The Finals Countdown

This is the time of the year when it seems natural to ask myself what I was thinking.  It takes forever to articulate an answer to each practice question.  And I see a million contingencies, and then suddenly I see none at all.  I seriously need a break from electronics and sort of wish I were taking my exams by hand.

But I don’t really wonder what I was thinking.  This was more or less exactly what I was thinking. And remembering that is helpful.

keeping things civil

So much of being a 1L is left to chance: whom you’ll meet, who your professors will be, which classes you’ll have in what order, which class will be your small section.  Yet each of these makes a tremendous impact on future prospects. This semester, all of my doctrinal courses deal with civil law: Torts, Contracts, and Civil Procedure. (Like every other 1L on this continent, I’m also taking Legal Research and Writing. That’s year-long here.)  I’m a self-professed could-fall-in-love-with-anyplace type of student, but this particular combination of courses really does seem to work especially well for me. (She said, having nothing to compare it to.) The vocabulary and subject matter is similar, and there are important and illuminating dovetails and foils along the way. But back to the part about chance:
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Week the Third

I have no fingernails. Most of the time, I’m confused. I don’t even want to think about how much money I’ve already spent on Diet Coke. I’m losing weight even though I spend most of my time sitting. I wake up and immediately want a nap. And I’ve never been happier.

you may not have this body

First Principles

Today, even as I was thinking about an on-going conversation about reproductive rights, I was confronted by an idea I’d never really considered, as such: without habeas corpus, no other right matters. If I can’t challenge my own imprisonment, if I can’t challenge the fact that the state is depriving me of my liberty, then none of the other rights presumably guaranteed to me are enforceable at all.

I think it’s no great exaggeration to say that sovereignty over one’s own body is closely related to the claim above. For that reason, what Althea has intimated resonates for me: this is about how my government and my society view me. Am I an autonomous individual who has rights over her own body, or not?

The Mandatory Ultrasound Bill

Small-government-loving Texas Governor Rick Perry made this bill an emergency issue earlier this year, and it’s currently being challenged before the courts. It requires women to undergo an ultrasound, view the sonogram, and hear the heartbeat (if there is one) twenty-four hours before having an abortion. In recent years, and especially in the last two, a shocking number of states have passed laws requiring a 24-hour waiting period.

When I seek an abortion, there are undoubtedly interests involved besides mine. But no one’s interest rises to the level of a right… except mine and my doctor’s. In our discussion, Paul noted that the Mandatory Ultrasound Bill is a proxy for banning abortion. It also draws on a technique we’ve seen before… in the poll tax, for example. It is a way of depriving a group of rights you enjoy, without necessarily going to the trouble of demonstrating that the deprivation is warranted, let alone absolutely required. And that’s despicable.

To establish arbitrary logistical obstacles and financial disincentives to medical procedures for ideological reasons is despicable. To mandate traumatizing guilting-and-shaming protocols in order to dissuade me from making a perfectly legal decision about my body is despicable. To force a doctor to risk inducing psychological and emotional harm on a patient, absent medical justification, is despicable.

“Controlling Women”

I don’t believe that the motive-related caricatures pro-choice and pro-life campaigns use to attack each other are generally accurate, but there is little doubt in my mind that there are far more pro-lifers who don’t consider women to be autonomous agents than there are pro-choicers who want to kills babies. The charge of misogyny is far more likely to be accurate than the charge of bloodthirst. Let’s not pretend otherwise.

Perhaps the goal of the vast majority of those who push for such legislation is not primarily to control women. They have proven, however, that they consider the usurpation of my rights acceptable. They may not seek to control me, but they are comfortable doing it. They consider it reasonable for my rights over my own person – which have been alluded to and expressly enshrined in ostensibly enforceable constitutional documents and in common law – to be trumped by the speculative rights of an unborn human being.

When a policy disproportionately affects one segment of society in a negative way, the claim that it is only “incidentally” targeting that group is unconvincing. In this case, it is also both suspect and laugh(tokeepfromcrying)able. One hundred percent of those who will be forced to hear the heartbeat of their unborn children will be women. One hundred percent of those whom this law deprives of sovereignty over their own bodies will be women. Those who seek to limit reproductive rights necessarily hold that women’s body rights may be routinely jettisoned. It is also arguable that the claim that this decimation of the rights of women is only *collateral damage* further inculpates, rather than exculpates, those accused of misogyny.

History Lessons

A big part of my education as a woman has involved coming to the painful and humbling and infuriating realization that I am very lucky to have been born when I was, and to live where I do. The history of the subjugation of women is long, but not ancient. And it is not a closed book. Not even in North America. I have walked out of class in tears after hearing stories of nuns who disfigured themselves to avoid being raped… and were often murdered by the repulsed would-be rapists whom they’d deprived of a satisfying fuck. Such women would consider that death preferable to rape, not for fear of the trauma of sexual violation, but because being martyred in the name of their sexual purity was preferable to losing it – even involuntarily. Think about that for a moment. “I would rather permanently disfigure myself – I would even rather die – than be sexually impure.”

Rape, incest, forced pregnancy, profoundly disturbing and asymmetrical teaching and punishment relating to sexual purity, Magdalene asylums, routine objectification, the slut/madonna dichotomy, deprivation of rights of citizenship, deprivation of property rights, endorsement – first explicit and later tacit – of domestic violence… all of these are the context in which discussions about abortion must be placed. These are all adjacent to and interwoven with the matter of reproductive rights. And, just like restrictions on reproductive rights (though to varying degrees), each of these violations happened to women qua women.

Pro-Choice

This is not to say that my position on abortion is founded on some bizarre demand for reparations: “You raped us and denied us suffrage for millenia, so now we get to kill your unborn children!” Rather, in our attempt to extricate ourselves from an embarrassing past and present, I believe that we ought to err on the side of a woman’s right to choose what happens with her body. Our natural tendency to rely on tradition and custom (much of which is tainted by patriarchal views) is a built-in check on that, so I’m not terribly worried that the pendelum will swing too far. Besides, and most importantly, we routinely err on the side of bodily autonomy on most every issue… so long as it’s not a “woman’s issue.”

Even before I could articulate it this way, my fundamental reason for being so adamantly pro-choice is that I don’t think that title is short-hand for “pro-choice on the issue of abortion.” I think it stands as is, as a blanket endorsement and celebration of my freedom to decide for myself. I believe that our right to govern what happens to our bodies is at the bottom of all that we value in a civilized society. Without sovereignty over my own body, I have no power, no liberty, no rights at all.

So, no. You may not have this body.

Shaken and Stirred

On Monday, I was struck by the news that Jack Layton – leader of the New Democratic Party, recently elevated to Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition – had died. The next day, an earthquake hit DC – a poor echo of the violence with which the news of Jack’s passing had shaken me.

In March 2003, the Debates Committee planned a formal debate on the possible invasion of Iraq. We invited the brand new leader of the NDP to address the question of whether the Canadian left should support an American foray into that region. Forty-six hours before the debate, the Bush administration set a timeline. The invasion was set to begin just as our little discussion would break up.

I remember that Jack Layton kept his commitment to us, and defended Canada’s decision to stay out of Iraq, even as he had to rush away afterward to speak to the press. And I remember standing in the Bickersteth Room after the debate, a glass of port in my hand, when someone came in to tell us that bombs had started falling in Iraq.

“My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.”
~ Jack’s final letter to Canadians

Staying out of Iraq was a controversial and critical decision for Canada. And Jack took the time to defend it to a hundred university students on the very night that it took effect. It was that sort of engagement with Canadians and commitment to the issues that made Jack succeed as a leader. And as Canada began to take Jack seriously, I began to take myself so. I began to reject caricatures of my ideals – ones that painted me as naive or out of touch. And I also began to realize that there was simply too much work to be done for me to waste time being jaded and afraid.

On Saturday, as we awaited a hurricane, I watched Canada celebrate a man who had devoted his life to service. I watched Canada thank him for his earnest lectures and passionate rallying cries in the name of equality and justice and integrity. And my cheeks were flooded with tears.

“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”
~Arundhati Roy

Landing

I left a soggy Toronto yesterday afternoon and arrived in a very humid Washington, DC! One cab ride and four bags later, I was in my new home at Georgetown Law.

First, a confirmation: Yes, everyone here feels very young to me. But, unsurprisingly, many of them are also interesting people who came here for reasons similar to my own. I’m going to try my very best not to think about age quite so much, and instead to focus on what matters here. Which is LSAT score.

Though I’m far from settled in, my bedroom in the residence is beginning to feel like home: family photos, gifts from friends, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, my Jeopardy! calendar, and Curious George all make this feel like my very own space. But it has a long way to go.

To that end, today will be all about trying to find my footing here in DC. My room-mate and I are planning to stock up on household supplies (oh, and food!) later this morning, and I’m really hoping to start getting a feel for the neighbourhood. If I can get all my ducks in a row, I’d also like to hit the gym later today. The sooner I get into a routine, the better!

My stomach adds: the sooner I eat something that wasn’t given to me in the residence welcome package, the better! There are lots of little treats in there, but nothing resembling food, per se. Time to go hunting!