Allow me to explain.
More often than not, men are not present in the room while women give birth or receive abortions, and this is just one example of how they fail to comprehend the magnitude of these procedures on a woman’s life. Without this comprehension, it is easy to take an unrealistic stance on women’s rights. This is an issue because in our historically and currently sexist society, men have used and often still use their voice to shout over the woman’s position and opinion.* We see this when our male-dominated society calls female firebrands “crazy”, labels women irrational due to PMS, or even, such as in the issue of abortion, claims the moral high ground — even while lacking the understanding of how it feels to be pregnant in the first place. Men actually have the power in society to dictate what women do with their bodies despite not comprehending them, which is why excluding them from the abortion narrative would lead to more productive conversations. So, in an ironic twist of fate, allow me to dismiss the majority of men’s opinions on abortion. Simply put, there is no male equivalent. Abortion is an issue that is specific to people with uteruses.**
Let’s say you define life as beginning as soon as the egg meets the sperm. Good for you. While your opinion is certainly valuable if you yourself are pregnant and considering an abortion, it has absolutely no bearing on a woman whose circumstances you do not know. You are allowed and encouraged to define for yourself when life begins, but calling others murderers for not adhering to your definition is not okay. Determining when an embryo is considered a person is a personal choice and a personal decision, as is the decision to get an abortion. Furthermore, you don’t have to personally want an abortion, or want your mother or sister to get an abortion to be pro-choice. Pro-choice is simply recognizing that abortion is a deeply personal decision that each woman deserves to make for herself and should not have regulated for them by the male majority in Washington.
However, just because a woman can get pregnant does not mean that she should necessarily grapple with the question of abortion alone. Since it does take a man and a woman to create a fetus, if the mother wishes the father to be included in the conversation then by all means he should be. That is one thing. It is another thing entirely to offer a half-baked opinion limiting the rights of uteruses when you yourself do not have one. This is why I take issue when men who are excessively privileged and/or ignorant take the “morally superior” point of view, shaming women in the process. They equivocate abortion to murder, thus painting women who get abortions as murderers. Saying the zygote/blastocyst/embryo have the same rights as a fully fledged human being, and that those supposed rights trump those of the living, breathing mother is essentially taking away the mother’s right to choose what happens to her own body.
For lack of a better comparison: men, how painful is a swift kick to a sensitive area? Painful, yes? You could describe it to me at length and I will still never truly comprehend. Just as empathy is the closest I will get to understanding that kick, empathy is also the closest you will get to understanding what it’s like to be pregnant. You’ve never personally felt what it is like to have a pregnancy scare; it’s called a scare because women disproportionately bear burden of child-rearing, so if they are indeed pregnant their educations/careers/plans are essentially over. Now let’s take the social retaliation into account. As a woman, if you are unmarried and get pregnant by accident, from rape to a broken condom, society instantly labels you a slut.*** The automatic assumption is that the child was created by irresponsible parents, and the majority of the responsibility, blame, and shame gets placed on the woman, disproportionately so. We’re all familiar with single mothers, but there are much fewer single fathers, who are somehow held in higher regard. By contrast, our society tends to only celebrate mothers that are married and financially stable. Otherwise, you’re irresponsible.**** Taking the moral high ground in these situations is a slap in the face to all the women struggling against derision for carrying an unwanted child’s life to term and a slap in the face to all women who decide to forego the painful social, emotional, and physical backlash. It’s a lose-lose situation. You shame women for getting pregnant and then you shame women for wanting to undo it.
That being said, it turns out a majority of abortion seekers are actually mothers that know they can’t afford another child without hurting their existing children. Proof for this lies in the data before and after the 2008 economic crash: “every year since 2008, a whopping 72 percent of NAF clients looking to terminate a pregnancy were already mothers, up at least 10 percent from the years before the economy crashed.” If this is the case, why is there a stigma that abortion seekers are usually just misguided teens? Perhaps it’s because this fact only serves to undermine the pro-life cause. After all, it’s harder to demonize a working mother than a presumed ‘sexually indiscriminate’ teen. (Which shouldn’t invalidate their desire for an abortion anyways.)
That’s not even considering all the women who get pregnant and realize carrying the baby to term could kill them. One in 50 pregnancies is ectopic — meaning instead of developing in the uterus, the zygote takes root in the fallopian tube, putting the mother at risk of fatal internal bleeding as it grows. The national maternal mortality rate itself is actually on the rise, even as a study conducted in Michigan found “maternal mortality figures in this country may be underreported by as much as a half.” So in summation, lots of pregnancies endanger the life of the mother and this crucial argument is not getting the attention it deserves. There are also mothers who wish to spare their child with a known genetic disorder from a short, pain-filled life. Not to mention the mothers that are financially incapable of providing for their children’s diseases, as heartbreaking as that is. Though these cases are few, they provide another example of a choice that men could only ever empathize with, and prove that each woman should be free to choose for their individual cases whether or not to get an abortion.
Even if women receive proper education about sexual health, it is difficult for some to access the birth control they need. Proof for this lies in the National Organization for Women’s practice of recruiting volunteers to escort women into Planned Parenthoods. Why is this necessary? Because to this very day, hoards of pro-lifers surround the clinics that provide much-needed birth control and women’s health services and harass those who enter, regardless of whether they are seeking an abortion or merely a check-up. Without access to adequate birth control, how can we expect women to shoulder the burden of unwanted motherhood? And without access to proper sexual education, how could we blame them? Abortion has become increasingly concentrated among poor women, who accounted for 49% of patients in 2014.
If abortions are disproportionately needed by poor women, it makes no sense to have it be regulated by the affluent men that dominate Washington. Especially since when faced with the same dilemma, these men have the resources to discreetly seek out the same treatment without any consequences whatsoever. All this even as poor women resort to the only abortions they can access or afford — unsafe ones, putting themselves at risk of becoming pariahs, or even worse, suffering complications and even death. Furthermore, when poor women carry their unwanted child to term, especially without the social services a more affluent family could provide them, common sense tells us the odds of that child succeeding are astoundingly low, continuing the cycle of poverty.
And finally, the argument for adoption. The idea that, if you don’t want a child, you should let the zygote drastically change your body, develop it for 9 months, put your career on pause (regardless of whether or not you can afford to), and go through the life-altering experience of giving birth just to then give the child away. Regardless of the traumatizing emotions that accompany creating life and then giving a fully-formed child up to an uncertain fate, emotions men can never fully experience, adoption sounds a lot more pleasant than it is. There are already 428,000 children in the foster care system. Of those, 126,000 children are currently available for adoption. These children have on average three different foster care placements. That being said, it is not uncommon to hear of children who have been in 20 or 30 different homes. These harrowing statistics reveal there are already more children in America than families that can provide for them, and help explain why only 4% of women with unwanted pregnancies place their children through adoption.
It takes a special kind of person to deny the right to abortion to rape victims, mothers with mouths to feed, and women at risk of dying, so I hope this is something we can all agree they deserve. But I personally do not believe you have to be molested, destitute, or dying to earn the right to determine what happens to your own body. The experience of being pregnant for 9 months and giving birth is physically and emotionally life-changing. Forcing it on any woman who does not want it, regardless of the circumstances, is in short, cruel. And invalidating that experience by insisting they “just give the child up for adoption” without knowing the realities foster kids face every day is ignorant and insensitive.
So I have a proposition. If you are “pro-life”, you can claim the Moral High Ground, shaming women that desperately need an abortion for personal reasons in the process. Or you could use your pro-life label and find a way to improve social services for unwanted children. Almost 20 percent of children in the foster system wait five years or more to get adopted or reunited with their families. What if we changed this? Improved social services for children and families in the foster system might make adoption a more appealing alternative to abortion. Widespread sexual education and accessible birth control would lessen unwanted pregnancy rates. By providing more affordable healthcare and paid maternal leave, maybe mothers wouldn’t be forced to abandon a pregnancy due to monetary concerns. And even if the mother keeps the child, how can we help ensure that child leads a good life? A more comprehensive public education might help. Until we provide women with the means to care for an unexpected child, abortions will continue to be the leading solution, and denying women that solution while also denying them alternatives is just plain wrong.
*If your reaction to this sentence was “not all men”, you are missing the entire point of the argument. (Read this)
**This includes trans men! We see you!
***Obviously not all of society, but enough to where being pregnant and unmarried is making a statement at the very least. It’s also easier to shame someone for their choices when you’re never going to be faced with the same issues.
****And perhaps if we as a society provided more support and love to unwed mothers abortion would not seem like such an appealing choice.
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