This summer has seen quite a few high-profile news stories about various aspects of women’s reproductive choices, from motherhood to maternity leave to abortion. The recent selection of anti-choice politician Paul Ryan as Mitt Romney’s running mate will likely draw yet more attention to the issue of reproductive rights; Ryan has said that he can “never not vote pro-life,” and supports the Sanctity of Life Act, a bill that declares that life begins at fertilization.
I’ve had more than just an academic interest in these stories, as I’m about eight months into my first pregnancy. I’ve had a pretty easy time of it so far (knock wood); the greatest physical issues have come from pre-existing chronic pain conditions, and every test and appointment has confirmed that the fetus is developing normally. My biggest irritation is with the frequent comments from relatives, co-workers, friends’ parents, and random acquaintances about my breast-feeding plans and whether this was a planned pregnancy and why I don’t look “more” pregnant. But while those and other inquiries can get annoying, I know just how lucky I am – for my health, for the fetus’s health, and to have so many concerned and caring people around to even be nosy in the first place.
In addition to giving me a greater appreciation for and patience with various people in my life, this pregnancy has also made me all the more appreciative of my own reproductive rights. That I was able to wait until my health issues were manageable enough to handle the stress of pregnancy is due in large part to affordable and accessible birth control. And the fact that we had options if a diagnostic test had revealed a fatal fetal abnormality is due in large part to living in a place that – despite all attempts to the contrary – trusts women enough to let them make their own reproductive decisions.
Yet even though my husband and I were as objectively prepared as any two people can be to welcome another person into their lives, we still encountered a roller coaster of feelings, fears, and doubts in the weeks following that positive pregnancy test. It was one thing to talk about having a child, to toss around names and joke about whose eye or hair color our offspring might inherit; it was quite another to realize that that intangible child would become real by a certain date.
Our emotional maelstrom subsided as we had the time and space to wrap our minds around becoming parents. But I didn’t realize how much my own pregnancy was strengthening my pro-choice beliefs until the morning I had an ultrasound. It was at the end of my first trimester, and the local news had been full of stories about Virginia’s new ultrasound laws. As my husband stared at the screen and the tech pointed out various parts of the fetus’s anatomy, I thought about how devastating it could be to be forced to look at the images of a pregnancy that, for whatever reason, needed to be terminated.
I’ve heard a lot of stories from women who were pro-choice before they became pregnant, but felt their personal convictions change after becoming mothers. They still identified as pro-choice, but now they wondered how anyone could choose abortion.
Yet now that I have first-hand knowledge of the uncertainty, fear, and confusion that even a healthy and wanted pregnancy can instill in a woman, I cannot imagine ever doubting anyone who decides that abortion is the right choice for her. Whether it makes perfect sense on paper to become a parent or whether it looks like the worst idea in the world, the choice to have a child belongs only to the woman – and, in many but far from all cases, the man – who is responsible for the pregnancy occurring in the first place. To claim otherwise is not just to blatantly disregard the very private and unique circumstances of a woman’s, or a couple’s, life. It is also to blatantly disregard the importance of ensuring that every child is a wanted and desired one, and will receive the love, support, and attention that it deserves.
Politicizing and regulating what women can do with their bodies runs counter to this idea, as does promoting narrow ideas of what it means to have a child and be a parent. Those approaches also point to an incredible sense of arrogance, that it is somehow acceptable to tell another person what to do with her body and her life. If these past eight months have shown me anything, it’s that becoming a parent is a huge decision – and a very, very personal one.
Sarah's first book, Generation Roe: Inside the Future of the Pro-Choice Movement, will be out March 2013. For more information, follow her on Twitter @saraherdreich, or check out saraherdreich.com.