The English language is full of complex and ambiguous words and definitions. In, On Language, the authors address this concerning the word choice. "Choice, is, in essence, an empty word, people with vastly divergent political viewpoints can be united under its banner (145)." However, the word choice is instead approached as a concrete, either/or definition. Andrea Smith illustrates this in her interviews with Native women and their views on pro-life and pro-choice platforms. Both of these stood by one camp or the other, but their reasoning for choosing either one did not match up with the meanings behind each position. Yet, the way that reproductive rights are presented leave only two options that, in different yet similar ways, surround the empty word choice.
When Allison Crews gives her account of growing up in a pro-life environment and the challenges she faced when she became pregnant as a teenager, she remembered seeing a girl leaving a clinic being hurried and shamed through a crowd of protesters. Allison was surrounded by people telling her she was unfit to be a mother. Some choice when abortion is actually a legal procedure. Loretta J. Ross asks the question, "Why are there obstacles for women who seek abortions while our society neglects mothers and children already here (1)." Once again, there is no choice here. What Smith calls "'free' choice," is being fought for a group of women who are already allowed to make choices in their lives.
Recalling Mona Lisa Smile, in On Language, the point to our consumerist culture that tells women that we can get everything we want in life, "as long as we make the right choices [emphasis mine] (147)." What are the right choices? Can the options presented to women legitimately be called choices? The black and white polarization of pro-life/choice is what allows the criminalization that Smith talks about. It creates a situation where only one choice can be the right choice and we see that everywhere with protests and lobbying. Therefore, this approach not only allows criminalization, but brings the focus to the crime itself.
"If we strive to disarticulate crime and punishment then our focus must... also be directed at all the social relations that support the permanence of prison (Smith, 123)." The fundamental issue for feminists concerning this topic is not choice or prison but 'those' people and institutions that are continuing to support the prison industrial complex and its relation to the reproductive rights of women. What is necessary to analyze, however, is, who are 'those' people? "Defining white supremacy as extremist in its racism," says Ross, "often has the results of absolving the mainstream population of its racism (2)." She also goes on to criticize the opposition of pro-life/choice by pointing out that they both function under assumptions that do not make moves towards life, or choice, for women of color (120).
Are we, too, mindlessly and uncritically standing next to a banner that is actually void of any of the meaning we've been taught it has? The ability to choose relies on what a woman already owns. A choice can only be made from what is available. We must ask ourselves, if the so called choices set out for women should really qualify as choices?
Instead, I propose a grammatical move from the use of the word choice to the word right. A right is something that belongs to a person. It is something they own. A choice is something that, even ideally, can only be framed in terms of either/or. That framework simply does not allow for a complex system of thought needed. A right can be denied to a person. For a women to not have choices, or limited choices, is to frame it as a privilege; one that can be limited. Working for the complete ownership of a women's right, puts the subject of reproductive rights in different light. It is something that has unrightfully been taken away. Also, fighting for rights is much for broad and covers much more ground for women than fighting for reproductive choices.
The social structures that need to be challenged or as much a part of us as anyone else unless we continue to challenge our own thinking while challenging others. We are inevitably part of the social structure we live in. Small, mindful changes are necessary. At the end of Allison Crews story, after listing many of the choices she made, she lists even more rights. What caught my eye, however, was one of her statements. "We have the right to choose when, where, with whom, and how we bear children (148)." Now switch it around so that it reads; we have the choice of when, where, with whom, and how we bear children. Which statement speaks with power and ownership?