Friday, April 01, 2005

Terri Schiavo and the Pro-Choice Debate

Yesterday morning, Terri Schiavo passed away, but according to CNN, this has done little to quell the conflict surrounding her life for the last 15 years. I apologize for blogging once more on the Schiavo case, but I promise to at least try to make this my last one. In the past few months, we've seen countless religious and political figures take up the fight over Terri, like gladiators gearing up for battle. Most recently, even the democratic and pro-choice Rev. Jesse Jackson publicly sided with the Schindlers in a last-ditch effort to try and have Terri Schiavo's feeding tube restored. From my perch thousands of miles from Florida with only CNN and a keyboard to keep me company, I'm fascinated by how this story has been twisted and turned. Mainstream media has had a field day making this story even more iconographic, a sensational battle that pits left vs. right, life vs. death, pro-life vs. pro-choice. The implications for abortion in this case are overwhelming. Pro-lifers publicly took the opportunity to expand their stance from abortion alone to painting themselves as protectors of all human life. All over mainstream media were images of self-described pro-lifers decrying the 'murder' of Terri Schiavo, and even President Bush was using barely concealed pro-life rhetoric in his rallying cries. Meanwhile, Michael Schiavo's perspective is classic pro-choice: he fought for the removal of Terri Schiavo's feeding tube ostensibly because it was Terri's choice, and he was respecting Terri's ability to decide for herself and for her own body. Well, here's my question: where are the pro-choicers in this debate? It occurred to me last night that, while the debate over Terri Schiavo had been almost immediately, portrayed as a metaphor for the abortion argument, I couldn't think of an instance when the pro-choice movement had actually been linked to Michael Schiavo's side. I couldn't recall a single visible outcry from pro-choice groups in response to the pro-lifers. I couldn't even remember a single pro-choice activist with a loud obnoxious sign, standing behind whichever windblown reporters were sent to Pinellas Park to do on-site reporting. While I don't doubt that there were probably a few pro-choice groups out there, campaigning to protect Terri's right to choose her own death, it seems that the majority of groups behind that side of the argument were right-to-die activists, who did not try to respond to attempts to liken Terri Schiavo to the abortion debate -- while right-to-die-ers might be pro-choice, this seems to have been a separate issue for them. So, how did this become a pro-life vs. pro-choice debate? I did a Google and Technorati search on the terms 'Terri Schiavo' and 'pro-choice'. Strangely, in neither mainstream media nor in this cursory search of the blogosphere did I turn up any substantial discussion about Ms. Schiavo with a pro-choice perspective. I found some very good and heated debates, but certainly not as much one would expect if this were some Clash of the Titans-type battle. Instead, the search engines, in 9 out of 10 cases, picked up the term 'pro-choice' from a pro-life blog that was using the Terri Schiavo debate to bash pro-choicers. It seems that the 'rabid pro-choicer' presence was almost entirely invented by the pro-lifers, to give them a target and because anytime you mention one side, it seems thoughts of the other side must immediately be invoked. Still, my search turned up only a few pro-choice blog posts advocating Terri's right to choose -- the rest were pro-lifer bloggers bemoaning the cultural decline that could allow the law to protect a 'murderer' and blatantly characterizing pro-choicers as Nazis, and this one piece of extremely soft journalism (laughably referred to by one pro-life blogger as a great primer on the whole debate). Nonetheless, it's strange to me that the pro-choicers would let this one go by. While I personally disagree with the over-politicizing of Ms. Schiavo and the family feud surrounding her, when this became a political battle, the pro-choicers should've immediately armed up and joined the fray. Bottom line, this fight had nothing to do with God, Ms. Schiavo's medical condition, the Schindlers' love for their daughter, or Michael Schiavo's second family. This was all about Terri's right to choose. Unfortunately, I think the hard-core pro-choice activists were afraid of coming out too vocally in favour of the removal of Ms. Schiavo's feeding tube. In the abortion debate, pro-choicers have relied heavily upon the definition of life, contending that a foetus is not alive or at least not a human life. Already at a public image disadvantage for being able to be easily portrayed as anti-cute-little-babies, pro-choicers probably shied away from Terri Schiavo because you couldn't escape those old images of Ms. Schiavo as a person. In that light, it's hard to campaign for her death, as Michael Schiavo found out. And yet, that's not a really good excuse. Pro-choice shouldn't be about the definition of life; it should be about the right to choose. What you choose is not the concern of the pro-choicers -- you can easily be pro-choice and anti-abortion. Fundamentally, it's about protecing a person's right to make their own decisions over their own body, that this is an inalienable right we all have as Americans. Pro-choicers should have been outraged when Congress and the Senate got involved, they should've been furious that there were discussions of Gov. Jeb Bush taking custody of Terri to forcibly reinsert her feeding tube. The bottom line is that Terri Schiavo chose to die. At least twenty judges, ruling in nearly as many legal cases, agreed that Ms. Schiavo's choice to die was apparent (that's not 'activist' judges people, unless you're arguing against the activism of the entire Supreme Court). The fact that the government and pro-lifers could attempt to circumvent Terri's choice and the judicial system in order to enforce their own morality upon Terri's choice, rendering it irrelevant, was not only appalling but should have set off a dozen warning bells in the minds of the pro-choicers. The repercussions for justifying government intervention in when the administration disagree over a woman's right to choose abortion were overwhelming. And yet, pro-choicers did nothing. If the Terri Schiavo case were any indication of cultural decline, it is even more degradation of a woman's right to choose. And we, for our part, aren't putting up much of a fight.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think one of the reasons that pro-choicers didn't flock to join the argument is the whole point of being "pro-choice". It's not our place to get involved. We can disagree, we can stomp and kick and yell and carry signs... but in the end, its not OUR decision either. And making ourselves a focal point in this debate sends the message that we're "pro-OUR-choice" not "pro-choice" in general.

4/02/2005 10:36:00 AM  
Blogger Jenn said...

anonymouse, I disagree. Being pro-choice isn't about being politically apathetic or inactive - I see no reason who the pro-choice movement couldn't have been vehemently vocal about protecting choice, regardless of whether we agree or disagree with what that choice was. Why couldn't pro-choicers have spoken out in favour of listening to what Ms. Schiavo had to say? I don't see how that would've been pro-our-choice if it had been trying to get the MSM, the Schindlers, and the politicians to recognize what Ms. Schiavo wanted.

Especially if we had underscored that, as pro-choicers, we would've been just as vocal if Ms. Schiavo had chosen not to have her feeding tube removed. Isn't it hypocritical to be pro-choice and to remain silent when politicians threaten to violate a woman's very right to choose her own medical treatment? To me, that's more 'pro-OUR-choice' than if we had been vocal -- it sends the message that we only care about a woman's choice if the controversy is over abortion.

4/04/2005 11:50:00 AM  
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