Dear Daughter...I had no choice or did I?
Wake Up. Wake Up!, she yells. I feel hands slapping my ass, yelling in my face, I can’t remember where I am. My eyes are blurry and I feel the pain in my abdomen. I am lying on a hospital bed in a pink room and as my eyes clear, around me are about ten more young women lying in their beds, half naked.
I remember their legs and hands hanging limp from their beds and I thought they were dead but we were being yelled at because the time has come for us to wake up and go home. I don’t know how long its been but the faces, some are familiar to me.
Yes, I remember, they were standing in line with me waiting. We where in the waiting room and one by one we where asked to take our clothes off and put on a pink robes, open to the back, showing our butts to each other. There must have been about twenty of us, standing in a row lined up like cows ready to get butchered.
I remember the stale and sterile scent of a hospital, the scared look we gave each other while at the same time trying to smile as if telling each other hey, you are not alone, and it’s going to be okay. We stood there not knowing what was going to happen, clutching the back of our robes to save any last dignity and not show more vulnerability than what we already had. Naked we stood awaiting our turn.
I remember my name being called next and as I walked into the room, I thought “what am I doing”? But for me it was already too late. I knew something was wrong, when I saw the blood on the floor and on the sheets of the young women who had gone before me, I knew I should turn around and run. But I couldn’t have another child. I already had two and I was only 18 years old. So today, at whatever cost I had to return home without this baby.
This wasn’t my first abortion; actually, I had stopped counting on my tenth one. Until today, my mother had accompanied me to as many as she could until she couldn’t anymore and then I started going with friends. It became a routine for me. Sort of like birth control, I guess.
But this one was different, I was alone. No one knew I had made this choice today. No one knew, not my mother, not my friends, I was too embarrassed to share. I just wanted to be responsible and deal with it myself. No one knew, that I had took a taxi, across town instead of going to school to get an abortion in a broken down building that looked like an underground clinic. No one knew, I cried all the way there and all the way back. No one knew how much this decision hurt.
No one knew that this one was different because I had made a connection to this baby and that this one I wanted to keep. And no one knew that it was a girl!
It’s almost 20 years later and I remember and still no one knows. No one knows that on that day I also vowed to never have another abortion again even if I had choice.
I remember her like it was yesterday. I write to her in my journals and I wonder if we will ever meet. I look for her in all the young women I connect with and I look for her in me. Did I really have to choose to let her go? Could I have made another choice? Did I make that choice because I could? What if I didn’t go through with it, where would I be today?
Where would women be today if they did not have choice?
When I think about abortions in my youth, I think about the women all over the world being used as weapons of war. I think back to women in slavery, Native American women, or the indigenous women in our lands today. What did they do when they were raped by their masters or the colonizers of their countries? How many of us are not products of rape and abuse? What did women decide then? How did those women save their daughters from being born into slavery or torture? How or did those women have to decided, do they have a choice?
From hangers to one child policies in China where young women are aborted or given away, from all girl group homes, to young women prostitution and trafficking, women have chosen, women are choosing and women will continue to choose to not have their daughters born into this unjust world. A world already set up for a young women’s failure. A world set up to blame her, to corner her into violence and injustice disguised as choices.
ABORTION is not just a women’s probelm or a reproductive rights issue. It’s an issue of war and violence against women.
On February 23,2011, my story came full circle. Me and my co-worker received a phone call from Bronx News 12 asking us if we had an opinion on a billboard that had gone up in Soho New York the day before stating that "the most dangerous place for an African American child is in the womb". We didn’t know what they were talking about and so we researched it online to get ready for the interview.
The first thing we saw on the news was a beautiful picture of a little African American girl with an afro and a pink bow in her hair looking out to the people right below the statement. And for a second I thought, maybe this was the image of my little girl. But the minute I thought that I got angry. I got angry for all the little girls that would have to see this, for all the little girls that are no longer here and for all the women who had to be reminded.
As a women working within a local women's grassroots organization, I had to take a stand and at 2pm we were on the news. “Casa Atabex Ache is in outrage but not surprised by white anti-choice people and their institutional tactics to strategically use Black History Month as a launch for such a racist attack on women's bodies.” This was the opening to our interview as we understood that this billboard meant much more than an anti choice protest, this meant war. This billboard is the first of many bombs being thrown at communities of color in the war being waged on a woman’s reproductive health, her choice, autonomy and self determination. With funding cuts to our health care system, women’s nonprofit organizations closing and poverty on the rise, what a better time to creep into the cracks of an already doubtful and stressed community then to launch anti-choice billboards like these all over the nation.
New York City wasn’t the first and will not be last to be hit with so called “pro-life” bill boards in the upcoming year as they are a direct result of the GOP's War on women this year. Women are being attacked on all fronts. This year four major legislations are trying to be passed. The defunding of the healthcare reform that will get rid of preventive and primary medicine and cut down major institutions federal funding like planned parenthood who provide not just abortion services but health care locally, nationally and internationally. They are getting rid of small non-profits funding to provide culturally and linguistically sensitive health & wellness reproductive health education and organizing. Bill HR 1 in South Dakota is moving to expand the definition of justifiable homicide to include killing abortion providers with bill 1171 and they are changing the definition of rape to limit or eliminate abortions.
Five hundred years of indigenous resistance and four hundred years of women of color fighting for choice come to a halting stop and makes you question if for just one minute where has it all gone wrong? and how far have we really come?
After all of this it would make sense that former Republican congressional candidate and pastor, Stephen Broden from Fair Park Bible Fellowship helped to unveil the controversial abortion billboard in New York City. Except the reasons he gives the media are in direct conflict and contradiction to the impact his actions are having on young and adult women. In the Dallas newspaper he was quoted saying that "Black women do not believe they have options besides abortion”, that is why he is behind what he calls a “pro-life” campaign that compares abortion to the genocide of black babies and black mothers too.
Unfortunately, this billboards impact doesn’t stop here. The campaign has taken on a course of its own and is sprouting all over America. Currently, Georgia Right To Life purchased another 80 billboards in Atlanta with the face of a black child and the words, “Black children are an endangered species, says NBC Chicago and more “anti-abortion billboards are headed for Chicago with the same group behind New York's controversial pro-life billboard launching the new South Side campaign”. Within the next month the women in Chicago will see 30 billboards with an image of President Obama and the words, "Every 21 minutes, our next possible leader is aborted." This time Life Always says that the billboards are targeted at the "disproportionate number of abortions among African Americans" and that "Our future leaders are being aborted at an alarming rate," spoken by yet another male member of the church Board Member Reverend Derek McCoy, he adds that “these are babies who could grow to be the future Presidents of the United States, or the next Oprah Winfrey, Denzel Washington or Maya Angelou."
It seems like once again, the state and the church have joined forces and men continue to be at the forefront of violence against women, controlling our bodies and our autonomy.
Even though the billboard in New York eventually was removed after complaints, calls, written letters and protest and that eventually all billboard will be removed on the strength of women organizing, the fight for equal reproductive health choices, education, family planning and access is far from over for poor, immigrant, black and people of color communities. As I write this, I am afraid for my sisters as bigger questions for women will remain, questions that go deeper than state and church, questions that only each individual women will have to reflect on and answer; why are we opting for abortion as a choice?, why are we having so many unintended pregnancies?, and why are we having unprotected sex?, are just a few I can think of.
Currently, the United States has one of the highest abortion rates in the developed world and 1.21 million abortions were performed in 2008. Susan A. Cohen, from the Guttmacher Institute, states that “fundamentally, the question policymakers should be asking is not why women of color have high abortion rates, but rather what can be done to help them have fewer unintended pregnancies and achieve better health outcomes more generally as nearly half of all pregnancies to American women are unintended and four in 10 of these end in abortion.”
In the news, Latina Magazine interviewed National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health Deputy Director Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas who also had questions for Latina women in our communities. She says, latinas have the highest cervical cancer rate which is 100 percent preventable if you get regular screenings and care. We also have the highest uninsurance rate— between 38 and 41 percent of Latino families are uninsured yet we wonder why our teen birth rate is so high?
Furthermore, we know that women denied abortion coverage will postpone paying for other basic needs like food, rent, heating and utilities in order to save money needed for an abortion. Yet, not all are able to cobble together the necessary funds says Silvia Henriquez also from NLIRH to the Huffington Post. When women do not have access to legal abortion, they are forced to seek affordable alternatives. The only reason a woman would seek an abortion from an unqualified person in a filthy clinic with untrained staff and improper equipment is because she had no choice.
Lastly, the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform gives us a worldwide look at abortions where approximately 42 million abortions are done per year estimating in 115,000 per day of which 83% of all abortions are obtained in developing countries and 17% occur in developed countries. Leaving us to think that there is more going on in the world than women having unprotected sex. In the United States, approximately 3,700 abortions are obtained a day of which 52% are younger than 25. And while white women obtain 60% of all abortions, their abortion rate is well below that of minority women. Black women are more than 3 times as likely as white women to have an abortion, and Hispanic women are roughly 2 times as likely. In addition, women with family incomes less than $15,000 obtain 28.7% of all abortions underlining the issue of access and the impact of poverty on women’s choices.
More importantly, out of the 52 states only 16 states (CA, CT, HI, ED, IL, MA , MD, MD, MN, MT, NJ, NM, NY, OR, VT, WA and WV) pay for abortions for some poor women. So, the real issue is that as a woman of color it is dangerous to live in the United States of America not the other way around as the billboard says.
While it is important to give statistics to create a picture, I want to remind us that statistics are relative here in the Unites States. They conveniently leave out the undocumented abortions and the abortions that are made by undocumented women that don't have health insurance or make it to the hospital. Secondly, numbers don’t tell the real story because they are not contextualized with the political, social and economic climate of an individual’s life, third, it leaves it up to people for interpretation and fourth, true accountability never happens; usually the individual is blamed for her behavior. In addition, statistics never get to the root problem of health disparities and inequalities in our community.
Dear daughter, I live in the United States, the wealthiest nation in the world, spending more than any other nation on health care expenses, yet, as a women of color no matter the choice I make to have an abortion or to give birth I have the highest probability of death because of the absence of adequate health services, insurance, hospital oversight and access. Therefore women like me have no choice and we must continue to fight to end violence in our lives and advocate for funding to start our own institutions and CBO’s.I promise you that I will fight for gender equality in education, create sustainable jobs and continue to strive to be in a political position so I can be, so young women can be, so women can be at the forefront of the discussion of their lives and heal in the process. Sincerely, your mom.
This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future, which is providing rigorous web 2.0 and new media training for 30 emerging women leaders. We are speaking out for social change from some of the most unheard regions of the world.