It is unsettling to see pro-choice feminists portrayed in the Fox News Circuit as insensitive, bossy women too wrapped up in themselves to consider the “miracle of life.” I cannot think of a single pro-choice advocate, down to the most ardent feminist, who if faced with the choice of an abortion would not wrestle with the ethical and emotional weight of it. I couldn’t say with certainty what I myself would do. Nevertheless, I am firmly pro-choice.
The fact is, abortion is an issue that affects women’s lives far more intensely than men’s. If a teenage girl had a baby, she simply couldn’t be a full-time student. We hope the boyfriend’s a good guy who sticks around. Nevertheless, he’s not tied to the domestic responsibilities that fall upon his female counterpart; it’s just simply not expected of him. Doing his part would mean getting a decent-paying job to support their new family, but is this any different from what he would do otherwise? If he has higher aspirations than the supermarket checkout aisle, what is stopping him from climbing the career ladder? Who would protest? In fact, who wouldn’t applaud him for his motivation and success, for are not these the benchmarks of being an effective father?
What I mean to say, in short, is that it’s easy to talk in idealistic terms about whom the birth of a baby affects. Of course, I want to believe that it affects father and mother equally.
But this is so seldom the case. There is no show called “Teen Dad.” In “Teen Mom,” the lanky, shaggy-haired young fathers drift in and out as if they’re cameo actors. If they help raise their child, they are adored. If they shirk responsibility, as is expected, we simply bow our heads, disappointed but unsurprised.
On the flip side, the notion of a runaway mom who has forsaken her own child inspires disgust. A psychological breakdown may redeem her from being labeled a straight-out witch, yet this would classify maternal abandonment as a neurological dysfunction. Is a psychological disorder ever used to explain absentee fathers? Is it not telling that women who abandon their babies make headlines, face a public shaming, but the fathers who have long since left the picture earn little more than a faceless mention for informational purposes?
It’s absolutely true that there should be more social infrastructure to support young mothers. In reality, though, this will not change the dichotomy in the expectations society holds for young mothers and fathers. If every piece of legislation making abortion illegal came with a clause that forced, by law, fathers to raise their babies in equal share with the mothers, I wonder if the vastly male pro-life politicians would have a change of heart?
How and when these support systems will improve is unknown. For now, we have the all-too-common narrative of a young mother cracking under the pressure of stress. The recent case of a woman abandoning her baby in a Portuguese airport made sensational headlines. Distressed, she attempted to explain herself: “I can see why people must think I am the worst mother in the world… but I was so depressed… I couldn’t afford a passport for Charlie and I reached breaking-point.”
Cases like these underscore the lack of a safety net for women who, already financially stressed, are burdened with the enormous responsibility, the enormous task of providing for a child singlehandedly. By voting “pro life,” a politician is also eliminating a young woman’s choice in the question of whether she’s ready to contend with this intensely demanding new life. In this sense, “pro life” is the antithesis of choice.
As it is for me and every woman, abortion is an emotionally fraught, tirelessly complex decision that we hope we never have to face. To think that the decision to have an abortion is akin to the dropping of a hat – how absolutely absurd. Many women, for various reasons, decide that giving breath to new life takes precedence. But whether she does, or doesn’t, the choice resides within her governance.
Just because I support a woman’s right to choose does not mean that I am any less sensitive to the gravity of what an abortion means – in fact, I’ll take a wild guess that I have put far more thought into it than the old white men who have appointed themselves authorities about it. I am pro-choice because I understand what it means for a woman to have a child. In a nation that prizes “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” above all else, it is duplicitous to then entrust one of the most momentous decisions in a woman’s life to a faceless institution. It is well-intentioned but wishful thinking that with merely a sense of personal responsibility, a woman can make it work.
The trials of being a young-mother are well-chronicled. Now, if a politician wants to propose a clause in his or her anti-abortion legislation that legally binds fathers to expend an equal amount of time in the domestic side of raising their child, I could take more seriously an argument on the importance of a newborn life over those of its guardians. I suspect, however, that few in the male pro-life contingent in Congress would consent their name to any proposal that threatens the loss of their job.
Share your thoughts on abortion and gender equality with Alex at firstname.lastname@example.org.