GUEST COLUMN Love trumps all

An alternative case for life

After reading Igor Yanovich’s Sept. 9 column on the abortion issue, I felt that it was time to add a woman’s viewpoint to this debate. Quite honestly, I take offense when one characterizes the pro-life movement as an attempt to keep women “domestic, weak, and submissive to men.” I’m not so naïve as to think that the anti-abortion movement is without flaws. However, I would like to offer a different pro-life perspective for your consideration. Once you read this, you can judge whether the pro-livfe case is really all about control over women.

“Are you pro-life?”

Until recently, I’ve hemmed and hawed about this question. My favorite answer used to be this: “Well … I would never have an abortion myself … but it should really be the woman’s choice.” It’s wrong to kill babies, sure. When you’re a young student at a Catholic grade school, you can accept that logic without question. As I got older, though, the lines became blurry. After all, I am a woman. It’s not too difficult to picture myself in the shoes of a struggling expectant mother. If I were ever in that position, I would most certainly resent someone telling me what to do with my body.

Faced with this question now, though, I can respond with a firm “yes.” What changed? Surprisingly, it wasn’t the embryo argument, although this is one of the strongest cases for the pro-life movement. Life begins at conception; you cannot fabricate your own standards for personhood. Once you draw the line of life at some arbitrary number of days, you’re on a slippery slope when it comes to defining the human being. As Yanovich pointed out, however, the debate over the fetus’ vitality is a cover for a deeper, more controversial question — a question that arises before a child is even conceived. The underlying issue is this: what can (or can’t) a woman do with her body?

Before I attempt to answer this question, consider another: what are we made for? The responses range from the ordinary to the existential. Without becoming too philosophical, however, here’s one answer: we are made for relationships. Sure, relationships aren’t like food and drink — one can certainly survive without human company. For most people, however, loneliness is a type of starvation. No story illustrates this better than that of Genie, a feral child. Genie was a young girl whose parents kept her in complete isolation for 13 years. Even after she was removed from this environment of silence and abuse, Genie never developed the ability to communicate fully with others. Her case may be extreme, but it shows that we need people in order to develop as people. Indeed, the need for relationships is written in our bodies. We have organs that are designed to be compatible. Oxytocin and vasopressin run through our veins; these two hormones facilitate pair bonding. Studies have shown that happily married couples are less prone to pneumonia, cancer, and heart attacks. We humans are social creatures, and we naturally seek to form relationships with our families and friends. In essence, we all share a basic desire to love and be loved.

Given that desire, it’s no wonder we are fascinated with sex. Pleasure, intimacy, love … all of these may be part of The Reason We Have Sex. We look to sex as one way to add meaning to our relationships — which is a bit bizarre when you think about it. In purely biological terms, sex exists to diversify the gene pool. According to Darwin, it would be advantageous to mate with every person in sight — that’s what most members of the animal kingdom do, right? And yet we don’t. If I see a hot guy walking down the Infinite Corridor, I don’t automatically grab him and make love to him in the nearest closet. No. We are not ruled by our hormones. It may seem impossible, but ultimately we are capable of saying no to sex. And that is what makes it special. In a way, it’s fitting that sex is the act that begets life. Because sex is a choice, no other act can bring two people together more intimately. No other act requires more love and trust, because it is in the sexual embrace that we are most vulnerable.

“It’s just sex.”

For me, no three words are more heartbreaking than these. Too often, sex becomes a mere act of recreation. A one-night stand may bring a moment of pleasure, but in the end, it cheapens the value of the sexual act. More importantly, though, it devalues the human being. Sex is an incredible way to express love. When you reduce sex to an act of pleasure, what happens? Put simply, you are using each other. Once that fleeting orgasm becomes the primary goal of sex, a person becomes a means to an end — a sex toy.

At this point, it seems like I’ve made a huge, hopeless digression. I’m supposed to be talking about abortion, after all. The two subjects are intimately related, though. The pro-choice movement is based on the belief that a woman can do whatever she wants with her body. If that means having sex whenever she feels like it, then she should be free to do so. But I ask you: is that freedom? No woman should feel that she has to have sex in order to be loved. Unfortunately, sex is almost a necessary ingredient for a meaningful relationship nowadays. A celibate college student is viewed as an anomaly, or perhaps a social failure. But think about it. If a man who’s attracted to me can check his baser passions, then I know that he loves me for the person I am, not for the pleasure I can bring him. If he truly loves you, he will wait. Ladies, you are worth it. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

That, more than anything, is what changed my mind. We can talk about abortion as murder ­— an action that violates a fetus’ right to life. It’s more than that, though. Abortion is a way out. All too often, a woman’s fertility is treated as a disease. Along with STDs, unwanted children are a setback to having sex whenever we want. Abortion arose as one solution to this “problem.” The original intent behind this procedure may have been good; it was meant to give women a sense of control over their bodies. However, the effects are far more insidious. Now that we have a way to correct our mistakes, it is so much easier to strip away the deeper meaning of sex. We have no qualms about treating it as an act of pleasure. And while the pleasure derived from sex isn’t a bad thing, it shouldn’t be the ultimate goal. So when someone paints the pro-life position as a way of “making women less than full people,” I ask — what does it mean to be a “full person”? Some would say that it means I can have sex whenever I want. I claim that it means I can experience love in the best way possible. We long to love and be loved, and unfortunately, abortion allows us to corrupt that desire.

I suppose I envision a world where abortion will be completely unnecessary. After all, abortion is really a symptom of a more fundamental problem: our view of sex, our view of love, our view of each other. If we truly recognize sex for the gift that it is, then we won’t need a way eliminate “problems.” Until then, though, I am pro-life.

Maita Esteban is a member of the Class of 2013.

Anonymous over 6 years ago

Beautifully written, Ms. Esteban!

Katie White over 6 years ago

I've been here at MIT for five years now, and I've seen several 'Pro-choice' vs 'Anti-choice' opinion matchups. I've noticed that far too frequently, the authors of both sides are men. So I was excited to see that an entire column was dedicated to wat Maita called 'a woman's viewpoint.' I comment now to offer another woman's viewpoint.

For the most part, I agree with Maita Esteban's column arguments. However, how she goes from her arguments about the nature of sex, love, and relationships, to justification of her anti-choice stance is what really confused me.

I am pro-choice, but I also believe that young people should wait to have sex. Maita writes "Ladies, you are worth it." I would add "Men, you are worth it, too!" It's a shame that women bear the brunt of the waiting, the resisting, the restraint when it comes to sexual chastity. By imploring that the women withhold, that the women remain chaste, we reinforce the stereotype that men are impulsive, horny, and incapable of thinking with their heads when their dicks are hard. We seem to be saying to young girls "You must defend yourselves from zombie-men and their hard dicks." While we say to the young boys "It doesn't matter if you try and have sex with girls, it's their job to refuse." What a thing to teach children already simultaneously curious, confused, and terrified of sex.

The fact of the matter is, that a lot of men and women really do want intimate sexual relationships where they love, respect, and trust their partner. Relationships where the meaningful sex they engage in is merely an extension of an already strong emotional connection with someone they care deeply about. In the world Maita envisions, this would be the only type of relationship. However, there are plenty of bad relationships out there in the real world that we live in. There are people who feel pressured by their partners to have sex in order to prove their love; people who manipulate their partners to get them into bed; people who use emotional daggers to isolate and degrade their partners, making the victims dependent on their abusers for everything. This is the world we live in. It's not perfect--hell, it's not even tolerable sometimes--but it is reality.

Katie White over 6 years ago

Maita thinks that the fundamental problem is societal, that we've lost the social understanding that sex is precious and has meaning and should be reserved for special relationships. The anti-choice solution that Maita suggests is to "recognize sex for the gift that it is" and convince women that "abortion is a way out"--that they shouldn't take. The problem with these solutions is that they only serve to reduce a woman's options, limiting her control over her own body. These solutions also force a narrow and romantic view of sex on a society that has largely moved away from that, for better or worse. Most importantly, though, these anti-choice solutions do nothing to protect a woman's autonomy. Maita suggests that the pro-choice stance is based on the idea that a woman can do anything she wants with her body. While this may seem accurate, the actuality is that the pro-choice stance is based on the belief that no one but the woman should have ANY legal say in what happens to her body. The difference between the statements may be small, but read them again, because this is one of the most misunderstood aspects of the pro-choice movement.

I too, hope for a world where abortion will be unnecessary. I also agree with Maita that abortion is really a symptom of more fundamental problems. We disagree on what those fundamental problems are, though. The pro-choice solution is to provide better access to affordable and effective contraceptives, comprehensive and age-appropriate sex-education, and monetary support towards blocking legislation that infringes on a woman's right to autonomy. These solutions might not render abortion unnecessary, but the will do more towards keeping it safe and increasingly rare than any of the anti-choice alternatives.

Sharon Hainley over 6 years ago

The physical act of abortion involves two separate people--it cannot be simplified to a woman's right to do what she wants with her body, because it is not her body, nor any part thereof, that is being aborted. At the instant egg and sperm unite, a new person begins with DNA that is completely unique and different from that of its mother. When an abortion occurs, another human being, distinct from the mother, is killed. That is the simple truth, no matter which side of the issue you're on.

Michael Veldman over 6 years ago

I am the author of the pro-choice side of the previous abortion argument. I would have liked to see women and trans men rather than cis men discuss it, but among my fellow opinion writers, the women (like Rachel Bandler and Kavya Joshi) tend to be more preoccupied with international affairs. I was stunned when Mr. Yanovich felt the need to add a third male voice, especially because of the Knight-in-Shining-Armor attitude of his response.

That said, I think Katie wrote a lot of what I wish I had wrote (although I probably couldn't use the phrase "hard dicks" in the paper) and that's precisely why we needed the perspective of someone who has some standing in the issue.

Maita: I would like to point out that in your 4th paragraph you seem to be suggesting that biology is destiny--which is a dangerous view to enforce. (You also seem to erase people in polyamorous relationships.)

However what most bothered me was this: "Ladies, you are worth it." In addition to Katie's criticisms, I'd like to point out how harmful it is to perpetuate these purity myths and to shame people who choose to have lots of sex before finding their "soulmate" or what-have-you. Women who have sex before then have just as much worth as any virgin and it's profoundly disgusting to maintain a holier-than-thou attitude over someone who takes ownership of their sexuality before you deem them able.