Reproductive Rights

**Hi- this is just a gentle trigger warning as this post is going to discuss reproductive rights and abortion. If this is a trigger for you please feel free to forgo reading this post, or read it with the support of a friend or loved one. There are not super uncomfortable details included here, but I understand that for some people this can be a delicate and sensitive issue. Also my interchangeable use of the word women and people is inclusive of all trans women, non binary folk and people who have uteruses**

The success of the Repeal The 8th campaign in Ireland in 2018 felt like a huge step forward for female reproductive rights. I mean, if a constitutional ban on abortion can be repealed in a nation saturated with conservative Catholicism, surely there is hope for other countries to follow suit? This at least was my thought at roughly this time last year.

Recently, we have seen the creation of laws in many states of the USA in which the rights of a collection of cells in a woman’s uterus have been given precedent over the safety, well being, autonomy and freedom of the woman herself. This fact is not only deeply offensive, dangerous and arbitrary, it is also fundamentally wrong. I wont go into the plethora of reasons why this ban on a woman’s right to choose what happens to her body is wrong. I am hoping that you already know this. I truly hope that you feel it deeply in your soul. Deeply enough to stand alongside women and people worldwide who need help to reclaim their rights, to be in charge of their own bodies, and to have access to safe, non judgmental health care.

It makes me so sad to say that in 2019 the fight for fair and equal rights for women is still a shadow of hope in the majority of the world. It is clear that this is a long battle, and one that wont be over soon, but it is a cause worth putting our full power behind as support to ourselves, our sisters, mothers, cousins, friends and ultimately, the world.

Firstly, I feel like it’s important to set the stage for this story by talking briefly about feminism. There is no doubting that the word feminist triggers a lot of people to fly into a defensive panic, and even into attack mode. Generalisation and stigmitisation has led to heavily misguided ideas about what a feminist really is, and this is where knowledge and understanding needs to come into play.

An image that is still often perpetuated regarding feminists is that we are tree-hugging, man-hating, bra-burning, confrontational hippies who want to snatch the rights from men away. This really is a stupidly common misconception, and one that needs to be corrected as soon as humanly possible. It is even an image that I had of feminism prior to opening my mind and taking the time to really listen, learn and engage. How sad is it that we can have this idea of what pioneers for equality look like that is so heavily misguided and manipulated?

There are many different understandings of ‘true’ feminism out there, but my personal in-a-nutshell explanation is that feminism is the idea that both men and women should have equal rights. That’s it! Nothing scary or sinister here, just an active movement to make men and women feel more equally heard and respected.

Much of the feminist fight includes campaigning for the rights of women- which could make it seem like feminism is a one-sided affair. This is definitely not the case. The need to fight more actively for women’s rights is in response to the fact that women have been oppressed for such a significant period of time, that there is so much ground to make up for in the quest to equalise rights and deconstruct restrictive social norms.

Feminist ideals do not include the oppression of men to achieve such goals, it encompasses the inclusion of men into our initiatives, and a mutual support to reach equality. For example, feminists support male equality in deconstructing the expectation that men need to be ‘strong’ and unemotional 100% of the time. This is a dangerous expectation, and can be seen through the upsetting rate of suicide in men. Men are 4 times more likely to die by suicide than women in Australia, and much of this can be attributed to the stigma around mental health issues, and the social barriers that prevent many men from accessing mental health care services. Feminists recognise that men face complex struggles too, and the road to equality will include changes to laws, social structures, language and stigma for both sexes, but that existing structures disproportionately hurt women and queer folk.

Circling back to the topic of reproductive rights- abortion can still be a very touchy subject for people to discuss due to many religious and social pressures, but this is a barrier that needs to be broken. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but this should never disrespect an individuals right to choose what is best for them in THEIR life. Respect is paramount here. Pregnancy is something that can happen whether it is planned for or not. Birth control is not always effective, we are all human beings, and no one is perfect. Accidents that happen in this arena should not be followed by blame, judgement, and shame. We should not feel afraid to take control of our bodies, and our futures.

I am an avid believer that in order to spread awareness and change you need to practice what you preach. It is all good and well to superficially discuss equality and change but unless you are working towards this change with the language you use, discussing challenging subjects with people and encouraging others to take control of their lives, your intentions aren’t being put into practice.

So in light of the current political threats to women having the right to choose being experienced world wide, I want to discuss my experience. I have had a failure of birth control that unfortunately that led to an awkward trying-to-pee-on-a-stick-and-not-my-hand situation, and two dreaded pink lines. It was an experience that felt so much more horrible and dreaded than it should have, and I really believe that it is due to the social stigma around young women getting pregnant. The pressure of judgement, of letting people down, of changing my life, of making a choice was so heavy, it was honestly terrifying. In the midst of this shit-storm of fear, I understood that all of this anxiety was totally external. It was a fear born and perpetuated by others, by religion, by arbitrary law, and by what I had seen on TV and in books. An idea that if you had a baby young, your life was ruined, and if you had an abortion, you’d be scarred for life and could never ever talk about it without being labelled a fool, a whore or by some extremists, a murderer. What an absolute load of shit any of those judgments and labels are. What a freakishly effective scare tactic to have brainwashed society with, and what a tool to continue to oppress women with. Time is up on that bullshit, because none of it is true.

Ultimately, my choice was not a difficult one. I knew for a fact that this was not the time in my life to have a child. Heck, I was taking birth control for a reason, there was no active intention to introduce a baby into my life in the near future. Sex is a very normal part of life, and does not have to be centered around reproduction (dolphins do it for fun, and we aren’t judging them). So, in being faced with the situation I was in, I made the choice to not be a mother at that time. I chose to continue to work on my own life goals, and to have a baby be a real choice that I either will or will not make when I am truly ready.

The process itself was not as scary as its made out to be through movies, TV shows, media, and people who choose to have a scary (and incorrect, and uneducated) verbal opinion about it. Everyone that I spoke to from my doctor, to the clinic, to the admissions nurse, was totally respectful and supportive of my right to choose what was right for my life. They never passed any judgement, they never showed anything but total respect. I am so grateful for the safety and kindness around this experience, and this is why I feel so deeply saddened (and maddened) by laws and policies that are in place in different countries that prevent women from accessing the safe and civil procedures that they deserve to be able to choose.

As the years have gone by I have found this experience easier and easier to discuss. At the time of this experience I confided almost exclusively in my best friend, and this support was so paramount to my emotional wellbeing. The advice I can give to any woman in this position is to find a support system, and whatever that looks like for you is okay. If you don’t feel safe or comfortable talking to anyone who is immediately involved in your life, find a support group, seek online forums for people in a similar position, talk to your dog/cat/bird (they are excellent secret keepers), and whether you know me or not, please never hesitate to send me a message, because I will always have an ear and a shoulder available.

I chose to share this part of my life here because I think that it is important to break the invisible barriers that keep us silent. I desperately want women’s issues to be able to be discussed without judgement and fear and shame, so this is my way to contribute to the dialogue.

One in four people with uteruses have an abortion in their lives, so the odds are, you probably know someone who has been through this. So make sure that you are open and loving to all of the people in your life, because you have no idea what they may be going through at any given moment. I am not afraid of my experiences, and I am endlessly thankful for the life that I have now. I am also forever in debt to the women before me who have fought tooth and nail to give me the right to choose. I am also thankful for the strong women in my life who have never for a moment made me doubt my strength. My gratitude is endless, and I promise to do whatever I can to further continue the fight for equality, no matter how challenging it may be.

Love and respect, always.