By Hannah Phillips
”Don’t get pregnant in America,” advised one of my friends from home early last semester. I was not planning on making pregnancy part of my Harvard experience, but what my well-meaning friend was pointing out was that if I, or any women in America, wanted a ‘termination,’ we would face a series of challenges. In addition to financial burdens, women seeking abortion in the United States are criticized and viewed as stupid for not taking precautions (even though no method of birth control is 100% effective); villified as immoral; and threatened that though maybe not today, abortion could one day become be illegal.
Last month, the Komen Foundation announced that it would cut funding to Planned Parenthood because it performs abortions. While Komen has since withdrawn this decision and apologized for the poor handling of the publicity, this incident highlights the ever-present threat to abortion in America. In Oklahoma this threat is even more frighteningly real. Earlier this month, the state Senate passed a bill that, if passed through the House, would make abortion illegal throughout the state.
I never used to say or even think I that had strong views on abortion because I never believed that I had to. In my country, the United Kingdom, abortion is legal. Period. While some people believe that it is morally wrong, their views do not affect national politics or legislation. Abortion is not featured in party platforms; it’s not debated in Parliament. If I got pregnant in the United Kingdom, I could get an abortion for free from the National Health Service—the name of the UK’s publicly funded healthcare systems. No questions asked.
Only when I started learning about American politics did I realize that I had strong views on abortion. ”If one Supreme Court Judge chose anti-abortion,” my secondary school Modern Studies Teacher said, ”then, effectively, abortion could become illegal in America”. I was shocked. Illegal abortion was something I had never considered before, especially in the most influential and powerful country in the world. When I came to America I realized that my teacher hadn’t been exaggerating. Suddenly, I realized that I did have views; ‘pro-choice’ ones. I was on one side of a very contested debate. A debate that I still feel should be irrelevant.
I understand that some people believe life starts at conception and that one human being does not have the right to take a way another’s life. But, other people believe that life starts when there is a heartbeat, or else at birth. Legalized abortion accommodates all of these views, for it allows women with unwanted pregnancies to make their own choices. When I talk about abortion, people sometimes ask me, “What would you do if you became pregnant?” I say that I don’t know what I would do. It’s not something I really consider when thinking about abortion laws because it doesn’t matter what I think or what I would do personally. It matters that all Americans should have a choice. To those who wish to outlaw abortion, I say: if you do not believe in abortion, don’t have one. Don’t impose your personal moral views on others. I think that’s what Americans call freedom.
Last week, I spoke to a British friend who recently had an abortion in the UK. Her experience was a positive one. She was 22, had only been with her boyfriend a short while, and had little financial support. She wanted to focus her 20s on building a successful career, not parenting. But, again, it doesn’t matter what her story was. What mattered was that she could choose its ending.
Even from a pro-life perspective, aggression towards women’ health groups such as Planned Parenthood is unfair, for these organizations do much to prevent unwanted pregnancies through access to birth control. A few weeks ago, a Congressional panel on birth control consisted only of men, showing how often women’s voices are silenced when they most need to be heard. The topic of debate was even more preposterous. It simply does not make sense to exclude birth control from insurance coverage – and thus make it prohibitively expensive – and simultaneously increase barriers to abortion.
Upon coming to America, I did not just find unexpected attitudes towards abortion and birth control; I also realized that the US and UK had very different norms concerning sex education. In Britain, all schools must teach comprehensive sex ed. I was shocked to discover that in America, where states and districts can decide whether or not the schools teach their students about sex. When policymakers “choose” not to teach children and teenagers about sex, young people don’t have a choice when it comes to the consequences of your imposed ignorance. If young people are not taught about sex, then they are more likely to have unwanted pregnancies. Last year, the Channel 4 in the UK aired a primetime tv show called The Sex Education Show, which went beyond schools to ‘educate the nation about sex’. That would never happen here. It seems contradictory that America spends a huge amount of energy talking about abortion, yet enforces no mandatory sex education for its future generations.
Yet, even with proper sex education and access to birth control, unwanted pregnancies inevitably happen. It’s also inevitable that different people will react differently to an unwanted pregnancy. If I or any woman becomes pregnant, we should have the right, the freedom, to decide whether to abort or whether to carry the pregnancy to term. This issue does not affect national politics nor does it affect any other person. In this spirit I end with my British friend’s remarks: “My abortion didn’t affect you. It never, ever will.”