Where does a woman’s right to make personal healthcare decisions begin? Does it have a finite existence? Does it continue into pregnancy? Does the right to choose to terminate a pregnancy jeopardize her right to continue the pregnancy on her own terms?
Do women deserve support during pregnancy- do they have the right to medical care, even without insurance? Do pregnant women have the right to informed consent/refusal and bodily integrity even at the expense of the baby?
Do women have the right to be respected and honored for the role we play as mothers? Do we have the right to financial support and the opportunity to choose to raise our children personally- even single moms? even young moms? even disabled moms?
Is it a reflection of our society’s views on mothering that there is no guaranteed paid maternity leave in the U.S.? Is it possible that the reason so many college-age women choose abortion when faced with unplanned pregnancy because they know “just being a mom” is not valued as important in our society (women aged 20-24 account for 33% of abortions)? Because they understand they are making not just a financial choice – to become an under-educated mother or continue with education and career goals and create financial stability, but also a choice about their status within society?
Women don’t live in a vacuum. We live together- where every opinion, every soundbite, every prejudice can barricade a woman to “sleep in the bed she made” without tangible support from any part of the equation.
In rhetoric, a woman facing an unplanned pregnancy has 3 options: Abortion, adoption, and motherhood. In a culture that doesn’t value mothers, these options can be depressing.
I know (and love) women who have chosen abortion. None of them felt excited (or even especially peaceful) at the prospect of ending the life of the baby growing inside them.
I remember one friend crying, guilt-ridden, ashamed, heartbroken and completely convinced that it was the only option she had. She described her vision of the future with a new baby and the preschooler she already had. At this time she wasn’t receiving any child support from her ex-husband, and was working 2 jobs just to make ends meet. She didn’t want to live in complete poverty, on welfare, with 2 kids. (Daycare costs for two children was more than she earned- she looked into it before making her decision.) She felt an obligation to the child already born- that child shouldn’t have to grow up living in a dangerous and violent, poor neighborhood.
Could she have chosen adoption? Yes. Did she consider it? Yes. Her conclusion at the time was that there were already too many minority children in foster care needing homes. At one time, she had been one of those children. She didn’t want to bring a baby into this world and then not know if he or she would be loved and truly cared for. In her opinion at the time, it was better for her baby to not be born, than to be born and possibly suffer its entire life with not being wanted or loved. (And having some experience with this in her own life, she felt qualified to have an opinion on which was worse.) Her abortion added to the statistic.
If she had chosen to birth and raise her baby, she would have become a different statistic: an under-educated minority woman on welfare; 2 kids; divorced; living in a public housing project.
I’m not implying one choice is better than another. But one is certainly more private than another.
She doesn’t wear a sign that says “I had an abortion.” But the women who choose to birth their children and raise them, whose choice is supported by welfare dollars and food stamps, most certainly live under the scrutiny of their decision. They are a different type of statistic. They are judged harshly for choosing to raise their children despite their poverty.
These mothers are judged as lazy (because everyone knows raising children isn’t real work). We’ve all heard stories of the “welfare queen” living large while hard-working taxpayers foot the bill. And I’m not saying welfare fraud doesn’t exist. What I am saying is that you can’t decide abortion isn’t ok, and also believe living on welfare isn’t ok either. These are the options many women face.
This is one story of one woman. How might it have been different?
To honor the lives of yet unborn babies, we also have to honor their mothers. As a society, we have to rearrange our thinking, our values, and how we see mothers. Until we really value the work of mothering, we can’t expect much to change.
Edited to add:
I want to be clear- I personally believe every woman has (and should continue to have) the right to choose what happens to her body all the time- even when she is pregnant. What I want is for women to recognize that we can stand together to foster the value of mothering- validating and honoring the rights of women during birth (bodily integrity, VBAC, refusing medical intervention), and after birth (paid leave, breastfeeding resources & support, financial means to stay home with kids). And that when society really values the nurture of the next generations, it will make it possible for more women to choose life.