Author’s note: It is important to remember that not everyone with a uterus is a woman, and not every woman has a uterus. However, for the sake of simplicity, I am generalizing at points in this piece and I am referring to “women” and “girls” with regard to reproductive rights. These arguments apply more broadly to any person who can get pregnant, including non-binary and/or trans people.
The reproductive rights issue must be addressed precisely because it is polarizing and personal. The alleged “Unborn Lives Matter” poster that was spotted in a women’s bathroom in Paresky is a good example of how not to promote an agenda. If it is not obvious, appropriating the “Black Lives Matter” slogan to the anti-abortion movement is offensive on a number of levels, especially since women of color are disproportionately affected by restrictions on reproductive rights. Secondly, the women’s bathroom is a sensitive, personal space, and it seems oddly coincidental that bathrooms are where women take pregnancy tests.
“Unborn Lives Matter” is a wildly inappropriate slogan, but it has led me to consider my values when it comes to life, livelihood and social justice. The idea that life begins at ejaculation, at conception, after the first trimester, when the heart starts beating or at any other given moment in time is not what I would like to address or challenge because this is entirely subjective. What I would like to do instead is challenge the idea that abortion is about “taking a life” instead of allowing someone to decide when exactly they are ready to give life. I would like to argue that being “pro-choice” is being “pro-life” in the best way possible: It allows for humans to enter the world when their parent(s) are ready, at a point in time when pregnancy and childbirth will enrich the life of an individual or a family instead of pose a hardship.
A pregnancy is not a walk in the park. It is physically and mentally draining; it involves changes in diet, changes in sleep, increased pain, mood swings, fatigue and morning sickness. It can be a potentially traumatizing experience if the pregnancy is unwanted, especially if it is the result of sexual violence. To force anyone to undergo an unwanted pregnancy is to keep that person’s body hostage, and it violates the autonomy of a conscious human being in a way that the abortion of an embryo does not. Because we live in a world where the technology for safe abortions exists, we have a moral obligation to make safe abortions accessible. Banning abortion will not stop abortion. Abortion goes as far back as ancient China, Greece and Egypt. It is most often a last-resort measure and will continue to be attempted regardless of whether or not abortion is legal. Abortion must be accessible, if only for the safety of women, if not for their reproductive rights as well. Moreover, girls between the ages of 15 and 19 are significantly more likely to die during childbirth, with heightened risk to their surviving babies as well.
A second consideration is social justice. According to the Population Reference Bureau, low-income teens, who are disproportionately people of color, are more likely to have unwanted pregnancies due to a number of factors such as a lack of access to contraceptives, partner pressure or a lack of proper sexual health education in their communities. When women see socioeconomic advancement as possible, they are less likely to go through with an unintended pregnancy and are more likely to further their education. Although I’m not as knowledgeable about the intersection of race, class and reproductive rights in the United States as I would like to be, I know from living in Canada that reproductive choice is severely limited in many northern Aboriginal communities. Low income, weak healthcare access and increased rates of suicide and alcoholism are the legacy of colonialism in these communities. An unwanted pregnancy only furthers this subjugation of generations to a cycle of poverty, as it limits the socioeconomic mobility of Aboriginal women and their children.
We also live in a society that shames young women, and young women of color in particular, for getting pregnant at all. These women are too often portrayed as irresponsible, with little understanding of all the compounding factors that lead to pregnancy. Ideally, if someone wants to be pregnant, they should be supported in that decision, and vice versa, if they do not want to be. Religious ideology or even moral ideology based on a narrow and flawed consideration of “life” is not a means by which anyone should have a right to suppress the rights of others.
If you’re pregnant, you should have options. These options include: an open or closed adoption, an abortion or getting to raise a child. A medical abortion is possible up to seven weeks after the first day of the last menstrual period. The decision should be entirely yours.
If you’re practicing penetrative intercourse, you should know that the most effective form of contraception is using two methods of protection, like a condom and the pill, as condoms can break and the pill can fail. There are also a number of long-term birth control solutions, like the IUD and the implant. If you are unsure, the staff at the College’s Health Center can help you. Birth control pills are covered by health insurance through the College, and free condoms and dental dams are available in upstairs Jenness House 24/7, as well as at the Health Center and in the Peer Health office in Paresky 212. Reproductive health and contraceptive access is crucial because the best things in life are the ones we are ready for.
Linda Worden ’19 lives in Pratt. She is from Penticton, B.C., Canada.