people. Therefore, I believe that women should have the ability to make decisions about what is and isn’t good for themselves. It is without a doubt that women have the right to autonomy and one cannot have true autonomy if they do not have it over their own physical bodies.
What is in debate here is at what point does person-hood begin? Some say it starts at conception, others when the zygote becomes a fetus and some say it begins when the baby is born. It’s a question which is disputed by many.
What is person-hood anyway? And how does one define it?
When deciding if one is a person or not, there are a few key questions to ask.
1. Can the entity act in the world and respond to its environment?
2. Is the entity aware of its own existence?
3. Does the entity possess rights and duties?
4. If it can claim the right to live, does it live independently?
I will now examine these questions and provide answers as to whether or not a prenatal organism should be considered a person.
- A fetus cannot act in the world nor respond to the environment except in response to it’s provider’s body, its mother.
- A fetus and even newborn babies do not yet have awareness of their own state, emotions or motivations. It is not self aware and therefore cannot acknowledge it’s own existence. We also cannot disregard the state in which the fetus exists within it’s mother’s womb; the fetus is asleep, surrounded by darkness and connected to a placenta which provides the nutrients and blood necessary for growth. The fetus is actually in a sedated state due to the low oxygen pressure and substances provided by the placenta which cause sleep; such as steroidal anesthetics.
- A fetus cannot possess rights or duties unless it is sentient and self-aware.
- Let’s say that the fetus should have a right to life. If this is true, it should also be living independently. A fetus cannot do this because it can only live while being attached to and being nourished by it’s mother. It requires it’s mother’s life to live.
Based on the answers to the questions listed above, a fetus does not have true person-hood.
What a fetus looks like at 12 weeks, contrary to some misinformed beliefs of pro-life advocates:
When abortion is illegal, women are not safe.
“Women are not dying because of diseases we cannot treat. They are dying because societies have yet to make the decision that their lives are worth saving.” Prof. Mahmoud Fathalla,MD, PhD
Whenever a country has tried to outlaw abortion, it has only lead to dangerous consequences for women. Many women have died or have been injured when abortion was illegal due to unsafe practices. This is why people have fought so hard to have the right to choose. Why would we go back in time knowing that it will cause harm towards all women?
If we seriously honor and respect the individual rights of people, then we cannot possibly return to the horrifying idea of laws that will both force women to bear children against their will and force women into getting dangerous abortions.
Not all women who get pregnant can have safe pregnancies.
Many women who suffer with heart disease, sickle-cell anemia, kidney disease, severe diabetes and other illnesses require that they have an abortion because of the potential life-threatening consequences a pregnancy or childbirth could have on them and/or the fetus.
An accidental pregnancy or a rape can destroy a woman’s life if she does not have access to abortion.
It is a horrendous idea that some people are trying to push, that even if a woman is raped she should not have an abortion. It could bring her economic, emotional and personal freedom to an absolute halt. Even a consensual but accidental pregnancy could have a devastating effect on a woman’s life. Forcing someone to have a child they did not want takes away all of her personal choice.
Therefore, I believe it is vital that women have the right to choose what happens to their own body and that abortion be legal. It is vital for their safety, health, and for their freedom and autonomy as an individual human being.