I remember exactly the setting and who I was with when I decided I was anti-abortion.
The year is 2006, and we’re on a family trip to somewhere. Dad is driving, my mother is in the passenger seat. My two younger sisters are sitting in front of me. It must have been a summer day – I remember the windows were rolled down in the bright blue Honda Odyssey that hauled our family through my adolescent years.
Yours truly is stretched out on the back bench – my domain for long road trips. It’s an ideal space, equipped with two cupholders, a convenient trash deposit for candy wrappers in the trunk behind me, and plenty of room for wallowing in teenage angst.
I’m fifteen years old and going through a period of classic teenage rebellion. Indeed, those days, small, everyday defiance fueled my lust for noncompliance.
When able, I’d skirt past our “no TV on weekdays” rule and flick on MTV to get my fill of (shockingly objectifying, in retrospect) hip-hop music videos. Instead of doing homework, I’d hop onto Myspace and take surveys to share how badass I am with my internet friends (“Jack – you answered ‘yes’ to ‘drinks alcohol?’!” — “I drink wine at church, Ma! Get off my profile!”). I’d climb from my balcony onto the roof of the house for no reason other than to do something I knew I shouldn’t be doing.
More than anything, I was beginning to form my own opinions about things, and questioning those of others. Opinions of my parents, especially, were getting magnified under my skeptic’s lens.
And so, on that day, from the back seat, I proclaimed to my Odyssey audience:
“I think abortion is wrong”
In that moment, I wore the contrarian’s cap proudly, and man, did it feel good.
Not only was I going against the grain, I truly felt like I had a winning argument.
“Every human life deserves a chance, right? What if that human goes up to cure cancer? We can’t play God. Anyway, people adopt all the time.”
This was before the days of 4Chan message boards, so all the talking points I conjured were completely organic, and for that, I felt even more resolute. I can picture that smug, smirking teenager in the backseat. “Teenage Dirtbag” by Wheatus, personified.
I probably tuned out whatever my mother said in response. I do remember that she didn’t say much. She knew what I know now, that time was the only remedy for my misguided musings.
As it does, time passed, and my opinions evolved. Not all at once, though. I held steadfast for years, in fact. I can’t remember the exact moment that I had changed my mind completely. I just know it changed gradually, through a blend of reason, practicality, and discovering compassion.
Cringey teenage memories. No pictures, No quips. A political “coming of age” story. This is not a typical Wayward Duck post. If you’re read this far, you probably already know where it’s going. No matter how you feel, consider going the distance. I’ll try to keep it brief. Know that I’m writing this not to change your beliefs, but for my own catharsis.
Let’s begin where this whole debate starts.
Sex. People do it, always have. Indeed, it’s why we’re here, why you’re reading these words right now. Humans enjoy doing it because we’re programmed to. Always have been. Whether you’re a married couple, or a couple of teenagers who know nothing of the world, sex happens. Always will. Abstinence can be a great choice, but it’s exactly that, a choice. Even if it were mandated in some dark, dystopic post-society, history suggests our primal urges to procreate will always prevail. Pre-marital, pre-readiness-to-procreate sex happens. Always will.
Now, with that behind us, we know that unintended pregnancies will always happen, too. Picture yourself as the woman here. Maybe you have a steady partner and you are using birth control, but the birth control didn’t work. Maybe the condom broke. Maybe you never learned about birth control because your school only taught you about abstinence. There are a multitude of scenarios. Whatever and however it happens, you didn’t intend it, but here you are.
Consider that maybe it’s worse than that. Maybe he lied and took off the condom without you noticing. Maybe he drugged you and raped your unconscious body, or maybe he raped you while you were awake, so the sounds and the pain and the smell is seared into your brain. Maybe he is your teacher, your pastor, your police officer. Maybe he is your brother or your uncle. Maybe he is your father. It happens so much more often than any of us want to think or talk about. And now the seed, the DNA of the person who violated you, is growing inside you, and there is nothing you can do to stop it.
Just consider for a moment the incredible cost of the actual pregnancy and birth. Your body physically changes in dozens of ways. You probably experience nausea, dizziness, swelling, back pain, constipation, mood swings. You have to change what you eat, what you drink, how you move, what you do. You may be unable to work or go to school. You may find it difficult to find people to hire you. You will need ultrasounds, checkups, health insurance. You will go through the most physically painful experience of your life, where in 70% of cases the baby literally tears its way out of you. You will owe the hospital thousands, tens of thousands, of dollars. Your body will physically never be the same.
So you give birth, unprepared and unwilling, scarred emotionally and physically. You didn’t want or plan for this pregnancy, and because of this, there’s a chance you didn’t take care of yourself as well as is ideal, and maybe you are not able to provide a good life for this child. Maybe you drank alcohol before you knew you were pregnant, or you drank alcohol on purpose to try to kill your baby. Maybe you smoked. Maybe you are addicted to opiates and now your child will be too.
Maybe you are poor, already underwater before the cost of childbirth, and have no means to buy food, diapers, cribs, or other supplies for your baby. Maybe you are a felon or are otherwise ineligible for SNAP or WIC. Maybe your partner beats you and will beat your child, but you can’t leave because then you would be homeless. Maybe you are homeless. How will you get a job? Who will take care of the baby? If you are in school, you almost certainly have to drop out. The effects of neglect, of abuse, of undernourishment, of fetal alcohol syndrome, of neonatal abstinence syndrome, all of these have profoundly negative effects on the child for the rest of their lives.
If men had to endure this suffering, would they promote the same mandate, that they have no ownership over choice?
And what of the man? Maybe he walks out. Maybe he denies paternity. Maybe he skips town, or leaves the country. Maybe he makes threats, deterring any efforts to secure child support. In some states the only way that an unmarried father’s name can be placed on a child’s birth certificate is if the father signs a voluntary declaration of paternity. If the father is not present at the hospital following the birth, the mother will not be able to list him as the father on the birth certificate in his absence.
It is understandable why some pregnant women become desperate, and what a desperate person can do can be horrifying for everyone involved. To quote a clinic administrator (from the 2016 documentary Trapped):
“I told her you can come to San Antonio and we can help you here, and she said, ‘I can’t, I don’t have the means, there’s no way I can get to San Antonio. So what if I tell you what I have in my kitchen cabinet, and you can tell me what I can do.’
Banning abortion, like banning sex, just doesn’t work. We tried it in this country, as have others. In the 1960’s, for example, Romania banned abortion, creating a despotic wasteland of overcrowded, filthy orphanages, that saw thousands die from back-alley abortions.
Alabama’s law goes even further than Romania’s, which in principle at least allowed for exceptions in cases of rape, incest, or congenial defect.
Make no mistake, because of the laws being enacted and or discussed in Mississippi, Georgia, Ohio, Kentucky, Alabama, and elsewhere, women will die. They’ll die because white, male, government officials tell them they don’t have a choice.
In this country, even corpses have a choice. Indeed, you have to opt in to donating your organs postmortem. Why do we deny women the same choice over their bodies?
I’ll tell you why: because the men who make these decisions think like angsty teenagers with no context, no sense of reason or compassion. Men who are taking ownership of a decision that was never rightfully theirs, elevating their dogmatic beliefs or political expediency at the expense of unabashed human hardship.
Men, we can’t pretend like we understand what it’s like to be denied the right to make a choice about our own body. We can’t know this suffering, so we have no license to control it. Let us have the audacity to accept this truth.
Men, this is our fight. We can’t sit in the backseat and pretend like it isn’t.