“…so many deaths are caused by complications from botched abortions.”
When I was a young woman, in my late teens and forming my opinions about the world, I would have many long and complicated conversations with my mother about a whole range of issues. All those things you’re not supposed to talk about in polite company (art, religion, politics) we covered in great detail. Most of the time we were polite, but you know how heated family discussions can be.
I was, in those days, a forceful anti-choice advocate. I considered it pro-life then. My reasons for holding this position were many: birth control, diminishing stigma attached to unwed pregnancy, greater choices for women, etc. I considered myself a burgeoning feminist too, but one with decidedly conservative leanings. What can I say, the world is full of possibilities to a young woman with a good education.
My mother held a different opinion. She was definitely pro-choice. I found this surprising for she was a midwife and a nurse, a woman who loved little babies and life in general. And she was a Catholic who went to church every Sunday.
One particular evening we were debating this topic. I was on my high horse, expounding on the progress that women were making in all areas of their lives. I can get quite self-righteous at times, but when I was younger, I was obnoxious in pushing my “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” ethos. There is no excuse, I said, for a woman to get pregnant by accident, for an unplanned pregnancy. And if so, then there’s always adoption. I spoke from a position of privilege. I was educated, we weren’t poor, I came from a loving home. I spoke as a young woman with no children.
My mother pointed out to me the privileges I enjoyed in my life. But imagine, she said, if you were born somewhere else. What if you were raped? What if you were impregnated through incest? What if you were otherwise coerced into sex? What if your parents would disown you or maybe even kill you? What if you were 13? What if you were so poor you couldn’t afford to feed yourself never mind kids? What if you don’t believe that life begins at contraception? She then painted a picture for me, a picture she hoped I would never see: a hospital ward full of women bleeding from botched abortions, some of whom would die.
Whether you believe in abortion or not is irrelevant, my mother said. Women will have abortions if they are unable to control their fertility otherwise. If they don’t have legal abortions, they will have illegal ones. And illegal abortions are killing women. Women will risk their lives in unsanitary conditions with an unlicensed practitioner in order to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. And they will pay mightily for the privilege. If they survive, they run the risk of jail and a life hiding a lie, if they don’t, well, enough said.
You don’t know yet, she said, of the toll pregnancy, childbirth and raising kids takes on women. She reminded me that it’s only been maybe two generations since childbirth could be considered “safe” and that’s somewhat of a myth, for childbirth is not safe in many countries of the world. In some countries childbirth is a major killer of women. If you take away our advances in medicine and the socio-economic benefits of western society more women would be dying here too. We forget that.
For her it was the ultimate equality issue. As long as women paid the price of pregnancy with the health of their bodies, only they should make the choice to carry a child to term. She had strong opinions on the role and responsibility of men whose lives aren’t threatened in the same way that a woman’s is when children are conceived. There is no thing that we expect a man to do that is comparable to bearing children.
She likened forcing women to carry unwanted pregnancies to slavery.
My opinion on abortion has evolved. I don’t consider myself a conservative anymore. However, I still consider myself to be pro-life, but that’s a personal choice and takes in much more than abortion; it is how I see the world. It’s my way or reclaiming the pro-life label from the anti-choice advocates. More importantly, I am pro-choice politically and this issue is the game-changer for me. There is nothing like a child to change a woman’s life forever. I know. My children changed mine.
The need for abortion can be reduced. With increased knowledge and information about sex, relationships and parenting, maybe one day women will feel supported in their childbirth choices and meaningful help will be available for them, prenatal to postpartum, and regardless of income. And truly every child will be a wanted child.
But we’re not there yet. And if we’re not there, other countries are nowhere near there. In the pie chart, it indicates that 13% of maternal deaths are from unsafe abortions. We are irresponsible in not helping where we can, and we can help here. Some might argue that advocating for abortion in developing countries smacks of neo-colonialism. I would argue that not sharing with them all aspects of our maternal health technologies is racist. Why is it ok for us and not them? Is our Conservative government intent on keeping women in developing countries down? By now we should all be aware of the benefits of empowering women in developing countries.
My message to our Conservative government: Stop playing politics with women’s bodies.