The Positive Meaning and Value of “Choice”

This post is part of our "What Does Choice Mean to You?" series commemorating the 37th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

I love the word choice. I know there are those in our
movement who have rejected it. Some think it is the word we use when we want to
avoid saying abortion. They think we are cowardly when we use “choice” in
talking about abortion.  Others see
it as a privileged word. Low income and marginalized women who are financially
and socially disadvantaged, it is suggested don’t have meaningful choice
available. New words have entered the abortion dictionary and reproductive
justice is said to better represent what we want for all women.

There is merit to both arguments. There are words and concepts other than choice that
can represent our vision for women. But for me choice, indeed the concept of
free choice, still has a positive meaning and value. I would hate to see us
abandon it.

For me, when women claim they have a right to choose, they
are not being cowardly, rather they are being very gutsy. They are laying claim
to a right, a concept that philosophers and theologians have asserted is an
essential element of freedom and rationality. Descartes linked free will with
freedom of choice and noted that “the will is by its nature so free that it can
never be constrained. It is only
if we are free that we can make “free choices”. Hobbes thought we were free only insofar as we “may do as we
wish without hindrance.” As philosophers continued to explore freedom, Locke and Hume added the concept of
power. A person has the “power to do or not do as one wills.”

Even within Catholicism which like other branches of monotheism
struggled with reconciling the idea that God knew and determined all action in
the world with the idea of free will, Aquinas wrote on the subject of free
choice. He said

Without doubt it must be said that man has free choice. Faith demands
that we hold this position, since without free choice one could not merit or
demerit, or be justly rewarded or punished."

While religion is
too often concerned with punishing those who exercise choice, especially women,
the link between freedom, free will, choice and responsibility is an important
one that is part of making choices. As women who claim our moral agency, our
right to free choice, we also accept our responsibility for the consequences of
the choices we make.

Too often we are
told that talking about free choice brands us as believing anything goes or
that “choice” is trivial. Choice is one of the most precious aspects of a good
life. While some want to restrict the choices of others, almost every person
clings to their own ability to make choices – trivial and profound. Butter of
margarine, The shuttle or Amtrak. But also, our own doctor, the school we want
to attend, the partner we wish to marry, the number of children we will,
the profession we will choose and what we will do when faced with a pregnancy.

Choice is a central
component of the rational human being. It is especially important that we
assert it for women whose choices are constrained by circumstances along with
efforts to increase the circumstances that give women more choices. Who needs
the right to choose more than the woman who will suffer most if she is denied
choice. Who needs more encouragement to make a choice than the woman who has so
rarely been able to do so?

Let each of us
celebrate the freedom we have, let us claim it from the roof tops and let us
insist that as rational moral agents we have the right to choose.

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