Published on July 14th, 2022 | by Jen Bryant0
Ask a MUTHA: Reproductive Rights
MUTHA Magazine has always been unapologetically pro-choice. We stand with the right of all pregnant people to make the choice that is right for them. Our editorial staff remains committed to sharing the true experiences and diverse perspectives of our contributors. We believe that personal narrative is a powerful tool to fight shame and stigma.
In light of the Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health overturning Roe v. Wade, we asked MUTHAs: “How has abortion access, or lack thereof, affected your life?”
Below are the responses. – Jen Bryant
I am a mother who has had an abortion and has had a baby, and I’ve written in Mutha about the connection between those two choices. Overall, it’s a very complex issue, and yet people are always trying to boil it down to a quick quote. For example, Bill Clinton said abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare.” Bill framed it this way to appeal to more conservative voters who were uncomfortable with the idea of anyone with a womb having that much bodily autonomy.
I’m not a big fan of Bill’s, but I like to reframe his quote as aspirational. Because here are the things that would make abortion rare: if there were no rape, no incest, no sexual abuse. If all young people bought in to a culture of consent. If there were no economic coercion to have sex. If we had reality-based, sex-positive sex education. If girls were instilled with a sense of joy and curiosity about their bodies and everyone with female reproductive systems got accurate and positive information and support for their health at all ages and stages of life. If birth control was widely-available, accessible and affordable. If girls weren’t constantly sexualized in invasive and inescapable media, but simultaneous blamed and shamed. If there was no homophobia and young queer girls never felt like they should have sex with boys to prove their straightness. If a woman had an unplanned pregnancy and could say, “Hmmmm…I didn’t plan on having a baby yet, or with this guy, but given the fact that there’s paid maternity leave, affordable, high quality day care, Medicare for all, a major social safety net and I have all these great employment opportunities for dignified work with living wages for a family, plus, all these mechanisms in the society to make sure male partners pay their fair share, I think I’ll have this baby!”
This is a vision of full civil and human rights for the half of the population that has a female reproductive system. If we had complete autonomy over all the rest of our bodies, then abortion could be rare. But because none of this is a reality, abortion has been our last resort. Which really means that for the last fifty years we have settled. We have settled for the idea that all the institutions and policies of the society could fail us. We could be lied to, invaded, exploited, and mistreated. And if at some point in that process, we came up pregnant and didn’t want to give birth, we could engage in a stressful, stigmatized, sometimes expensive, and dangerous procedure—the procedure itself is safe, but someone might bomb our clinic. We might have to travel for days, miss work, hustle to find care for the kids we already have. And then we would have to face society’s shaming. For some of us, that meant we would need to go around for years or the rest of our lives with this big secret because our loved ones were very clear that anyone who got this kind of healthcare was a monster. But in reality, the patriarchy is the monster. It cares nothing for women or babies or children or life. And for decades, we have settled for this tiny window of autonomy in a monstrous culture.
And so my hope is that the court striking down Roe will mean that we stop settling, that we rise up and demand full freedom as women and people with female reproductive systems. And that we vote and donate to campaigns and do voter organizing. And create a wave of electoral victories that not only restores the right to abortion, but also to all the other rights that would decrease the need for abortion. As Coco Peila says in her hip hop abortion rights anthem, “I am Jane Roe”:
Lifting up every voice
I am Jane Roe
Our bodies our choice
I am Jane Roe
Our rights and wombs
I am Jane Roe
Don’t belong to the courtrooms
Oh y’all wanna see
a female revolution? Honey, this the tea…
Ready to hit up the streets…
Freedom to choose whether or not to give birth
Freedom to recast our ballots at midterms
Trying to take away our rights? Fuck around and get burned
This song dropped the day the decision was announced. I have been playing it for strength ever since. – Aya de León
I was brought up in a climate where women’s rights were at the forefront of my life and the lives of my friends, family, community, and New York City society at large. My fervently pro-choice mother taught me about birth control and encouraged me at sixteen to get a diaphragm. We talked openly about sex and relationships. Shame, sin, or guilt were never part of the discussion. I wasn’t afraid to tell my mother I was pregnant, and I knew without a doubt she’d support my decision to abort. As secular Jews, we believed life began when the baby breathed independently from the mother, not at the time of conception or a detected heartbeat. We never considered abortion to be murder. It was a private healthcare decision to be made by a woman.
Young and insecure at the time of my unwanted pregnancy, I was taking baby steps toward self-reliance. I’d been suffering from anxiety and depression due to my dad’s unexpected death in front of me when I was ten years old. During my first year at Oberlin College, I’d suffered a nervous breakdown and had taken a year off to heal. I’d recently transferred to NYU and was learning to become an independent woman. Had my autonomy over my own body been taken away by being forced to carry my pregnancy to term, I may very well have skidded deep into another depression. – Jennifer Baum
Read Jennifer’s full essay here.
I’m a pro-choice adoptive parent. When abortion is in the news, people who don’t know much about adoption suddenly have a lot to say, whether it’s people on the Right saying “I’ll adopt your baby,” or people on the Left making fun of them (I can only imagine how that meme landed for birth parents and adoptees). When my partner and I entered the world of domestic open adoption, we were wary of inadvertently fueling anti-choice coercion. But ultimately adoption is an alternative to parenting, not to pregnancy.
Of the several dozen expectant mothers we encountered, none said, “I wanted an abortion but couldn’t get one.” That’s not to say those individuals don’t, or won’t (perhaps increasingly), exist. But abortion/adoption isn’t a binary. We met moms who were considering adoption because they didn’t know they were pregnant until they were 20 weeks along; because they were against abortion for themselves; because they were poor, unhoused, addicted, fleeing domestic violence, struggling with mental health, had intellectual disabilities, or didn’t feel ready to be single parents. Some of them wanted to parent, and ultimately did, and broke our hearts, although we don’t blame them. We blame a country that offers very, very little support to parents, pushing them to the brink. This fact becomes more ironic and horrible when abortion is less of an option. But the solution to our lack of a social safety net isn’t abortion or adoption. It’s a social safety net. – Cheryl Klein
At 22, I had an abortion. Recently graduated from college, my hourly wage was about what childcare cost. I’d been cheated on and lied to. I knew that either way – I would choose life. My life. Our life. The unwritten future life of my children not yet born.
At 27, I gave birth to twin daughters. My nonprofit hourly wage had increased by fifty cents over the last five years. Childcare cost me $5 more an hour than I earned. I had no employer health coverage. Within 9 months of my daughters’ births, I negotiated increased hours, salary and health coverage. Over the five years between my two pregnancies, I gained management skills that allowed me to shift my position in the workforce and provide for my children.
When my daughters were four years old, their father and I separated. The financial, emotional and spiritual responsibilities and rewards of raising my daughters are mine. Access to abortion is a fundamental human right. Without my abortion, I would not have the family I have today. – Tara Dorabji
I haven’t re-read my Mutha piece on abortion in years, but I’m not sure I have much to add. Except now my daughter is 14 and I shepherded her and her younger sister to a protest and just can’t believe I can’t ensure their safety even in this fundamental protection. It’s just a flattening feeling. – S. Lynn Alderman
As I sat on the floor with my stomach cramping and tired, I opened one of the drawers to find a few sheets of stationary, felt pens, and three thumb tacks. In another drawer I found report cards from my 7th grade year. For the first semester I had earned all A’s and one B. For the second semester I had all D’s and F’s. From another small drawer I took out my collection of miscellaneous stickers including some old-fashioned cherubs, butterflies, and a variety with sayings such as “good vibes,” “take it easy,” and “flower power.” It was underneath these that I had hidden the welfare stickers. One was yellow and one was red. One for the pre-op appointment and one for the actual abortion. Payment.
Just the day before I had been twelve years old and pregnant. Now I was recovering from the abortion. Only a year before that, in what felt like my body’s ultimate betrayal, I got my first period. It had come regularly every month since until it didn’t and I was nauseous every day. Even though I’d had sex for the first time just a few weeks before, it didn’t occur to me that I could be pregnant. – Rachel Penn Hannah
Read Rachel’s full essay here.
I go to Chicago instead and buy meth off the street. It makes my nose bleed in the bathroom, and I am still awake when it’s Easter morning. Like a Prayer plays at the gay bar and I know that this is all I will ever need. At least, I think so.
I go back to Nebraska and find my lover, all tangled up in weeds. He lights a fire and I tell him that I can’t get pregnant because I do too many drugs.
I am 22 years old and he is 43 years old when I fling myself at that dead fish. He doesn’t seem to see.
The sunflower fades into the concrete and the protesters throw things at me, call me “Mom.”
Mom. You’re a mother now. Mom. Mom?
What I remember most is my skin turning grey and my stomach protruding because of infection. What I remember most is asking the doctor to see what came out of me and marveling at it— just the tip of a pencil.
What I remember most is saying “It’s just the tip of pencil! Just the tip of a pencil!”
It was so tiny.
That’s why people throw things at me? That’s why people throw things at me. – Juniper Fitzgerald
Read Juniper’s full essay here.
At the doctor’s appointment to confirm my pregnancy, no congratulations were offered, and there was no light-hearted speculation on possible baby names or eye colors from the physician or her staff. Instead, I was unceremoniously handed a pamphlet from an anti-choice pregnancy center titled “Adoption: The Loving Option” and given a mandatory referral to a social worker, who asked me no-brainer questions like, “Under what circumstances is it okay to shake a baby?”
I graduated high school just a few weeks prior to that appointment. While my classmates were throwing up after a night of post-graduation party-hopping, I lay in my boyfriend’s bed, sober. The waves of nausea that washed over me that night were for an entirely different reason.
Fiercely pro-choice from an early age, I surprised even myself when I chose to continue my pregnancy and become a mother at eighteen. In the deeply religious Southern town where I was born and raised, teenage pregnancy was considered a punishment for having sex. My partner was praised for sticking around; I was told, “You should have kept your legs shut. What did you expect?”
These judgments didn’t stop once my baby was born. As I’ve written elsewhere, teen parents face intense scrutiny and often lack the social and practical support to set us up for success. Raising my son brought me unparalleled joy; still, those early years were financially challenging, isolating, and often lonely.
Experiencing an unplanned pregnancy made me even more pro-choice than before. After my son was born, I knew with the same certainty that had led me to continue the pregnancy that I didn’t want any more children, ever. With that decided, access to birth control helped me to build a life for my son and for myself. The right to legal abortion guaranteed by Roe v. Wade made me feel confident that I wouldn’t have to carry any possible future pregnancies to term against my will. By having control over my family size, I was able to pursue other interests in addition to motherhood: travel, writing, higher education, and a career.
Pregnancy and motherhood can be demanding, intense, and all-consuming at any age. I endured five months of around-the-clock morning sickness and 28 hours of back labor, and I didn’t consistently sleep through the night for the first 18 months of my son’s life. I got used to putting myself last: working on my feet in cheap shoes that cut into my ankles, losing touch with friends who weren’t interested in hanging out with a mom, and skipping dental visits for 8 years because preschool and diapers are expensive. I worked retail for a decade before I was able to pursue a full-time career. College took a backseat as well; I am just now finishing my bachelor’s degree, with plans to graduate this fall.
Despite the sleepless nights and sacrifice, if I had to choose again, I’d make the same decision. But that’s the important part: I got to choose this life. I can’t imagine how differently I’d feel if the right to make that decision had been taken from me, or if I’d been forced to have additional children against my will. What would my life look like, or my son’s life? Would I still look at him and see my favorite person, or would resentment and regret creep in instead? And what would that do to him?
Pregnancy is not a punishment. Children should be loved and wanted, not forced upon unwilling parents. No one should be forced to carry a pregnancy to term at any age, under any circumstance. Abortion existed before Roe v. Wade and will continue to exist in one form or another now that the ruling has been overturned. However, the legal, financial, and logistical barriers to safe abortion access will disproportionately impact the pregnant people who already have the most at stake.
Abortion forever, on demand, without explanation or apology. Because every pregnant person deserves the right to bodily autonomy, and everyone who chooses to parent deserves the opportunity to feel the same overwhelming love for their child that I feel for mine. – Jen Bryant