This is an essay I wrote for Creative Nonfiction. There's a story that goes along with this godforsaken assignment, but for now I'd really appreciate it if you took the time to read this and tell me what you think.
Also, the title? "The Value of a Woman" or "The Value of a Woman's Life" or something else altogether? I'm a little concerned about the paragraph structure as well.
The Value of a Woman
What does it mean to be pro-life? For many, it means a foetus is a person; a person that is a person even before it is born. It means life begins at conception.
In a different way, I consider myself to be pro-life. I consider all life to be valuable and meaningful. When I hear others say that they are pro-life, it is hard for me to understand their thinking because they hold a life that does not exist yet above one that does. I am pro-life in that I believe in the protection of a woman’s life. I believe in protecting the life of the woman who gets pregnant from a rape. I believe in protecting the life of the young girl who gets sexually assaulted by her father. But I also believe in protecting the life of the child who would be born even if that means protection via the prevention of its birth. A foetus has the potential to become a human; that does not automatically make it one.
For thousands of years, women have gone to extreme measures to end their pregnancies. They have received blows to the abdominal area, used suction through a rubber tube, experienced physical exertion, or inserted a coat hanger or knitting needle to remove or puncture the foetus via the cervix to the uterus. These methods are dangerous and often illegal even in places where abortion is legal. Many of those who attempt a self-induced abortion injure themselves or die in the process.
When a woman chooses to terminate her pregnancy she does not do so out of cruelty or carelessness. She does so because she knows she would not be able to properly take care of the child, she is too young, she does not want a family, the child would have defects, it would be a product of incest and/or a horrible crime, bearing it could kill her, she is not ready, or because of any other reason she chooses – a reason that is nobody’s business but hers. Nine months is a long time to carry something inside you, something that feeds off you, something you do not want, yet these nine months and the years following the birth are rarely considered.
When a child is born, great deals of care and money go into taking care of him/her. Many of those who seek abortions do not have the resources to raise a child. In the United States, 42% of women who get abortions have incomes below the poverty level. The cost of food, diapers, clothing, and childcare alone make it nearly impossible for a lower-class single woman to take care of both her child and herself. One of the main reasons abortion rates are higher for women with low incomes is the lack of education they receive, specifically education on sexual health and contraception.
Anti-abortionists go to great lengths to let the public know that they think a foetus is a person, and that they should be considered and protected as a person upon conception. They guilt women into thinking they are “murdering babies,” and as long as a baby is born and no foetus is harmed, they are happy. But once a foetus emerges from its mother’s womb, the protests stop. The foetus, now a baby, is alive. Yet, at this point, angry protesters cease to gather. They cease to march, to voice their opinions, to demand that a child be treated like and protected as a person. Thinking mostly in terms of the United States, to begin a life in poor conditions - where food is scarce, shelter is unsafe, medical treatment is unaffordable, and education is a privilege - is a near death sentence on its own. The odds of being born into this kind of life and graduating from college or from high school are slim. The odds of a child having the kind of childhood they deserve, that many of us take for granted, are poor. The quality of life a mother and her child would face is irrelevant; as long as she keeps it, there will be no outcry. There is great outcry for the potential creation of life, but not for its quality.
If some people believe that a foetus is a person for religious reasons, if according to their personal beliefs a foetus has a soul the moment it is conceived, those people, perhaps, should not get abortions. The rest of the women in the world who do not believe this and would like access to safe and legal abortions should be allowed to have them. One religion, or one variation of a religion, should not infringe upon all women’s right to choose abortion. If being anti-choice is a part of a woman’s philosophy, then I have no objection to her choosing to proceed with a pregnancy even if she does not want it, even if I do not agree with her decision-making process. However, this same person cannot say that her philosophy is more right than anyone else’s, thereby prohibiting any woman who disagrees with her to do what she wants with her body.
A woman’s body is her body. It is not her mother’s, her father’s, the government’s, her pastor’s, her husband’s, or society’s. It is hers.
Anti-abortionists value a foetus’ potential for life more than a woman’s already existing life. How can people claim to be pro-life with this kind of mentality? What makes the developmental stages of a foetus more valuable than a woman’s life?
Some people are concerned that the legalization of abortion would encourage women to use it as a method of contraception. They often look at the numbers of abortions once it is legal, and if they see that rates have increased, they claim more women have abortions thanks to this regulation. This is only partly true. Without access to safe and legal abortions, these women would likely give birth against their wishes or take matters into their own hands – a dangerous, and often lethal, but not uncommon decision. Although it may appear as though more women end their unwanted pregnancies if it is legal, it is important to remember that some percentage of these women would end it regardless of the law and regardless of the dangers.
Instead of demanding the criminalization of abortion, even in cases of rape or when a woman’s health or life is at risk, redirecting anti-abortionists’ attention to the minimization of the need to end a pregnancy would be beneficial to people on both sides of the abortion debate. Providing affordable or preferably free access to sexual health education would significantly reduce the rates of abortion. If more people understood the consequences of having unprotected sex, and if more people had access to protection, fewer unwanted pregnancies would occur, and fewer abortions would be necessary.
To get an abortion is rarely an easy decision to make and sometimes has an emotional impact on the pregnant or formerly pregnant woman. Furthermore, one person’s philosophy regarding life and its inception might not be the same as another’s, so not everyone should have to follow the ways of one particular philosophy. While the anti-choice supporters focus on the potential life of a foetus, the life of the pregnant woman is forgotten. Women will continue to have abortions whether it is legal or illegal, safe or dangerous. The best way to help prevent abortions is to help prevent unwanted pregnancies, and the best way to do that is to make sexual health education and contraception as accessible as possible. Nobody wants to want an abortion, but by criminalizing it, the one question that I have for anti-abortionists is whose life is more valuable – a foetus’ or a woman’s?