Growing up as a Californian youth transplanted into the deserts of Utah, there were specific topics I learned to avoid if I didn’t want to be considered an oddity: politics, feminism, and race. Most of the time I managed to get along pleasantly with my ultra conservative neighbors, sticking to vanilla flavored subjects like the weather. Generally, I got along well in Utah despite the blistering summers and icy winters. There was only one season I dreaded: election season. Needless to say, the past election was a doozy, a potent shot of bigotry moonshine that had been fermenting in the damp dungeonesque basement next to the dust covered white cloak and hood. While I wasn’t surprised when Utah came out red during the vote, I was confused by the arguments the more moderate Republicans I knew were using to justify their choice.
“It’s a choice between two great evils,” they said.
Two great evils, so why was Trump the lesser evil?
To figure it out we must look at the demographics of Utah. Generally, there are a lot of Mormons, a sect of morally conservative Christians — a sect I happen to be a part of. There are a few issues that often decide the vote for Utah Mormons — once again a generalization, Mormon Democrats do indeed exist, though in Utah they’re a rarity— one of these issues is abortion. An issue which in its own notoriety blinds us to the larger factors which lay behind it.
When people consider abortion, they always argue over its morality. In the frame of morality, the action of the abortion itself and its aftermath are what is considered. The only precursors to abortion that are examined are those of the hard cases of abortion: rape, incest, or potential harm to the health of the mother. What if instead we examined the factors leading up to abortion? In doing so we would see that abortion is not an independent event, but instead a dependent consequence, a diagnostic of deeper issues.
To explore this idea we have to ask: why do women get abortions? According to a study done by the Guttmacher Institute, one of the major reasons women get abortions is because they believe that a baby would bring negative changes to their life, especially economic ones. These beliefs reflect an increasingly popular view in our country of motherhood as a burden. An image is painted of a mother bound to the realm of domesticity, her crying babes preventing her from finishing that degree she’d pursued earnestly, or continuing in a stimulating line of work. Apparently, women believe they can’t have it all.
Yet, I’ve seen counterexamples to this claim. Earlier this year the prime minister of New Zealand (my second country of citizenship), Jacinda Ardern, announced that she’s pregnant. Viewing this news from an American perspective, I was surprised to see that there was massive popular support for her pregnancy. Many citizens commented that they saw this as a sign of positive progress in their country, an example of a woman who can be a mother and have a career. Jacinda certainly saw her pregnancy as no real hindrance to fulfilling her role as the political leader of her country, stating “I’m pregnant, not incapacitated.”
In my own family, I’ve seen my stepmother work as a director producing successful short films while raising my two younger sisters. It is helpful that she lives in New Zealand, which enacts policies to aid women who choose to be mothers. One of these policies is paid parental leave, not only for mothers but fathers as well.
While New Zealand has a nationalized maternity leave, the USA leaves maternity leave policies up to the discretion of employers. This leads to great inconsistency as policies differ depending on which company you work for, often women must sacrifice their time and money to have a baby let alone raise one. This reflects how little consideration our country gives to its mothers. It also reveals faulty thinking on the side of the right. The right is against abortion. They advocate for motherhood, and yet propose no policies to support women in this role. At the same time, the left often seems to ignore or attack mothering, labeling it as a form of female bondage. Mothering should not be a struggle, women should not feel forced to choose between “two worlds”. Abortion is a consequence of a society that disrespects mothers socially, politically, and economically. Both right and left have participated in this disrespect.
Abortion in general signifies our society’s disrespect towards women. The smaller percentages of abortions occur due to factors such as lack of proper sex education, abusive relationships, and sexual assault. The structure of our society is what lays behind these statistics. If we respect women, we should ensure they are educated in methods that protect their sexual agency. If we respect women, our society would no longer produce males who glory in the disrespect and abuse women. Abortion is more than an inflammatory moral question, it is a consequence of deeper societal issues.
Contact Sophia Kim-O’Sullivan at huali99 ‘at’ stanford.edu