Musings of an Ethnomusicologist on Unrelated Topics
I’ve been in a place in my life one time where I thought I might need an abortion. At the moment and in retrospect, I would have gone ahead with it, had it been necessary. So, I come to the question of abortion personally, though still hypothetically.
What impacted my desire to have this abortion?
I was a college student, about to finish my degree and hopefully move on to another fruitful and interesting time in my life. I wasn’t ready.
I was dating a partner who later turned out to be abusive, irresponsible and controlling. I shudder to think of remaining perennially connected to him as the father of my child. We were not ready as a couple.
I was a part of a conservative religious milieu where I was afraid to tell my friends or mentors I was sexually active. This pregnancy scare occurred when I had sex for one of the first 10 times, and I felt deeply guilty for having sexual relations out of wedlock. I was active with religious organizations, and led my student body and religious community in various capacities. I couldn’t face the scrutiny of my peers, professors or pastors for being pregnant.
This shame paradoxically prevented me from taking precautions. I didn’t want to go on birth control or buy condoms because it felt like “admitting a problem.” I didn’t want to admit that I was sexually active because of the cloud of judgement that surrounded that admission. I felt uncomfortable checking the “sexually active” box at the doctor, afraid I would need to explain myself – so I didn’t. My partner and I kept pledging to one another that we would stop having sex, but would get caught up in the moment and have sex without protection. In efforts to prevent myself from being identified as a sexually active, and thus perverted, person, I jeopardized my own sexual health and put myself at risk.
I was part of a family that couldn’t accept my sexual activity, either. I was afraid to come forward in my family and admit I’d had sex. I still don’t know what would have happened if I became one of the wretched, in their minds, falling from my status as an honor roll student and community leader. In this regard, admitting an unintended pregnancy is akin to coming out of the closet for an LGBTQ person – except that it’s preventable through a quick, if painful and sometimes dangerous, procedure.
I preferred aborting a child to the shame by my community in bringing a child into the world. I was a child myself, and felt more ashamed to be having sex than to be killing an innocent person. I would gladly have sought an illegal abortion at that time, even if I risked my own death to do it – such was the irrationality of this fear.
The fear of sexual perversion in conservative communities is often held up above any other moral imperative, obscuring the ability to see choice and ethics in a clear way. In an environment where shaming others for having sex (or for the type of sex they have) is harped on more than helping the poor or preventing violence, it should not be surprising that young women would rather maintain the veneer of chastity than carry a baby – a choice that often leads to poverty and the pernicious emotional violence of shame. We each contribute to creating this situation, so it is up to us to change the way we “deal” with unwed mothers. We perpetuate violence toward young women who feel they have no dignified choice in these circumstances.
In fact, abolishing abortions in this milieu at best appears in reality to be a punitive strategy to shame people outwardly and cause future hardship for the decision to have sex. This punishment is heaped upon young women and their un-aborted children:
In the present system, young women who decide to carry these babies to term often face scrutiny, humiliation, and isolation in their communities and families for this decision. Pregnant women are shamed regardless of cause – even in cases of rape. Furthermore, carrying a baby to term is an expensive undertaking, especially for uninsured or underinsured young women. So, unintended babies may receive inadequate prenatal care. After babies are born, little systemic childcare help exists to allow women to remain engaged in their professions, so if they have been isolated from their families or communities, young women must juggle untold stresses to provide for their children. Little recourse tends to be available for young women to seek full 50% support from the child’s male parent. And anyway, for many young, unmarried people, the help of a father who is also in high school/college or working a low-wage job would not help much. Forcing an unsupported young, single, pregnant woman to carry a child to term can nearly guarantee a future marked by challenges.
Initiating lives marked by poverty, community isolation, and excessive stress – circumstances which can easily ripple into numerous generations – is preventable, and not just by abortion. The simple and obvious solutions include 1) realistic attitudes toward sexuality that give rise to pregnancy prevention education; 2) access to affordable birth control methods; 3) demonstrating care for young people who decide to carry children to term; 4) supporting low-cost maternity insurance so all women access adequate care (in our insurance-based system, that involves a distributed risk among all of us!); 5) advocating for affordable childcare initiatives that allow young women to continue pursuing education and working, even if they don’t have parental support.
Conservatives call our current abortion rates a genocide. I take genocide seriously (though especially among the already-born!), so if this is your belief, I agree it must be stopped. We must create a situation where women are in control of their sexuality, or – if they do bring a baby into the world – are not afraid of the social, economic and personal repercussions of that choice.
Until then, I will vehemently support the right to abortion because I see that preventing that right does further violence to young women within a milieu marked by violence toward women’s sexuality and right to agency.