On Fear and Sorrow at the Loss of Roe v Wade

On Friday, June 24, I was holding my baby daughter, walking through my home, and passed my husband’s desk when he told me that Roe v Wade had been overturned. A sudden numbness struck me, and I sat down, staring blankly. Despite the knowledge that it was coming, some part of me hadn’t really believed it would happen. Slowly, questions began to leak into my mind around the numbness. I wanted another child once my daughter was a little older – what would I do if I had complications such as a non-viable pregnancy? Would I be able to access the care I needed? Would my deeply beloved daughter have access to the care she might need some day? What would happen to women who were at that very moment discovering they had an unwanted pregnancy… and realizing at the same time their options for their body and health were suddenly limited? What would be happening right now to people with severe complications in need of abortion care, who suddenly found themselves in danger as they navigated uncertain legal barriers?

I felt a bizarre sense of disconnectedness as I looked down at my body and realized that I no longer had sovereignty over it. I recently spent over nine months tracking everything I put into my body for the nutrition and health of my growing child, working with a physical therapist to meticulously follow pregnancy exercise routines to stay healthy, and coping with every side effect of pregnancy that came with the experience. I worked so hard to make my body a nurturing place for my daughter and to keep myself safe the whole time, but now… someone else decided that I could not make decisions about that same body – someone else who was far away and had no idea how much my body means to me. They hadn’t worked to make my body what it was – I had done that. How, how could those people think they could decide what happened in my own body? I felt like some perverse marionette and between myself and the puppeteer was a mass of tangled strings stretching across the country, intertwining with every other person who might become pregnant. I had a surreal image in my head of the puppeteer pulling on that tangled mess of strings and seeing blood pouring out from the bodies of people who needed abortions for health complications and could not get them, from the bodies of people who decided to get unsafe underground abortions and were injured.

I started to cry. I held my daughter close and kissed her because I love her and her warmth and her smell and her touch are a comfort to me. What about my daughter? I asked myself over and over that afternoon. My husband and I laid her to bed that night and then my husband stayed home with her while I went to a march downtown. People chanted at the march: “Pro life is a lie, they don’t care if people die!” “My body, my choice!” but my throat was tight. I kept clenching my fist by my side to keep from crying as I kept saying in my head over and over, I want my daughter to have health care. It was the thought of a mother; even though I know there are millions and millions of people who will also be directly affected by this, selfishly my mind kept coming back to my daughter. I held a sign that said, “ABORTION IS HEALTHCARE,” because it is, because I am a healthcare provider, and because I know every person should have access to healthcare and to be able to make an informed decision with the help of a doctor about what they do with their own body.

People need safe accessible abortion care. People need it for many reasons: because they can’t afford to care for a child (40%), because they are at the wrong point in their life (36%), because don’t have a good partner to raise children with (31%), because they have other children they need to care for (29%), because they are unable to care for a child along with their educational plans or work needs (20%), because they are emotionally and mentally unprepared (19%), because of health reasons either of their own or of the fetus (12%), because they want a better life for a child than what they could provide (12%), or many other reasons.(1) Regardless of the reason, women should be able to access abortion. Pregnancy is a huge undertaking, affecting every system of the body. To demand against her will that any woman undergo such a profound disruption to her health is a level of coercion that is deeply unethical.  

Lack of abortion care has drastic and devastating consequences for people in need. Women who seek an abortion but cannot get one have worse mental health in the short term and worse physical health in the long term than those who successfully obtained an abortion when they sought one. Women who are turned away from having an abortion are at increased risk of physical violence from the man involved. In a 2020 study, of the 292 women who wanted an abortion but were turned away, 2 women died of complications, whereas none of the 536 women who had an abortion died. The women who were turned away had a 78% increase in debt, and an 80% increase in court actions such as bankruptcy, eviction, or tax liens over the women who successfully had an abortion.(2) Women who carry a pregnancy to term are six times more likely to have a life-threatening condition than women who receive an abortion.(3) One study in 2021 estimated a long-term 21% increase in pregnancy-related deaths resulting from an abortion ban, with an even higher percentage among black women.(4)

Limiting access to abortion care will lead to more children growing up in poverty, in stressful homes where they may be subjected to traumatic experiences that can affect them for their entire lives. It will lead to children being raised by parents who don’t want them and neglect or mistreat and endanger them. It will lead to women being trapped in abusive relationships and children with abusive parents. It will lead to over-worked parents feeling like they are failing their kids; it will lead to fewer people being able to enter the workforce to their full capacity; it will lead to women with health problems risking their bodies and their lives; it will lead to children with deformities being born only to die painful deaths; it will lead to increased trauma for people who have suffered rape and sexual abuse.

I know people who say they want abortion to be “illegal, unthinkable, and unnecessary.” I submit if people opposed to abortion want to diminish the rate of abortions they must first listen to the women who seek abortions. They must first make sure we have universal healthcare – including access to birth control and to good prenatal care; they must make sure people are paid a living wage and that we have good parental leave; they must make sure we have access to free or low-cost childcare; they must give parents credits for food and clothing and other household needs; they must increase resources for women in abusive relationships; they must provide free education on sexual and reproductive health. Without these things, many people are unable to safely take care of a child. Even so, abortion will always be necessary for some and therefore must remain legal and accessible.

Bodily sovereignty is the fundamental right necessary for any human rights to exist. It hardly matters what place of worship my body goes into, or if my body holds a gun, if I don’t have the right to control my body in the first place. No one may force a person to donate an organ to save a life. Why should anyone be forced to donate their entire body, their very self, for a pregnancy?

I wanted to give my daughter a sibling which I think she deserves – I don’t know now if I will feel safe getting pregnant again. My daughter may never have a cousin from either my sister or brother, who both say they will not have children in such an uncertain landscape. Many of my friends also have now come down on the decision to remain childfree because pregnancy has become such a scary unknown (and adoption, as a for-profit industry, is often prohibitively expensive.) The decision to repeal Roe v Wade fills me with sorrow for women facing risky pregnancies, for women who decide to seek underground abortions out of desperation, for children growing up in poverty and abuse, for the women with wanted pregnancies who suffer miscarriages or non-viable pregnancies and will now suffer even more without simple access to the care they need. It fills me with sorrow for the people who wanted to get pregnant, but now find it prudent not to do so. This is not only a moment that affects people who can get pregnant, or their families. Every person is connected in some way to someone who will suffer because of this decision; this moment is a sorrowful one for us all.

  1. Understanding why women seek abortions in the US – PMC (nih.gov)
  2. The Economic Consequences of Being Denied an Abortion | NBER via What Happens To Women Who Can’t Get Abortions | HuffPost Communities
  3. As More States Restrict Abortions, Research Points to Negative Health Outcomes for Women, Families | UC San Francisco (ucsf.edu)
  4. The Pregnancy-Related Mortality Impact of a Total Abortion Ban in the United States: A Research Note on Increased Deaths Due to Remaining Pregnant | Demography | Duke University Press (dukeupress.edu)

The Black Body in America: Reflections on “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates

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Since I drive around for work all day, I occasionally find myself somewhere around the city with an awkward amount of time to pass before my next appointment. I often spend this by finding the nearest park or coffee shop to take a quick walk or have half a cup of coffee. Recently, I was downtown with under an hour to spend and decided to stop in the library. Shamefully, I haven’t been to the library in years. Mostly due to a bad habit of buying more books than I can read, I have never been without a book ready at hand to pick up whenever I need something new. Libraries are so much more than just a place to read books for free, though. When I walked into the atrium, there was a temporary art collection on display. Children’s story time was going on among brightly colored cushions. People were doing research on the computers and in the reference section, using the available editing software, or working with the drop-in tutoring that is offered for adults. I even discovered that my library lends out “book club bags” with multiple copies of the same book and a few optional materials for discussion. The last time I went to a library was three and a half years ago to get help writing a resume when moving back to the city from a tiny town up north. However, one of my best friends is a library clerk and, for a while now, I felt that in order to be able to face her guilt-free I needed to patronize my library again.

Inside, I walked around the shelves, feeling a little rush of happiness every time I saw a familiar title that I loved: Paladin of Souls, Middlesex, Reading Lolita in Tehran, Crime and Punishment, Pride and Prejudice, they were all there, but I often fall into the trap of spending time thinking about books wistfully at the expense of actually reading them. I decided to pick up a non-fiction book. I pulled up a LitHub article of “Best Works of Nonfiction of the Decade,” rapidly picked a book from the list, looked up the dewy decimal number in the library catalogue, found it on the shelf, and went to check it out. This is when I had the embarrassing experience of being told my library card had been expired for many years and I still had fines from 2012.

“I’m curious,” I said, “what were the fines for?”

Lolita and The Diary of Anaïs Nin,” said the young man behind the counter.

I never did read that diary, but I remember the beautiful language of Lolita and how it took a very long time for me to finish reading because it made me so sad I had to repeatedly put it down for a pause. They waived the fines, updated my card, and I walked out of the library with a copy of Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. (I was happy to find that the book was very short – hopefully I would not end up with more late fees.)

I had heard of Ta-Nehisi Coates before, but knew very little about him. Between the World and Me is Coates’s letter to his son about growing up black in America and what that meant for him when navigating family, self-image, education, romance, and – underlying everything – the safety of his physical self at home, on the streets, and in the wider community. We are all permitted to read this, but in writing a letter to his son, Coates is dealing with the perennial issue of parenthood – how do I make sure my kid grows up okay? How can I teach them to stay safe? To respect themselves and others? Which of my values do I try to instill in them? There is an awareness that it is impossible for our children to learn the same lessons in the same ways that we did. Some of the lessons we learned were hard and we want them to be better than that, but how do they learn these important lessons without going through the same trials? Eventually, they will grow to have different views and values, but we hope that they still understand some of the things that are so deeply important to us.

As he tracks his personal growth through childhood, college, early adulthood, and parenthood, the language of his story is poetic. It is this poetic voice that lays Coates’s world open for his son and the rest of us reading to understand his life on a more fundamental level than facts and figures could ever convey. “Poetry aims for an economy of truth—loose and useless words must be discarded, and I found that these loose and useless words were not separate from loose and useless thoughts,” Coates says, and he displays this to great effect throughout the book. He is precise, yet emotive and this is what makes Between the World and Me a brilliant read as well as an important one. Continue reading “The Black Body in America: Reflections on “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates”