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Abortion is health care

Martha E. Menendez
Martha E. Menendez
Opinion
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I was in my early 20s when I had my abortion. I don’t talk about it much, not because I’m embarrassed or ashamed (I am neither) and not because I have any regrets (I do not), but, well, it rarely comes up in polite conversation and really, whose business is it but mine? When I do share, people will typically express their sympathy, assuming that it was a difficult or complicated decision and that I am, or at least was, tortured by it. Nope, nope, and nope again. No need to feel bad for me. I was never scared; I was never sad; my gut never wrenched. I found out I was pregnant, I knew I didn’t want to be, and then I made sure I no longer was. Rarely have I thought about it since. It was that inconsequential in my life and for that, I know, I am incredibly lucky. 

People don’t want to hear this, though. Even folks who claim to be pro-choice aren’t comfortable with the knowledge that for some of us, our abortions were no more than a medical procedure, with no moral or emotional weight attached. We see this in the way some talk about the recent Texas ban on abortion – and yes, it is a ban – the way we focus on the most devastating circumstances: The child who is raped by her grandfather; the mother forced to make an impossible decision to terminate a much wanted but medically unsound pregnancy; the loss, the pain, the unbearableness of it all. It makes sense. People already made vulnerable by abuse or devastating health crises, absolutely need us to show up for them a little bit harder than we might for others. 

Here's the thing, though. Those other people — the ones who were out there having all the consensual, unprotected sex; the ones who have the means and resources to comfortably raise a child; the ones who don’t lose an ounce of sleep over the decision to end a pregnancy — are also entitled to access safe and legal procedures to do so. There should be no moral threshold to meet, no sad story required in order to access a medical procedure, particularly one that significantly affects a person’s autonomy and power to fully participate in society. Access to safe and legal abortion, along with other reproductive health options, have made it much easier for women to seek higher degrees, to dedicate time to their chosen careers, to increase their earning potential. And before anyone starts thinking they want to debate the morality of choosing money over life and family, remind me where you stood or stand on the pandemic shutdowns of the past year and a half. If you were arguing to rush reopening because “the economyyyyy” but choose to criticize women for refusing to shut or slow down their careers to bear children, you don’t care about either. You’re just a misogynist. 

Bearing children can also be super dangerous. The U.S ranks 56th in the world for maternal mortality rates, the highest of any developed country. If you are a Black or Native person, your chances of dying while pregnant or giving birth are five times greater than for white women. For this reason alone, one should be able to decline the invitation to motherhood and have available any and all necessary medical resources to do so. Even under the best of circumstances — great health for the pregnant person and fetus, access to good prenatal care, an easy-breezy pregnancy all around — childbearing ravages your body and takes over your life. You can’t eat this or that; your energy is depleted; your feet and your back ache constantly as your body adjusts to your rapid weight gain. If you do not enter this arrangement with an eye on the baby-prize at the end, if you do not care for the baby-prize, if you are somehow forced to produce the baby-prize anyway, then this whole ordeal, no matter how relatively easy, is nothing short of mental, emotional, and physical abuse. 

My body, my choice. Amirite, anti-vaxxers? 

I know that some of you will want to lecture me on your beliefs about when life begins, usually landing on the point of conception. You are free to think what you want and to do with those beliefs what is right for you, but guess what? Your beliefs are just that, they’re yours — and neither you nor I nor anyone else can say with any certainty what the answer to one of life’s deepest philosophical questions is. I’ve been pregnant twice; one was never a baby, the other was mine the very moment I found out she was there. There is no formula for how I knew the difference, no scientific calculation or calendar to help explain it, but I did know. My body knew; my mind knew; my heart knew – and nothing you say, no condemnation, no religious dissertation, no hate mail or tweet will ever convince me that you know more about what is true for me than I do. You don’t get to lecture people on your preferences. 

The new Texas abortion ban is among the most severe in the country. It prohibits abortions at six weeks pregnant, before many, maybe most, women even know they are pregnant. In fact, my own doctor wouldn’t schedule me for my first ultrasound until I was seven weeks in because there’s not much to see or measure before then. There is no exception in this Texas law for rape or incest, and it narrows health-related ones. To his credit, Gov. Sisolak quickly responded to this news with a promise to protect the right to choose here in Nevada. But of course these things fluctuate to the left or the right depending on who is in charge, and with a conservative U.S. Supreme Court who we now have no doubt will always choose to limit our right to full reproductive health care, a fight to protect it in one jurisdiction is a fight to protect it everywhere. 

When I had my abortion, I was a nearly broke student living in a place where abortion was not safe or legal. Lucky for me I had support — the kind that got you a plane ticket and an appointment at a clinic two minutes after you laid out your dilemma. Again, it was an easy decision and, in the end, as stress-free a process as one could hope for with none of the trauma we’ve all been conditioned to expect. But I still don’t talk about it, for the same reason I don’t talk about how easily I got pregnant years later at age 38 and how smoothly my “geriatric” pregnancy turned out to be. I don’t talk about it out of respect for those with opposite experiences, for those who desperately wanted a baby they had to abort, for those who need help and lots and lots of money to get pregnant in the first place.

I don’t talk about my experiences because they are unique to me, yet I know that in spite of that, many of you will be quick to weaponize what I wrote here against others. Reproductive health is personal and unique to each individual. So if you are not someone who can get pregnant, then maybe take a seat. We don’t owe you our stories, our trauma, or our pain in exchange for the right to make our own decisions. And we shouldn’t have to fight this hard to be respected as full human beings, not just incubators of the next generation. Mind your business and stay out of ours.  

Martha E. Menendez lives in Nevada and is the legal manager for Justice in Motion, a NY-based organization.

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