Individual Rights: At What Cost for Women?

12 01 2010

I was just reading an article comparing US and Mexican abortion laws, and the author, Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, made a really good point that I think we need to keep reminding ourselves of as we fight for our liberal values.  We can talk about individual autonomy and choice all we want, and that perspective can be great, but choice doesn’t mean much if you can’t access the choice.  Often choices require financial privilege or other means that not everyone has.  While some forms of privacy/autonomy are easy for governments to ensure (negative liberties that don’t require the government to take action, only to refrain from it), positive autonomy requires resources.

This is where I go all socialist on you, but I really think we have a lot to learn from forms of government (and on a smaller level, forms of community activism or tribal systems) where the focus is on the group rather than the individual.  Yes, this form can hurt women when they are blended into the group as a whole, but it also can provide guarantees of community support.  The individualist system often claims to give all individuals a choice, autonomy, etc., but if the individuals do not have the resources to exercise these rights, then those individuals (often women) will suffer.  The challenge is to find a balance, where women are not marginalized, not erased, and not harmed in between the lines of the law.  It’s probably a challenge that can never be fully realized, but it’s a good goal.