In light of recent events, I’d like to take a moment and offer up some considerations about abortion that we don’t often hear brought into the discussion. Two points, really, about the state of our healthcare system and the state of our society. First, I’d like to be very clear on three things: 1. I have been so very fortunate that I have never had an unwanted pregnancy and never been faced with what can be an extremely difficult and life-changing decision, though it has been a concern on more than one occasion in my life—not because I have been reckless but simply because I have a working uterus, 2. I have also hoped to never have to make this decision both for several reasons that should become clear in my following statement and because I’ve been witness to the aftereffects of abortion, of miscarriage, and of unwanted pregnancies brought to term, and 3. I have always believed in the right of every person’s bodily autonomy in ALL things and especially in the case of medical care—abortion is 100% included in this belief.
TL;DR: The right to abortion is a right that we all need to very deeply consider if we want to protect the disabled community, protect women, and protect our own rights as U.S. citizens.
The first point I’d like to offer is one of the state of our healthcare system. As many of you know, I was first diagnosed with autoimmune conditions as a toddler, and I’ve dealt with varying stages of these conditions my entire life. My conditions have at times left me barely able to function on my own and other times left me perfectly healthy. I have been chronically ill and disabled for my entire adult life, though not always in a legal sense (meaning I don’t always meet the ADA standards for requiring assistance). This has meant two things that are pertinent to this discussion: 1. I have been prescribed medications that are in and of themselves life-threatening, and 2. Birth control wreaks all kinds of havoc on my system and can even increase inflammation in my body. Why do I bring these two things up?
From 2007 to about 2015, my rheumatoid arthritis symptoms not only made movement more difficult for me, but they also regularly threatened my vision. My doctors tried many different medications to try and help ease the immune response that was attacking my own healthy cells, one of which was a very strong chemotherapy. When I was prescribed this medication, I literally had to sign a form that I would not get pregnant while I was on it nor up to two years after discontinuing the medication. Why? Because the side effects were both detrimental to me in terms of being able to carry a fetus and would most definitely cause severe birth defects if I had a child. I was young and desperate to function, and I knew children were not in my plans at that time, so I signed the paper. Still, for the entire year I took that medications and the two years after, I worried about what might happen if I did get pregnant—whether through my own choices or through rape. I had actual conversations at the time about how grateful I was that Roe v. Wade did exist because it meant I always had the option to ensure a child would not have to suffer so greatly because pharmaceuticals don’t take women’s health into consideration often when creating medications. The threat is still there for people taking similar medications known to cause birth defects, but already in several states the option to keep a newborn and child from suffering have been taken away.
I also know that birth control negatively affects my autoimmune conditions, but I’ve stayed on it most of my adult life. While some of that consideration is very personal, in recent years much of it has come back to the very real possibility that I could be raped and forced to carry the fetus to term against my will. It’s a discussion I’ve been having with my doctors for over two years now, and they’ve been supportive of my decisions. Even without autoimmune conditions, this is still a very real and pressing medical discussion. Birth control has been used as a catch-all medication for women for decades—again, largely because our healthcare system and especially pharmaceutical companies are satisfied with “good enough” rather than trying to help find a better solution to the desire for family planning. Birth control has side effects—some of the side effects can be severe—yet, it is the only consistent option women have been given in over fifty years to stop unwanted impregnation, especially in the case of rape or coercion. Since the 1970s, women’s healthcare has not changed very much, and we continue to have very few options available to help with family planning and with unwanted impregnation. And, yes, I am deliberately using the term “unwanted impregnation” because it implies that sperm is part of the process—something many people seem to forget.
That brings me to my second point, which concerns the state of our society. Although there have been major shifts in gender equity over the past century, there is still a very real threat to women, femme-presenting persons, and anyone with a uterus. We still grow up telling our girls to wear conservative clothing and to never walk alone at night. Regardless of whether you feel like “the patriarchy” is a problem or not, the reason we tell our girls these things is because we know there are still many people in the world who prey on girls and women to a much higher rate than they prey on boys and men.
Abortion is unfortunately part of the solution to that very real problem. Rape, molestation, and coercion have been used for millennia as a means of controlling women, and in the case of unwanted impregnation, abortion can be a solution, especially for those who cannot take birth control or do not want to take birth control. There are numerous scenarios where the most direct solution—though not the easiest—is an abortion. It can save the mother, it can save a marriage, it can save a family, etc.
Why not make it so that abortions are legal in the case of rape? you may ask. In a legal system where the defendant has more rights than the prosecutor, that situation would inflict a great deal more pain on those involved and stress on an already overburdened system. If it was indeed rape, then the victim must find a way to prove that it happened—a situation that is already nearly impossible—all while continuing to carry the effects of that assault. If no rape occurred, but the woman simply does not want to have a baby, then the consenting male partner could potentially face jailtime, fines, and definitely the financial burden of a legal battle. When you make this the only reason for a legal abortion, you increase problems rather than removing them.
Furthermore, as a society we still continue to place the vast majority of the emotional, financial, and time burdens of child-rearing on the mother. No matter how the impregnation occurred, it is up to the person carrying it to deal with essentially all of the repercussions, thereby continuing to make existing more difficult for women in the U.S. This also means that poor women, Black and Brown women, and disabled women will bear the greatest brunt of a ruling overturning Roe v. Wade and allowing states to ban abortions.
For the reasons I’ve discussed here and many, many more, the solution to wanting fewer abortions in the U.S. is not to ban them, just like the solution to wanting less addition in the U.S. is not to ban drugs and the solution to ending violence is, unfortunately, not to outright ban guns. The solutions are instead to build a society where these things are far less likely to happen in the first place. If you are pro-life (rather than simply pro-birth), then your time and money is much better spent in raising the standard of living for women, in championing women’s rights, in pushing for better healthcare for all and especially for people with uteruses, and in lobbying for better, more affordable options for mental healthcare in this country. Your words for the next generation will be more effective if they’re aimed at respecting women’s choices, acknowledging gender equity, and stigmatizing the rapist and the misogynist over the victim.
The truth is, we’re battling over abortion, over gun rights, and over vaccine mandates rather than facing some very real societal issues. We’ve been told to worry about the shiny things rather than doing the work of healing generational trauma, asking our politicians to make good public policy, and building communities. Another truth is, overturning Roe v. Wade is the beginning of the end of privacy rights and the right to make your own medical decisions about your own body. If you were concerned that vaccines might be mandated en masse, then this is your fight. If you were worried about the government taking your guns, then this is your fight. Because Roe v Wade helped to make the right to privacy a constitutional right, and it’s being actively taken away.