I was raised to be anti-choice, or as I called it at the time, pro-life. While we weren’t terribly observant, we were Catholic, and that surely fueled at least part of that identity. We never talked about it though. I just knew I was pro-life, and truly saw abortion as the murder of a life, or at least a potential one. It wasn’t until I got older that I began to really think about what it meant to be pro-choice.
It wasn’t a revolutionary moment. I just started thinking about how far away a person’s decision to have sex can be from their decision to parent, or become pregnant. I also thought about all of the other things that come into play if a woman decides to continue with her pregnancy. Her job and how compatible it may be with any complications, her income, her support system, her health, and frankly her desire to go through with it. We can get on board with allowing abortion in cases in which a woman’s life is in danger, and most support a woman’s right to an abortion if she is struggling and seemingly unable to parent. But what about the woman who just doesn’t want kids? And doesn’t want to be pregnant? What if she’s perfectly healthy, financially secure and capable enough to parent well, but she just doesn’t want to? What if she once thought she might, but doesn’t now? What if she never wanted to be a mom? To some, that’s not a good enough reason. To me, that’s the logical conclusion of allowing women to be fully autonomous human beings, and plenty reason. It may not be the strongest justification politically to allow the right to abortion, but to me it’s the best. It strips away all extenuating circumstances and focuses solely on a woman’s right to decide for herself how her future should look. This is the situation with no other reason to support abortion rights, and reproductive rights more generally, except that we trust women. In this situation, the only concern is the woman’s right to determine her reproductive destiny. And if we see women as fellow citizens, as full human beings with agency, then we must allow for a woman’s sole desire to control her own body and its consequences for her future to be reason enough to choose whichever path she wants, including abortion.
Once we can do this, once we can strip away the sad and tragic situations as the only acceptable reasons to keep abortion accessible (or what passes for accessibility these days), and accept simply a woman’s decision as cause enough, we will also strip away the stigma. One in three women will have an abortion at some point in her life. This is an experience that so many women share, yet they all-too-often feel ashamed about it. That’s the tragedy we never talk about. A woman should not feel shame for making what is often a very difficult decision, but one that she needs to be made. What we have instead, is women feeling ashamed about taking control of their lives. This should not be the case in a country that claims to value the individual and concepts like freedom from government interference. Why does all that stop at the body of a woman?
Once my younger self began to think about all the ways in which my life could irrevocably change simply because of a failure of birth control, I realized how important it was to have all my options available to me. How else can I truly claim individual responsibility?
The Guttmacher Institute states that, over the course of 2012, 42 states and the District of Columbia enacted 122 provisions related to reproductive health and rights. One-third of those, 43 in 19 states, sought to restrict access to abortion services. It’s the second highest number of new abortion restrictions passed in a year (2011 holds that record, with 92 provisions). We are nowhere near a shame-free outlook for women’s reproductive rights, but I’m hopeful that we’ll get there. Last year also saw 20 women elected to Senate, many of whom are pro-choice. Candidates who showed their true, extreme anti-choice views lost to their pro-choice competitors, including at the presidential level. It’s too soon to say if we’ve really turned a corner, but as someone who still believes that the arc of the universe does indeed bend toward justice, I believe that things are getting better.
Happy 40th anniversary, Roe v. Wade.