As a woman and a pro-choice advocate, I’ve always respected a person’s decision to seek abortion care. But it wasn’t until I became a mother that I really understood their decision. Raising a child is an all-encompassing phenomenon, something you can never understand until you’re in the thick of it—and definitely something you should bypass until you’re ready.
Politicized stories have a way of painting an overly simplistic, two-dimensional picture of abortion (and by extension, parenthood). To hear right-wingers tell it, the person who gets an abortion is usually a thoughtless teenager or a young woman who uses abortion as birth control. In their narrative, these individuals are lining up around the block to carelessly do away with unwanted pregnancies instead of facing responsibility for not keeping their legs closed.
This supposition is laden with baseless judgments: that those who seek abortion care are selfish; that they do so because having a child would cramp their depraved lifestyles (obviously the “worst” reason to terminate a pregnancy); and that women and adolescents who choose to have abortions don’t respect children, family, or motherhood.
It’s also factually inaccurate. In reality, statistics upend those assumptions. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 61 percent of abortions are obtained by women with at least one child, and the majority of these women (60 percent) are in their 20s. Teenage girls account for less than one-fifth of all abortions. What’s more, teen pregnancy, birth, and abortion rates have declined drastically in the United States and reached a historic low in 2011.
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Of course, anti-choice activists and politicians don’t seem to care about the facts (or maybe facts are just difficult to read from their high horses). They insist on perpetuating the impulsive abortion patient trope, infantilizing women in the process. This is perhaps most evident in pushes for anti-choice legislation requiring waiting periods, counseling, and forced ultrasounds for people seeking abortions—as if they can’t or won’t make informed decisions.
I know from personal experience how erroneous this typecasting is. I spent my 20s as an activist fighting for reproductive rights: I attended pro-choice rallies, met with local legislators, led volunteer groups, and spent time as a clinic escort. In this capacity, I met and spoke with countless women who had abortions. And contrary to what anti-choice activists and politicians would have you believe, so many of them were already mothers or wanted to be mothers—someday.
I’ve brought two lives into this world. Knowing now what it entails to be a mom—from pregnancy, labor, and delivery to meeting the endless demands of other human beings—I believe even more fiercely in abortion on demand and without apology. (And yes, you can be pro-choice and a parent; just read Pregnant, Parenting, and Pro-Choice for a smattering of stories). Everyone deserves to enter parenthood willingly, and every child deserves a parent who is willing to bear the responsibilities of this lifelong commitment. Children should be wanted and cherished, not forced into this world as punishment for their parents engaging in sex.
Women who seek abortion care understand this more than the Republican Party is willing to admit. Women and girls cite numerous reasons for wanting to terminate a pregnancy, from financial insecurity to a desire to avoid single motherhood to simply not being ready—and everything in between. The truth is, women and girls have abortions precisely because they respect children and motherhood, not because they are flippant or have no regard for family.
Women who obtain abortions should be not skewered or shamed. They acknowledge that they’re unwilling or unable to parent (at that particular time or possibly ever), and they know children deserve to be loved and cherished. We should give them the same respect they’ve shown the institution of motherhood by doing so—conception is a biological function, but parenting is not.
Since becoming a parent, I am beyond grateful I was able to plan the number and spacing of my children; if I hadn’t been able to, I question whether I would be as loving and patient of a mother.