I’m sixteen and shaking. I don’t really need to go to the bathroom, but I really need to know the results. So rather than trying to pee right onto the stick, I pee into a cup to make sure there is enough to dip the stick into.
Five minutes can fly by when I’m hiking in the woods, talking to my best friend, or avoiding homework by reading a good book. Five minutes when the entirety of your future is on the line makes you inarguably aware that time is relative.
I was not pregnant. But I saw the path my life could have taken. If I’d allowed the pregnancy, I would have been inextricably tied to a man who’d hurt me. I’m not sure I would have had the fortitude to finish high school. I remember only one young woman who got pregnant and kept it while I attended Huntsville High School, and she left school. Could I have gone to university with a toddler? Would I have made it through the worst depression of my life if I couldn’t have focused on my mental health and healing from trauma? Would I be writing this today, if I had a 17-year-old?
Abortion, to me, was not unthinkable. Access to it would have saved my life, if I’d needed it. Frederica Mathewes-Green said: “No woman wants an abortion as she wants an ice cream cone or a Porsche. She wants an abortion as an animal caught in a trap wants to gnaw off its own leg.” That would have been me. I grew up knowing without a doubt that women had an inalienable right to choose abortion as healthcare. There are plenty of myths about abortion. It’s not mostly teenagers. Many women who have abortions have already had kids. Late-term abortions are exceedingly rare and usually not wanted by the woman but they are done for her health or the fetus is unviable.
I recently attended the hospital with a friend as her support. Her nurse handed her a copy of her medical history, which she absentmindedly gave me to read to make sure all her allergies were listed appropriately. I read that she had received a therapeutic abortion during an abusive relationship. We talked about what her life might have looked like if she’d been tied to that man, who surely would have used access to their child as a mechanism for abuse, something I witness at the women’s shelter on a near-daily basis. Sabotaging contraceptive is also a common form of abuse, something that literally endangers women’s lives—some women seek abortion for pregnancies they had no control over.
Despite 21-year-old Conservative MPP Sam Oosterhoff from Niagara-West stating, “We have survived 50 years of abortion in Canada and we pledge to fight to make abortion unthinkable in our lifetime,” abortion will not be unthinkable in any woman’s lifetime. I don’t often make generalizations about women because I understand we aren’t a monolith, but I can say with some certainty that, whatever her conclusion or what side of the ‘debate’ she lands on, every Canadian woman has thought about abortion.
From Rosie DiManno of the Toronto Star: “[Oosterhoff’s] lifetime has been very short. He would have no memory of back-street abortions, botched procedures, desperate women mutilating themselves with hangers, and toxic after-effects. Globally, 47,000 women die every year from unsafe abortions, mostly in poverty-stricken regions of Africa, Latin America and Asia.” His is not a ‘pro-life’ stance. This is an anti-woman one.
As something that only happens to a woman, abortion should be decided upon only by women. A 21-year-old man stating his intention to ban abortion is silly, yet terrifying. He will never have to pee into a cup and decide whether his body will become a home for a human being, irrevocably changing his body and putting him at risk of high blood pressure, gestational diabetes, infection, preeclampsia, episiotomy, medical abuse, hyperemesis gravidarum, anemia, and even death. If Sam Oosterhoff wants to make abortion unthinkable for himself and other men, he and they are welcome to get vasectomies, which is a simple and reversible procedure. He could opt never to have intercourse with a woman. It’s really easy for men to never think about abortion. Not so for women.
Abortion, or the cessation of pregnancy, has always occurred. Women were burned at the stake for pursuing or performing it. Menstrual extraction is practiced globally to prevent or cease pregnancy. I can name you three plants that grow within walking distance of my house that have abortifacient features. Spontaneous abortion, or miscarriage, is an incredibly common occurrence, so common especially early in pregnancy that we don’t actually know how frequently it occurs because it presents as a late or even regular period. There is nothing unnatural about women, and our bodies, deciding we are not willing or able to complete a pregnancy.
The only reason this is even an argument is because women are still not considered full people under patriarchy. Politicians like Sam Oosterhoff think of women as slightly-less-than-human creatures whose bodies exist for men and courts to manipulate, restrict, and lord over. No being has a right to use another person’s body against their will. If I am dying of a liver disease, even if you are an organ donor, you cannot be legally compelled to donate part of your liver to me. And even though the impact on you would be low, and even if you donate blood three times a year, and even if I have a car accident outside your house, a paramedic cannot arrive and tell you to give me your blood—not an ounce, not even to save my life.
Why is it different for women?
In the United States, where this conversation is absolutely raging, rates of abortion have never been so low. Why are Republican states threatening women with life in prison if they procure an abortion or have a miscarriage? Because they are desperate to maintain power, and women, especially poor women and women of colour, do not vote for them. So, in a very callous and strategic move and under the guise of ‘pro-life’, they are aiming to take away the voting power of women by putting them behind bars. The same thing has happened to black voters convicted of the felony of possessing marijuana. That was a strategy and it worked. Even though some states are legalizing pot, prisons are still full of black men who will never be able to vote because of this purposeful disenfranchisement. It was effective and now it’s being practiced on women in the US. There will be a challenge in the Supreme Court to Roe v. Wade.
In Canada, despite access issues, abortion is legal nation-wide. This is a fundamental component of equality. I know that one kid politician with one shitty opinion isn’t the same as the sweeping changes in the U.S. But there’s writing on the wall here and we’ve recently lost other social safety nets here in Ontario that we counted on. Please let no one say we didn’t see it coming. And if ever there was a topic about which men must uplift women’s voices, it’s that abortion should be free, stigma-free, and accessible.
Abortion will never be unthinkable. But denying it must be.
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Kathleen May is a writer, speaker, and activist. Her work in our community includes co-founding the long-running Huntsville Women’s Group, being a Survivor Mentor in the pilot survivor-to-survivor program through MPSSAS, co-facilitating instinct-unlocking workshops for women through I Got This, working as a host and community producer of Herstories on YourTV, volunteering with Women’s March Muskoka, and her role as a front-line counsellor at a women’s shelter. Kathleen is a 2018 Woman of Distinction for Social Activism and Community Development and also received the Best Author award for her 2018 submission at the Muskoka Novel Marathon, a fundraiser for literacy services. Her dream is a sustainable women’s land co-operative in Muskoka.