As women in the United States, most of us have a myriad of choices. We pride ourselves on making choices because our choices give us some sense of independence, self-worth, and control over our lives. This all sounds great, but I often struggle with this thought:
Most women make choices based on a lack of resources or incomplete or inaccurate knowledge.
I’m a college professor of English, and this allows me to explore controversial subjects with my students as they put together argumentative and persuasive essays over current social issues. Each semester I get freshman students begging to write about abortion because they want to share their opinion on the issue. I don’t let them.
I, like many other instructors, have put abortion on my list of what not to write about. The reasoning behind this is that most freshman students will only scratch the surface of this topic in the five pages they write for the assignment. What they end up with is often a glossed over emotional monologue with very little insight into the logic behind both sides of the issue. In essence, they are missing the point of the assignment.
Part of my class routine is to have students present and defend their topics with the class before they write their essays. This past semester, as the class was going through this process, I called on one of my students who proudly told us she was going to write about abortion.
The rest of the class looked at me as if knowing my rules were being challenged. She began by telling me various facts about abortion and why it was wrong. Rather than shutting her down quickly and moving along to the next student on the list, I felt the need to make this a teachable moment for her as well as the class.
I started by asking her why women would make the choice of abortion if all of her facts suggested it was wrong.
She didn’t have an answer for me, so I posed it to the rest of the class. “Fear,” was one student’s reply. Another answered, “It’s over and done with.”
I could visibly see my one student’s confidence fall because she didn’t understand how these would, in her words, “drive a woman to make such a decision.” I wanted to give her a way to view the topic without it becoming a debate about “pro-choice” and “anti-abortion;” I wanted to expand her view to see how it is so much more than this.
To begin, I asked the entire class to tell me what choices they would have if they found out they were pregnant.
Everyone agreed they had three options – abortion, adoption, and raising the child. Taking these in order, I asked them about abortion. They all seemed to know they could go to a clinic, pay a few hundred dollars, get the abortion, and be back home after a few hours.
I asked, “Do you know where these clinics are?”
They were a bit hesitant, but after some silence, a few hands were raised. The students knew others who had gone through the process or knew friends who had friends who had had one. All the students in the room (about 20, both men and women, ages 17 to 45) said they could figure it out by asking around or even looking online.
“Who thinks you could find all the information needed online to tell you all about the procedure and the pros and cons of abortion?” I asked them.
Each student raised his or her hand, and some even made comments about knowing this information since high school sex education classes.
“What about adoption? What all is involved with this option?”
My students looked at each other, in the air, and finally settled to looking at me. One student spoke up, “On T.V., they show that a woman can have the baby and then sign some papers in the hospital to give it to people.” Another student added, “Oh, but she could also find someone before that.”
Did they know where to go to set all this up?
There was a resounding “no” in the classroom. As I did prior, I asked, “Who all thinks they could find all the information needed online to help understand the process and the pros and cons of adoption online?”
Collectively, they seemed unsure. One student asked, “How can you trust this? I mean, how would you know you are going to a good place that will really take care of your child and not traffic it or something?” Another said, “Yeah, but also it costs a lot to even carry a baby. Who is paying for all those doctor visits and the delivery and the maternity clothes for the mother?”
These questions brought up more questions, many of which they didn’t have answers to. They kept looking at me for answers that I wasn’t giving them yet. I wanted to make my point.
“OK, what if you chose to have the child. What all is involved here?” I asked.
“Well,” one woman answered, “you just have the baby. You have to have the money for all those appointments we talked about and have clothes, and basically support them financially and emotionally for the next 18 years.”
I wanted this to sink in a bit before I dug in with questions. “Let’s say that you don’t have this kind of money. What do you do?”
A student from the back replied, “Have an abortion.” I reminded them that they were choosing to keep the child, so this wasn’t an option. “I guess quit school and get a full-time job with insurance,” one student suggested. An older student then explained that insurance more than likely wouldn’t cover this, given the set of circumstances.
“So, how do you pay for this?” Most of the students looked lost, and my older students sat quietly. Finally, one spoke up. “You swallow your pride and ask for help. Can family help you? Can friends help? Even getting government assistance for short period of time might help. There are programs out there that will give you car seats and help with your medical checkups.”
I looked around at my students and asked them if they were aware of these assistance programs. Most shook their heads or said “no.”
To cap off the discussion, I summarized, “So, what you all are showing me is that you know a pregnant woman has three choices, but you really only seem to know the most about one of these. Why don’t you know as much about adoption as you do abortion?”
No one answered for a while; however, one student offered an idea, “We just don’t learn or even talk about it as much. We hear about abortion all the time in the media and how people are either for or against it.”
Another student chimed in, “The focus is on abortion – when does life occur, what about rape victims, are they harvesting stem cells, and all that. Sure, that other information may be out there, but that’s not the focus.” I could see them processing the information.
“Yeah,” a student said, “it’s like have an abortion or don’t, but no one is really talking about what to do if you need help carrying the kid. That stuff isn’t on the billboards or picket signs.”
They were getting the point, so I broke in. “Imagine a woman without supportive people or without all the information there is out there. What choice will she make?”
Most answered, “Abortion.” I looked at my student who began this discussion and asked her, “So, why would a woman choose to have the abortion?” She looked up at me and then looked at the class before answering, “I guess because she thinks she knows about abortion but doesn’t feel that she really has a choice. But she does! She really does have a choice to have her child!”
They all agreed that women do have these choices, but they are often far more informed on abortion than the other options. I explained a few things I hadn’t earlier and gave them some websites to reference if they so desired. I didn’t want this to be a situation where I was on my soapbox telling them my views, but I did want them to know information is out there. I wanted them to know that just because it isn’t as easy to research, it is still available.
As a test, I later checked online. A person only needs to type in “A-B-O” before “abortion” is a suggested topic. However, when looking up adoption, “A-D-O-P” is needed before adoption shows, but the primary suggestion is for adopting pets. After selecting adoption, most sites are aimed at those wanting to adopt rather than for the woman wanting to put her child up for adoption.
Finally, when looking for assistance programs if pregnant, the searches get muddied even more. Yes, the information is out there and can be found by those looking. I only add this to show that one is searched more often and is easier to find than the other “choices.”
It wasn’t until later that it struck me how little they knew. I thought back to when I was the typical college age (20+ years ago). Would I have known my options – the full extent of all my options?
I am sure I didn’t.
Why hasn’t this changed over time? Why are we, by and large, discussing “choices” and the freedom of making our own independent choices when we don’t have ready access or even complete foreknowledge of ALL of the choices?
How can we even call it a choice when one has the spotlight and the other two are somewhere in the shadows? How is this empowering women? How is any form of making an uninformed decision empowering?
This, ultimately, isn’t about being pro-choice or anti-abortion. It’s about making fully educated decisions. We need to make sure ALL the information is out there and is easily accessible.