She Speaks: Abortion will never be unthinkable, but denying it must be

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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 (Photo: Kai Rannik)

Kathleen May (Photo: Kai Rannik)

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.

10 Comments

  1. Karen Wehrstein on

    Sam Oosterhoff, and anyone who is anti-choice, should go on Twitter, search the hashtag #YouKnowMe, and read the accounts. I’ll make it easy: https://twitter.com/hashtag/YouKnowMe?src=tren&data_id=tweet%3A1128704831798030336 .
    .
    Or read this comment by a former abortion-clinic staffer: https://www.dailykos.com/comments/1857989/73884188#comment_73884188 .
    .
    These are both ways to learn the realities of abortion: the innumerable reasons women choose it (some you cannot imagine), the pain inherent in the decision (NO ONE does it lightly!), the necessity, the good results.
    .
    Read and learn empathy, Sam.

  2. Esther Jennings on

    The bias in this piece completely disregards the emotional reality that post abortive women deal with in reconciling ending the life of their child. Talk to anyone who has had an abortion and they’d be lying if they said there hasn’t been an emotional price to pay. Why does adoption never enter the discussion?

    • Susan Godfrey on

      Esther, a valid point of course but it’s all about CHOICE for women even if they choose not to exercise one of the choices.

    • Abortion has always been last resort. If you speak to those women, you’ll see that clearly.

      Forcing a woman to birth a child is removing her autonomy. If someone on life support can have the plug pulled to end their life at the choice of a family member, why is it frowned upon to remove a fetus that could not survive, even on life support? The circumstances are similar enough, except forcing a woman to be an incubator is a violation of her rights.

    • Jiana Cutting on

      My response to “Why does adoption never enter the discussion?” How do you know that it doesn’t ? The whole point of this discussion is not that there aren’t choices but that choices will be removed that could literally effect the rest of a woman’s life and with that removal will also create potential harm or death because as Kathleen quoted, ” … 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.”, abortions will still happen they just won’t happen safely.

      Also something to consider are the rates of children living in foster care. In fiscal year 2017-2018: On a monthly average, there were almost 12,000 children and youth in care in Ontario. If people really give a damn about “life” then go and adopt one of these children. Do something about the ones actually living with no hope, family or safety.

  3. Excellent article.

    Thank you Kathleen, for once again amplifying the voices of women amidst the stream of those who would silence them.

  4. In reading about, and in conversation with strident theocratic individuals like Sam Oosterhoff , PC MPP – who interestingly enough, is also the Parliamentary Assistant to Ontario’s Minister of Education, Lisa Thompson – I have found usually that they are fervent ‘pro-lifers’ from conception-to-birth, and then thereafter in life’s long unpredictable journey, they suddenly turn into 19th century rugged-individualistic survival-of-the-fittest social Darwinists when discussing and debating public policy around quality of life, post-birthing.

    This disposition of rugged individualism especially becomes prevalent I have found when it comes to any discussion around the role of government in providing comprehensive accessibility to things like quality public education, health care, public health initiatives, domestic-violence prevention, and affordable housing for all of God’s children. Most recently, add to that list the devastating consequences of climate change witnessed most recently here in Muskoka.

    Logically and for credibility-sake, one would hope that Sam Oosterhoff, MPP, and his exclusive theocratic folk would be more consistently ‘pro-life’ in that significant post-birthing stage of life. For example, how about making CHILD POVERTY ‘unthinkable’ in Ontario under Doug Ford instead of a political mentality that distractively focuses on a ‘beer-store-on-every-corner,’ and ‘tailgating’ with a ‘buck-a-beer’ on a holiday long-weekend at a sporting event? No doubt, that would require a ‘road-to-Damascus’ conversion experience, but nonetheless, it has happened before in human history!

  5. Brenda Scott on

    I don’t believe in abortion. I was offered one with one of my pregnancies. We were married and we had 2 toddlers. We chose to bring the child into this world no matter how much we couldn’t afford it. Hence I could not do it. I could not give up the life I was carrying.
    What I do believe is that this was my choice. My husband would have supported me know matter what I chose. That is what I believe in! My choice. It is a choice that should be allowed. I made a choice. Other people make the other choice. To have an abortion. Their body, their life, their choice.

  6. Charles Wilson on

    The Missouri Stands for the Unborn Act now moves to the desk of Gov. Mike Parson, a Republican, who is expected to sign it. The bill, which bans abortions at around eight weeks of pregnancy, often before a woman even, knows she is pregnant, included no exceptions for rape or incest.
    This legislation follows even more restrictive legislation by Alabama lawmakers following icebreaker mildy pro-life legalisation in New York.
    Why? Why do men, and it is mostly men wake up in the morning, and decides they wish to have more control over the lives of slightly over fifty per cent of the population in a matter which is clearly none of their immediate concern?
    One thing the polls tell us, and this seems to apply both sides of the border and likely elsewhere, is that it doesn’t matter how much you discuss the problem nobody on either side of the issue is going to change. This is an issue where all but four per cent of the total demographic has made up their minds or whatever part of their, our anatomy, controls the visceral decision-making process.
    So if all the rational argument in the world, all the empirical evidence on both sides, won’t change anybody’s mind, exactly what is the point of even discussing the matter and how should it be dealt with?
    Conservatives, it seems become conservatives, not because their core beliefs prefer the blue way and liberals or socialists, as they are called in the US by Trump supporters, similarly become liberal because that is the way they are hardwired. Hence, I suppose the tribal or populist politics of today.
    When Roe vs. Wade was a new decision and, in Canada s.233 of the Criminal Code had just been passed, the pro-lifer, anti-women’s suzerainty over the foetus groups were speaking about the rights of the unborn and the notion that life begins at conception. Since then we have learned much more about how we are all literally star dust and life doesn’t begin or end it simply goes on species to species and sometimes cross species. We have learned there is little or no difference between us and all other mammals and only minute differences between us and fauna and that all this started on this planet billions of years ago.
    The lizard brain, that part of the cortex which governs the desire to procreate, to nurture and also to kill, says all that might be fine as a scientific theory but the survival of the species depends in part on breeding — even breeding under the most unfavourable social conditions. This approach is not the end consequence of millions of years of evolutionary progress; it is the unconsidered primal evolutionary driver’s engine.
    Civilization, which some describe as the societal rules we create to enable us to avoid internecine tribal warfare, presumes that driver can be modified, controlled, channelled. Great thinkers have been attempting doing it for at long as man has been around.
    Today mankind not only knows that we are part of a continuum of life and that our own small rather unimportant species could easily go extinct but that most of the decisions we have made to self-perpetuate have been out of tune with the needs of the planet actually hastening our demise.
    So impugned liberal or modifying thought is getting jettisoned and the lizard brain takes back control by default. And it sees females as in need of male protection, based on hunter-gatherer or before ideas, and protection always means control. And bringing out liberal arsenals to push back against this is like mounting a pop gun against the atom bomb.
    What to do? Well I am male, pre-baby boomer, a father and a grandfather and very aware that in Canada we have a birthrate of 1.6. I am also a liberal who deplores the father knows best approach of the liberal party a conservative who realises the untrammelled individualism of that self- proclaimed big tent party is a thin veneer and a socialist who thinks that a lot of socialism is seeking to restrict those that have rather than open opportunities to those that do not have.
    I know after a life time writing about and participating in politics that politicians have no solutions to any problem which does not begin with how the politician taps into the popular psyche in order to get and stay elected. So I know politicians are tautologically the least thoughtful, least considering of all humans and need to be in order to survive as politicians.
    So if a peaceful solution to the great debate isn’t rational thought and or political reactionary behaviour — in other words the problem cannot be resolved by discussion or government, then what exactly is left? Short answer nothing. It is possibly the only thing Mr Scheer has said or ever will say I am fully in agreement: “If elected the Conservative party will not reopen the issue of abortion”. I think the pun was unintended.
    Of course the very fact he says it means the prairie populists are rumbling away in the guts of the party in favor a return to “barefoot in the kitchen”.
    Given life is a continuum and given the task of the physician since Hippocrates is predicated upon “do no harm” that sidelines the entire medical profession’s views as, should it intervene, it must either physically harm the foetus or psychologically harm the mother.
    So may we acknowledge that what is really going on is individuals, some unborn, are being culled for the good of the herd or the family and the cull decision is left with the family, specifically the mother and can we find assurance in this process that not only is not interfering with nature but that it is nature — just as the decision by women in the Great War to hand out white feathers to shame men not in uniform was a part of the desire to make the tribe as fit as possible in a Darwinism manner so as to survive?
    If we can, then the argument has come full circle and women, whether they hand our white features to non-combatants or terminate a pregnancy are given a vote, in these two cases a deciding vote, in how the family, the tribe the nation is to proceed and that this process is itself natural?

  7. I believe the essence of the issue is, who owns the body. If you own it, then presumably you can do whatever you want with it. If God owns it, then everything changes. You can’t do whatever you want with it. The Christian believes they own nothing. And that whatever they have is a gift from God and they are accountable to Him for how they use it. Thus, since they believe that God caused the conception, they are responsible for ensuring its safety and need to do whatever is necessary to accomplish this. But God does not stand idly by. It is He that preserves the little one. The Christian prays that God will ensure a safe delivery. But sometimes God does not provide that and the baby may be stillborn. The parent then knows that this baby is now with God. Or there may be other defects, like autism. We’ve all seen autistic children and the amazing things they are accomplishing. The Christian knows that there is a perfect reason for this, but they haven’t a clue what it is. And so they rely on what God has said about Himself – “For My ways are not your ways, and My thoughts are not your thoughts, for as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways.” As for those who are contemplating an abortion, or who have already had one, there is a place in Huntsville called Christine’s Place at 34 High Street in the red brick house between All Saints’ Church and Sutherland hall. Type it into your browser for the details. It’s a pregnancy & family support centre. And they can answer all questions related to this issue. Then you can make your own decision.

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