I can’t wait to be a mother someday. Seriously. You know that baby fever that women in rom–coms can’t seem to ever shut up about as they approach their (gasp!) 30th birthdays? I’ve had that since I was 12. I don’t think I could ever give up my career to take care of kids, but I know that when it comes to balancing, my future family will always be my first priority. I’ll even (much to the chagrin of my all–girls prep school) choose my family over personal accomplishment to a certain point, if I'm faced with such a decision.
While the percentage of my friends who share my baby fever at age 20 is certainly larger than it was at age 12, it's still nowhere near a majority. And when it comes to the idea of motherhood, I know what I don't want as well as I know what I do want. I don't want to bring a kid into this world a second before I'm ready to—and definitely not while Trump is president. Although I’ve always been staunchly pro–choice, I’d never felt comfortable being extremely vocal about my political opinions before this year. Three things happened that changed that for me. First, I spent the entirety of last semester working on a production of a fantastically progressive play called Dry Land, in which I played Amy, a high school swimmer who dangerously terminates a pregnancy with an illegally purchased medical abortion pill. Second and third: the pussy–grabber of an election season and the fall 2016 genesis of Quakers for Life, our very own campus pro–life group.
Because of these things, I’m now vocal about what I believe. And what I believe is that the withholding of any reproductive technologies or medical advances that can give a woman more control over her reproductive system, due to legislative, financial, educational, social or any other type of barriers, is completely and inarguably wrong. What I believe is that regardless of how anyone feels about the controversial issues of birth control and abortion, women are going to do what they want, when they want. All that restrictive legislation does is endanger them. That's why I'm currently working to create a network of resources for reproductive rights.
You might disagree with me because of your religious beliefs. I get this. I understand where you are coming from, and I’ve wondered about some of it. Like some of the people I’ve met who fight for reproductive rights, I pray daily to a G–d that I’ve spent my whole life believing in. But whether or not I agree with the ideas extrapolated from my religious text doesn’t matter.
You might disagree with me because of your ethical beliefs. I get this, too. I’ve been fascinated by bioethics since middle school, and now that I’m nearly done with the minor, I would love to have a conversation with anyone who is interested about Judith Jarvis Thomson’s 1971 paper, “A Defense of Abortion.” That ethical discussion gives rise to fascinating debates, but whether or not I’m able to definitively make up my mind on this ethical issue doesn’t actually matter.
In truth (and not in “alternative fact”), there is only one thing that matters to me when discussing reproductive rights: the health and safety of every single other human on planet Earth. The ability to debate the religious morality or ethics of abortion and contraception, or the rights or lack thereof of the fetus, is a privilege. This is the kind of dilemma we are facing with the modern state of reproductive rights: it doesn’t matter what you want other people to do. If they’re going to do it anyway, all that really matters is how safe you want them to be while doing it.
The Guttmacher Institute, one of the leading research and policy organizations committed to reproductive rights, has collected report after report proving that there is no correlation between highly restrictive abortion laws and lower abortion rates. In fact, in Latin America, a region in which abortion is illegal in all but very specific circumstances, the abortion rate is 32 per 1,000 women of childbearing age. Other restrictive regions have equally high numbers, while Western Europe, which has much more lenient policies surrounding abortion, has a rate of only 12 per 1,000. On Monday, Trump signed the “Global Gag Rule,” a ban on United States funding for any international programs that provide abortions or related education abroad. Without proper education and funding, women outside of the United States will resort more often to dangerous, illegal and unmonitored abortions.
Within the United States, the lack of access to legal abortion is an equally, if not more concerning, problem. The medical abortion pill, the same pill my character in Dry Land used, is a safe and non–invasive option for women who need to terminate a pregnancy, as long as it’s before the 10–week point of gestation. At a clinic, women who choose to use the pill instead having a surgical abortion are given guidance and painkillers as needed. With increased restrictions on legal abortion, though, women who cannot get to a clinic because of money, time or other barriers will increasingly use this pill illegally, even at later points of gestation—when the process is likely to be far more painful, frightening and possibly dangerous.
The cost of abortion alone is a significant barrier for many women. A recent study of Australian women found that nearly 1/3 of women who had difficulty paying for a legal abortion made the choice to forgo food and groceries in order to be able to afford the procedure. Last Saturday, when I attended the Women’s March in D.C., I wasn’t at all surprised that people around the world were joining us in displays of solidarity. A year ago many of the women who came out this weekend wouldn’t have felt like they needed to march. A year ago I’d never have felt like I needed to start a group at Penn focused solely on organizing efforts to fight for reproductive justice. But under our current administration, we need these things more than ever.
I could go on and on. I could provide multitudes more arguments for why we need to ensure that the women we care about who are determined to end pregnancies can do so safely and peacefully. Reproductive rights are just normal rights like any others, and the first priority of anyone who cares about America should be the safety of their fellow citizens. I urge everyone to accept that they cannot change what a person has decided to do or needs to do regarding their own body. I’ll be a mother in my own way, in my own time. And I’m going to be a great one.
Abortion happens. Make it safe.