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Choice and the Goddess

Honoring the feminine divine means trusting women as full moral agents with control over their own bodies. Period.

In the past year's war on women and especially on women's access to reproductive health care, one of the hidden justifications is that women can't be trusted with their own choices, either because they're ignorant or because they're just not capable of making good choices for themselves. Look at forced ultrasound requirements before abortion: the people who make the laws will explain, time and again, that the procedure is for a woman's own good, so that she is "fully informed" before making a momentous decision. It's inside her own body - do you really think she doesn't know what's going on?

This perception of women as untrustworthy has deep roots in the Western mind. Whether it's explained on the grounds that women are more childlike than men, or more earthy and animal and hence less rational, the idea remains: men have full moral agency - the ability to make choices - and women do not.

Patriarchal forms of religion provide the ultimate justification: men are made in the image of God, and thus are capable of understanding moral issues and making informed, reasonable choices; women are somehow other.

When I began to worship the Goddess, I was flooded with an unutterable joy at the realization that seeing divinity in forms like my own meant being able to see the divine within myself as well. It meant seeing myself as a full human being all the time, as I am, not just when I measured up to some standard of ignoring my own womanness in order to become more like the (masculine) pattern of what a person ought to be.

I began to realize that deep down I had held an assumption that because men were more like God, they had some better understanding of issues that concerned God, and so their choices were going to be better reflections of what God wanted. If my choices differed from that, there was always the possibility that it resulted from my inescapable distance from God, the difference that came with being female.

Seeing the divine in a feminine form dissolved that sense of separation, of different-ness, that came between me and a masculine god. It opened the door to believing that my judgments were worthwhile, my discernment dependable, my choices just as valid as anyone else's.

For me, this realization was a broad one, restoring my trust in myself in a number of ways. But in the specific area of a woman's right to choose to have an abortion, I see the problem of distrusting women and discrediting their agency played out on a societal level.

I was having a conversation with someone about women's right to choose, and she said that she didn't have a problem with me having all the choices in the world available to me, especially because pregnancy would physically endanger me, but that she'd seen women who she thought were not being responsible, or were choosing for the wrong reasons, or whatever, and that those choices still needed to be regulated.

But who chooses, if not the woman herself? Who decides which choices are valid? Who has ultimate control over a woman's body and health care?

Learning to respect myself, to see myself as related to the Goddess, carries with it the requirement that I must respect others as equally expressions of the divine. I have to believe that every woman has the capability to understand her situation and make the best choice for herself.

Every approach to regulating women's right to choose is about externalizing that choice, taking it outside of herself, her conscience, her inner guidance, depriving her of agency and transferring that choice, those decisions, to someone else. Look at the way anti-choice advocates try to make a ban on abortion look humane by graciously allowing exceptions for a woman's life, or cases of rape: in every case, the woman has to prove to an outside authority that she fits one of the exceptions - to prove to the satisfaction of a doctor that her life really is at risk, or to give evidence to the legal system to adjudicate whether something was 'really' rape. Make no mistake, the people who get to make those decisions are almost always men whose judgment is being substituted for the woman's own.

Time and time again, people who say they object to abortion on moral grounds are really saying, deep down, that women are incapable of considering the moral issues involved when making the decision whether or not to continue a pregnancy. These anti-choicers are getting between women and Goddess, denying women's agency first and foremost because they're women.

Honoring the feminine divine means believing that women - like all people - are fully capable of grappling with moral and ethical implications of their choices.

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Literata is a Wiccan priestess and writer. She edited Crossing the River: An Anthology in Honor of Sacred Journeys, and her poetry, rituals, and nonfiction have appeared in works such as Mandragora, Unto Herself, and Anointed as well as multiple periodicals. Literata has presented at Sacred Space conference, Fertile Ground Gathering, and other mid-Atlantic venues. She is currently completing her doctoral dissertation on the history of magic with the support of her husband and four cats.

Please note that all opinions expressed here are Literata's alone and do not reflect the positions of any organization with which she is affiliated.

Comments

  • Constance Tippett Chandler
    Constance Tippett Chandler Sunday, 07 October 2012

    I like your post and felt the same way when I "discovered" the Goddess. I often wonder how all women would fell and the choices that they would make if they had been raised to understand that they where make in the image of the Divine. I think many of women's mental illnesses are due to the lack of this understanding, so we are reactive to the world in stead of being proactive. I wonder how men would react if their reproductive system was public domain.

  • April
    April Sunday, 07 October 2012

    Thank you for this article. I am so sick of all men panels holding hearings and men making decisions about women's bodies and health when they have no idea what it is like to be a woman or feel what her body goes through; or even in some cases, how the female body works (i.e. Todd Akin's comments on it being "really rare" for a rape to lead to pregnancy and how in a “legitimate rape the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.")

    "Honoring the feminine divine means believing that women - like all people - are fully capable of grappling with moral and ethical implications of their choices." You hit the nail on the head. Until we can recognized that there is a female half in creation (a co-creator - which would devastate the patriarchy), women will never be truly considered equal or capable of making "sound" ethical decisions; because, well, we're women - somehow lacking the mental capacity and/or logic to make our own decisions that supposedly men only have (seeing that they are the ones made in God's image and we women are merely made from Adam's rib).

    Of course, then we have the people who are OK with abortion, but only in cases of rape, incest or if the woman's life is in jeopardy. Who are these people to judge or say it's OK to terminate a fetus based on the circumstances - and then only after putting the victim through a trial of sorts to prove that those were or are the circumstances? Terminating a fetus is terminating a fetus, regardless of the reason. You either give women full autonomy over their own bodies and trust a woman to make her own decisions or you don't, simple as that. I can't help but be reminded of Rep. Darrell Issa's opening statements during that ridiculous all male hearing on birth control back in February in which he stated "a man's conscience" should guide laws in America. Really? What about a woman's conscious? I mean, we are talking about her body, right?

  • Joseph Bloch
    Joseph Bloch Sunday, 07 October 2012

    Honoring the feminine divine means trusting women as full moral agents with control over their own bodies.

    A notion that I think everyone-- on either side of the abortion issue-- can agree with, and I think can even go beyond those who "honor the feminine divine".

    Where it gets complicated is when the rights of the woman to control her own body intersects with the rights of the unborn child, fetus, person-to-be, etc. (the choice of terminology is in and of itself charged and carries moral implications; I'll just use "child" for the sake of simplicity). Does control over one's body include control over the definition of personhood in regards to another? Modern society, at least in the United States, doesn't give the woman the absolute power to make that decision; thus we have laws defining when during the course of a pregnancy it is, and is not, legal for a woman to have an abortion. I see a place for consistent rules regarding the definition of personhood, based on scientific consensus. Currently, that consensus puts "personhood" somewhere towards the end of the second or beginning of the third trimester of pregnancy, rather than at fertilization as many pro-life people would have it.

    Too, the rights of the father of that child must be at least considered, who at least on a moral level has to have some degree of control over its fate, especially insofar as the father is, in our modern legal system, held responsible for helping to raise the child. Saying that the mother has 100% of the control over the fate of the child must, logically, carry with it the injunction that she has 100% of the responsibility for raising it. That's obviously not true, and thus the conversation begins.

    So I don't think it's necessarily as cut-and-dried as some might make it out to be. I'm all in favor of body autonomy, but I'm also in favor of fathers' rights, and I think we as a society need to at least consider whether body autonomy of one person includes with it the right to decide the personhood status of someone else.

  • Emily Mills
    Emily Mills Monday, 08 October 2012

    Joseph, the thing is, there are no rights for a grouping of cells that are feeding off of a woman's body. In pregnancy a woman gives up her own blood, nutrition, calcium from her bones, her time, and all of her life to literally grow someone else inside of her. There is no autonomy for something that is being grown slowly inside of someone else. Have you seen what pregnancy does to women? Even my wealthier friends with great nutrition and healthcare plans have lost a tooth in pregnancy or suffered a sprained or broken rib due to calcium leeching. The fetal cells are not independent. Since a woman gives up her very being, biologically and spiritually, the decision of whether to go through that process is hers.

  • Anne Newkirk Niven
    Anne Newkirk Niven Monday, 08 October 2012

    Emily, I'm loathe to get more entangled, but feel compelled to do so.

    First: my POV. I am a CIS-gendered female (no longer fertile since I got a tubal ligation as my sole choice about 2 decades ago) who has never had to face the choice of abortion as all of my three sons were conceived in a stable relationship. (I am fully aware of how lucky I am.) Second: surely you are not calling (for the sake of argument, and the legal definition of viability in Roe v Wade) a 28-week fetus "a grouping of cells that feed off of a woman's body." Are you suggesting NO limits on abortion whatsoever? If so, how does that position differ from approval of infanticide, which is generally regarded as a crime? If the definition you suggest is "autonomy" vs dependence then doesn't that argument suggest euthanasia for non-independent post-birth humans who are 100% dependent on the support of other humans to live?

    I just think there are a lot more complex issues here than "its my body, leave it the hell alone." (A position I find emotionally satisfying, but morally problematic.)

  • Emily Mills
    Emily Mills Thursday, 11 October 2012

    No, I am talking about within the legal definitions of abortion now. I'm not suggesting it should be legal in the later stages at all. When Joseph began to question what personhood was and when it should be defined I was speaking of the early stages when the fetus is still a group of cells. Later, when the pregnancy could survive outside the womb is when it becomes complicated and I agree with that. The fact is, however, that there are many who want conception and personhood to be defined as the same thing and remove the right to abortion based on that. It's this part of the comment that I was reacting to, "Does control over one's body include control over the definition of personhood in regards to another?" I was objecting to the personhood definition.

  • Literata
    Literata Monday, 08 October 2012

    I'm not Emily, but this is why I support abortion on demand until viability and with other reasons after that. When the fetus is no longer physically dependent on the mother's body to do the work of living for it, then it can be a separate person - a baby.

    There are tremendous differences between "cannot survive without other people" and "cannot survive without being physically and medically part of an individual's body," as Emily pointed out.

  • Joseph Bloch
    Joseph Bloch Monday, 08 October 2012

    Thank you, Anne. That was the gist of my original comment; that the issues are somewhat less black and white than originally posed.

  • Joseph Bloch
    Joseph Bloch Monday, 08 October 2012

    Which is the heart of my point, Constance. At what point does that "group of cells" become a person unto itself? Literata, in her comment directed to me, said it remains a non-person until birth. The law happens to disagree with her.

  • Literata
    Literata Monday, 08 October 2012

    I disagree with your uses of the terms "baby" and "personhood." I do not think that the language of "personhood" is the appropriate way to discuss these issues. If you want to know what I think, I think it can't possibly be a person until it can survive without being physically connected to a woman's body. I think it can't be a baby until it can be born (including by induced labor after viability when the woman wants to terminate the pregnancy at that point).

    Moreover, you seem to want to use "personhood" as a quasi-legal term. Every time I have seen people trying to use it as a quasi-legal term it is as part of an effort that wants to rewrite the law so that I am forced to die an agonizing death in favor of a lump of cells that would never develop into a baby under any definition.

  • Diotima
    Diotima Monday, 08 October 2012

    I think a fetus becomes a person when it is no longer a parasite. I realize that terminology will be offensive to some, but, biologically, it is accurate. A fetus is a parasite on the mother (welcome or not) until it is viable outside of the mother's body.

    From a more metaphysical standpoint, I believe that the soul enters the body at different times for each person, not at some moment determined solely by cellular development. And I believe each soul, each child, is in communication with its parents at all times. Each life is the choice of three souls -- the father, who donates DNA and perhaps care after birth, the mother, who donates DNA and allows her body to be used for fetal development, and, almost invariably, care after birth, and the child/fetus itself, whose soul's development may or may not include being born.

    While the father's contribution is irretrievable, either the mother or the child can change their mind at any given time. Many pregnancies result in spontaneous abortion -- sometimes before the mother even knows she is pregnant. We are talking about an independent soul, a consciousness, not the collection of cells which that soul may or may not choose to take on as a body for a particular incarnation. It is not at the mercy of the mother -- it is capable of choosing another birth, if decisions are made on a soul level that this will not work out for the child, or for the mother, at some point after conception and before viability.

    These decisions are deeply personal, and should not be legislated. They are the woman's alone to make. If she chooses to include the father in that decision, that is also her choice. But no one else should have any say in it.

  • Literata
    Literata Monday, 08 October 2012

    Your blatant misuse of terminology shows that you are either woefully unaware yourself, or are deliberately and maliciously ignoring the point of my argument. I'm going to try to be kind by assuming that you're underinformed, which is why you came in here to mansplain to me all the little nuances that you think give you a right to control my body.

    My position is fairly simple: Abortion on demand until viability. After that, if there is a risk to the life or health (including emotional health) of the mother, in cases of rape or incest, and gross fetal abnormality.

    Considering that even the first sentence of that position is not currently practiced, when we get that in place, then you can come back and complain at me about the nuances of controlling my body.

    It's not a child until it's born. Using that to be "simple" is actually clouding the debate and is a favorite anti-choice tactic. Do that again and I'll delete your comment.

    "Personhood" is an anti-choice term of art. Same as above. It has ZERO to do with "science," which you should know.

    Rights of the father: To not get a woman pregnant. Don't bring that men's rights activist nonsense in here.

  • Constance Tippett Chandler
    Constance Tippett Chandler Sunday, 07 October 2012

    I have always been confused with the definition of "to kill' or to terminate a life. We are told from a very small age not to kill, not to lie, cheat, or steal. Yet, when we grow up, we are told to kill the enemy! We see people at the top steal and cheat and they are considered successful. And now it is taken for granted that a politician will lie. To think otherwise is to be considered naive.
    The wars that we have engaged in (during my lifetime) usually are later found out to be different then what we where told.
    The latest reason for war was a downright lie. The very people who found it necessary to " shock and awe" a sovereign country would tell a women that she was no right to terminate life. Do they think that the "enemies" babies are different? I have had to live through two wars of men coming home crazy from what they are told to do. Do these same people really think that an abortion is something a women loves to do? Many times it is for self preservation. There are so many different situations and they are very personal. Should a women who is raped have to share custody with the father? The whole thing should be left up to the women and her doctor.

  • Anne Newkirk Niven
    Anne Newkirk Niven Monday, 08 October 2012

    I have always been 100% pro-choice (and still am) but can't help but ponder than this entire issue may be moot in our children's lifetimes. The world is changing faster than our ideas about it. What happens when the "viability" of the fetus/child is no longer an issue? Which is to say, when it's possible for a zygote to be removed immediately after conception and grown to (I can't use the word "birth" anymore, can I) maturity entirely in an artificial environment? Or when a zygote/fetus/child can be entirely "conceived" and "matured" from a single stem cell without sperm or egg? Cf http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2012/10/04/162263750/scientists-create-fertile-eggs-from-mouse-stem-cells.

    For the time being, CIS-women are the only gender that can gestate a fetus, and therefore we CIS-women have unique circumstances in which our agency and control over our own bodies is pitted morally against the right of a zygote/fetus/child (developing over the course of its maturation process) to survive.

    But I have a sneaking suspicion that -- while a hot-button issue right now -- this debate is going to look pretty darn outdated in another decade or three. One ponders what Goddess/women's/Pagan spirituality will make of a world in which artificial environments can (and likely, will) replace our wombs.

  • Literata
    Literata Monday, 08 October 2012

    I'd love to see artificial gestation as a potential solution, although it's going to become just as thorny in terms of funding and availability, and also in terms of partners' access and control. The issue won't be moot - but it will move to other areas. Wait until the first parent-to-be sues his or her previous partner for drinking a glass of wine while pregnant and insists that the gestating parent pay the cost of artificial gestation instead.

    As for the gender issues, I think Goddess worship and women's spirituality is already being challenged on those fronts with some of the cis/trans issues we see today, along with pushback against the gender essentialism of some of the original founding mothers of the movement. It's going to be interesting.

  • Constance Tippett Chandler
    Constance Tippett Chandler Monday, 08 October 2012

    Interesting point Anne. Whenever women's choices are challenged, it pushes "a handmaid's tales" button. The artificial environment issue seems like the GMO issue. Property rights. Who owns the corn and who own the human. But we will still need a human to raise these children. Humans, at this moment, are not an endangered species but we have the hubris to believe ours is the only life that is sacred on this planet, and as a result, we are fouling our own nests. We are fouling the whole planet. We think that we are so smart, but we are just animals playing at " survival of the fittest". Plus, the mentality of "I have mine and you are on your own" that seem so prevalent in this country right now is making it imperative for everyone to work for survival. And trying to survive as a single mother is nearly impossible.

  • Anne Newkirk Niven
    Anne Newkirk Niven Monday, 08 October 2012

    Diotima: I'd have posted this as a reply to your post, but for some reason the site isn't letting me do that. So, here I am.

    1. I'm "one of those people" who finds the term "parasite" for a zygote/fetus/unborn/child (take your pick of terms) to be deeply offensive. However, I think it's also inaccurate, because it assumes that the relationship confers no benefits on the gestating mother. Having undergone that specific rite of passage on several occasions, I can testify that I gained a great deal from the experience. I doubt that I'd be tempted to say the same from a nine-month infestation with, say, a tapeworm.

    2. I do agree with you that these decisions are deeply personal and should be legislated as little as possible. Note that I do not say "not legislated whatsoever." I tend to concur with Roe v Wade's decision as a reasonable compromise between the competing goods of personal bodily integrity and protection of an independent lifeform. What this all comes down to is that society routinely legislates matters that it deems fundamental to its functioning; sometimes well and sometimes not so well. But I don't see why this issue should be immune from the normal processes of society wrestling with issues of greater good vs. individual freedom just because only women (currently) get pregnant.

  • Constance Tippett Chandler
    Constance Tippett Chandler Tuesday, 09 October 2012

    Joseph, I have no idea at the precise moment when the fetus becomes a person. The point is that, this is mainly a women's issue, many times affecting her when she is not in a committed relationship, and she finds herself on her own. Since it will determine her health, economics and static for he rest of her life, she should be able to make the decision.
    But, when Congress has a hearing on this subject, AND will not let women speak, AND when they do, they get called "sluts", AND with a bunch of priests, from a religion that has a horrible track record with (already existing children), AND even wants to ban birth control altogether, AND, and , and......well we women get a bit testy. The law is what we make it to be, and women want a say in that. After all, we are not a minority.

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