The reemergence of the abortion debate is disturbing to my liberal “I’ve always had and will always have access to birth control” brain. My mother pointed out that her generation fought to stop kitchen table deaths because we may be able to make abortions illegal, but abortions will never go away. That made me think – what would the world need to look like for no woman to want or need an abortion? Isn’t that the world that we should strive to create?
Here’s what would need to happen:
1. No more rape culture. Women (or men, for that matter, but lets stay with this pregnancy theme) should never be a victim of a violent sexual crime. Women should never be in a position where they are carrying a baby that is the product of an unwanted sexual encounter.
2. Free, safe, side-effect free birth control available for men and women. First, the responsibility of birth control should shift from a predominately female responsibility to a shared responsibility. More research needs to happen for a male birth control pill or the equivalent to a male IUD. Something that is easily reversible but effective. Secondly, a healthcare system needs to exist where both men and women can get access to these different methods of birth control at no cost. That means no monetary cost and no stigma should be associated with using birth control. Thirdly, this needs to be available for EVERYONE no matter the age, religion, or country of origin.
3. Medically accurate sex education. Unless people – especially kids and teens – have an adequate sexual education, they will not have the appropriate knowledge to make informed decisions. Abstinence-only education doesn’t work and leaves many people unaware of their options to prevent an unwanted pregnancy.
4. No cost prenatal and delivery care of the woman’s choice. When a woman finds out she is pregnant, she should not have to worry about the cost of the best prenatal care or the delivery of her choice. Women should be able to choose from OBGYNs, midwives, hospital deliveries, birth center deliveries, or home births. Whatever makes sense for her and her baby. She should not be burdened with unexpected bills because something happened during her pregnancy that resulted in more interventions and costs. Additionally, if she needs to go on a reduced work schedule or on bed rest, her family should not lose her income because she cannot work as before. The prospective mother should also have access to high quality mental health support to help address any issues that may arise either during or after pregnancy.
5. A maternity/paternity leave program that works. After birth, both mothers and fathers need time to bond with their newborn, heal, and have a grand re-negotiation for family responsibilities. This cannot be done in a week or two. Both men and women (or women/women or men/men – you get my point) need this time for a physical and mental reset. I don’t pretend to know what the magic number of time is, but it does need to be paid and considered sacred.
6. A real social service net. A mother who is already struggling to pay rent, put food on the table, and have a moderately sane life is going to be forced to think long and hard about carrying another baby to term. However, if she feels secure, knows that she will be able to provide for her new baby, and is assured that she will have support after going back to work, the choice won’t be so treacherous. This means creating a high-quality, affordable childcare system, early childhood education programs, and after school/summer programs. Parents need to know that their children will be in an enriching environment to feel comfortable going back to work.
7. Compassion for health issues. Even if we create the perfect environment for all mothers. That is to say, every baby is wanted and is guaranteed care, there will still be serious health issues for some fetuses. What then? We will need compassion for those mothers who are forced to make the decision to either terminate a pregnancy because it is not safe for her or her child, or watch a lifetime of suffering in her offspring. In this situation, we should allow the mother to make the choice to have an abortion and not take away her parental rights. It saddens me to think that the quality of some children’s lives are determined by insurance companies and the money they are willing to expend on services for these children.
So until we create a world where every woman can choose when and how to have a child and is supported through pregnancy, delivery, post-partum care, and child rearing, there will always be abortions. The choice we have now is to decide if we want those to be performed safely with as little risk as possible to the mother, or if we want them to go underground and become dangerous backroom procedures again.
Confession: I have never had an abortion, nor have I ever been in the position to have to contemplate one. Through the wizardry of modern medicine (vasectomy reversal for my husband) and the power of eastern medicine (weekly acupuncture appointments after a year and a half of disappointments every month) I have two amazing children. However, I know many people who have taken the abortion option for a multitude of reasons. They’ve had to make a heart-wrenching choice and I don’t pretend to think that I could make the same one. I also don’t think that I’m in a position where I know about what is right for their lives and families. That’s what choice is about: being able to recognize that you don’t have all of the details. You can never know all of the details, and you shouldn’t think so much of yourself that you can make that decision for someone.