Pro choice or no choice: A young woman’s perspective
I’m a twenty-year-old woman, raised in New York City and educated in progressive schools since age four. I consider myself very, very liberal. I’m a sophomore at a small private college where most of the students and faculty share my beliefs. (It’s a nice thing, although it puts us in a bit of a bubble as we don’t get to experience many other perspectives.) My city, my parents, my friends, have taught me to always stand up for my rights and the rights of those around me. To fight for justice without hesitation. This is how I’ve always been, which is why I find myself spending the next three weeks (and the past four) digging my hands into the fight for my rights. I’m acting instead of speaking, researching instead of posting articles, and being compassionate, within reason, toward those who haven’t had the privileges I’ve had. Those who haven’t been taught that their rights are important and that their beliefs should have no limiting power over the rights of others.
2002, 7 years old, Union Square.
I remember walking past a building on a busy corner. To this day, I don’t know what purpose the building served, but I remember it vividly. My mom held my hand and covered my eyes as we passed protesters, but it was too late. I had already seen the photos they held up: Ultrasounds with arrows pointing to fingers, toes, and faces and graphic photos of bloody aborted fetuses on medical trays and towels. I still remember the big red letters: BABY MURDER. Shock value was very much at play. I remember feeling scared and confused. I was crying. “Are people killing babies?” I asked my mother. Where? Who? Why? “No. People aren’t really killing babies. These people don’t want women to have certain rights about their bodies. They are trying to scare you. Don’t look.” I was way too young to get what was going on, but I was mad. Why were these people yelling at me, showing me sad pictures, gross pictures, if what they were saying wasn’t true? Why didn’t they want women to control their own bodies? I didn’t know the difference between a live, out of the mother, already born baby and a developing fetus. I think my mother tried to explain the word abortion, in mild words, but it went over my head.
2005, 10 years old, West Side Highway.
The phrase pro-life has always made me angry. I remember the first time I heard it. Although I was young, I knew it was misleading, and I hated it for its manipulative connotation. I was in the car with my mom, driving home from who-knows-where. We passed an ad for self-storage–the kind with the cheeky, often political sayings. This one, with a clothes hanger in the background, declared: “Your closet space is shrinking faster than her right to choose.” I didn’t know what it meant, so again, I asked my mom to explain. “By her right to choose, they mean a woman’s right to choose what she does with her body, whether or not to have an abortion.” By now I had figured out what that meant. “People who believe women should have this right are called pro-choice, and people who are against it are pro-life.” A fetus is alive, I guess. It has a heart, it kind of breathes, moves. But it isn’t its own life, I thought. It depends on the mother, and doesn’t even really function for the first couple of months. Doesn’t that mean the mother is in charge of the decision making, especially when she’s the one providing all of the life-giving stuff? I was alive, an independent being, and my mom fed me, took me places, bought my clothes. I wasn’t allowed to trump her decision making ever. And she wasn’t even that strict. I knew I was pro-choice as soon as I heard the term.
Ok, this doesn’t count so much as an influential event. But I would consider it an influential series of events and tensions between me and some family members. When we visit my conservative, religious cousins, I try very hard to avoid discussing hot button issues over dinner.
According to their online profiles, they consider themselves political. On social media, they spout a lot of misinformation, usually with a whole lot of racism, homophobia, and bigotry mixed in. Recently, one told me if black people continued at the abortion rate they’re going, they will abort themselves into nonexistence. The same cousin no longer buys Girl Scout cookies because of the organization’s ties with Planned Parenthood. While I’ve managed to avoid a face-to-face abortion conversation with them, online it’s a different story. My cousins argue with me, post what I would call complete nonsense, and most upsetting to me, they refuse to listen to any perspective but their own. We are cousins, closely related, but here’s the thing: I was raised by liberal parents in a liberal city. They were raised in the exact opposite environment: an extremely religious plot of flat, yellow land, a food desert, born to conservative parents with portraits of Jesus over the dinner table. The things they spout (not only my younger cousins but the adults too) are fed to them by the people around them. They’ve been taught that a developing fetus has more rights than they do; that a gun is their right, but their bodies aren’t. Their church taught them that freedoms I consider standard are sinful.
Most of my cousins are female. Many of them have become mothers before they turned twenty-one. If I had been born to different parents, in a different place, I might have the beginnings of a family now, possibly only a high school degree (and basically NO sex ed), one or two minimum wage jobs, and a boyfriend or husband I stayed with because there were no other options. The only thing to do for so many young women in this isolated part of the Midwest is to move out at eighteen and have a baby because that’s the only option. It’s a fate they can’t realistically escape.
Some make it to community college, but when most of the population have jobs that barely pay, this too is difficult. It’s a cycle. I remind myself over and over to try to let it go when they say I advocate for child killers, that Barack Obama is the devil himself, or that the reading glasses my mother wears are RPGs- Rape Prevention Glasses. This is so much more upsetting than angering.
The beliefs, empowerment, and opportunities I have come from being raised differently. I have had the luxury of strong education, stable finances, and parents who taught me from an early age that I deserve the right to safe, legal, and affordable healthcare. I’m a college student focusing on school right now, and I plan on to having a steady job, not to mention a lot more emotional maturity, before having a child. That is my choice. My pregnant cousin, who is my age, feels ready to start her family now. That is her choice. But if I were in her position, I wouldn’t feel ready. I would want and need access to abortion. Access that wouldn’t require driving across the state and draining my life’s savings to do so. I know that I will always advocate for this right and that those who don’t believe in abortion should not have an effect on it. I will spend as long as it takes, possibly the rest of my life, trying to ensure that a woman’s geographic location doesn’t determine her rights and resources. I’m young, and there are a lot of things I’m unsure of, but this is not one of them.