It was not my parents who instilled Catholicism into my upbringing, it was just the way things were. We had no choice and we knew nothing else. My family was very open to talking about sexuality, but only using euphemisms. The women would sit around the kitchen table sipping coffee and giggling over which one of them ate carne cruda, which translates to raw meat, but means to give oral sex. I could hear them talk about other people's daughters and how they saw the girls wearing a mini skirt or showing off her mid-riff, kissing a boy a few blocks away, or with a condom in her purse. And much later at night, when they thought all the children were sleeping they would gossip about the women they knew who had abortions. They never used the word abortion, but it was obvious. They would say things like "she bought the pills that make your period come back" or "she made her husband punch her in the stomach" or "her mom sent her a special tea from the Dominican Republic" and sometimes it went to the extreme, "she punctured herself with a knitting needle" or "she used a coca-cola bottle."
At the time I was not allowed to questions, but I was a curious child and my mother always tried to answer anything to the best of her abilities. When I realized that what the women in my family were talking about was abortion I felt disdain for the women they gossiped about. My mother would rarely talk about other girls, in fact, she would warn my aunts and cousins about comparing their daughters to others. Her favorite saying was "nunca digas 'de esa agua no beberé'" which translates to "don't ever say you won't drink from that glass of water" but means that you should not assume you will never be in a certain situation. When I asked her about abortion she just said that I should never feel that I cannot talk to her. From early on it was clear that my reputation as a good girl was tied to my sexuality, and although my mother did not want that to be my reality, she knew it was how my culture would value me.
Whenever I was asked what I thought about abortion I would bravely defend the potential for life. For a high school project I stood in front of the classroom and spoke about the way an embryo has tiny fingers and a heartbeat, how the mother could become depressed after an abortion, and to bolster the sentimentality of a pregnancy I showed a lot of pictures of beautiful babies with their caring mothers. I truly believed that a pregnancy was a miracle and that no person in their right mind would want to hurt their baby, but while my intentions were in the right place I was very naive.
At the time I was not sexually active and I had every expectation to save myself for marriage. I considered my virginity the most valuable asset I held. I imagined with disdain having to tell my husband I had been with another man and feeling sorrow for his dissatisfaction; the thought that he was probably not saving himself for me did not even cross my mind. I had never heard of a man being valued for his virginity, in fact, it seemed that men who were sexually inexperienced were mocked by society. My father had a child when he married my mother, but he boasted about my mother being a virgin on their wedding night. I was under the impression that saving oneself for marriage was the morality quick-fix, but only for women. This left me feeling guilty for being curious about my sexuality and terrified at the possibility of getting pregnant before I was married.
Living on my own and meeting people from other walks of life gave me a different perspective on sexuality and abortion. Our society sees sexuality as only acceptable within the rigid confines of heterosexual matrimony and for procreation. Sex for pleasure is offensive and irresponsible, unless you have signed a legal document with a partner of the opposite sex. Yet as much as socially conservative groups insist that the only safe sex is no sex, their ideals do not match our reality. Social conservatives reminist of times when good girls remained pure and waited for marriage, yet they forget that women had no other choice. Women in these scenarios were, and still are in many places, confined to the home, escorted to activities, and under constant watch. If we have to chaperone sexuality until the participants sign a legal marriage contract, what are we trying to prove? Our fascination with an intact hymen results in the demonization of sexuality and puts the entire worth of a girl dependent on whether a man has had sex with her or not. Furthermore, what message are we sending our boys and men? We tell them to value women based on their sexual history and speak of their genitals as if they had damaging powers.
Directly tied to sexuality is the ability, as women, to make decisions about our bodies. Sex is nothing new, people have been having it for generations. We can try as much as we want to say sex should only be acceptable within the confines of marriage, but that was not always the case. Traditional marriage was a simple declaration of intent. The only reason Churches were told of marriages and births was because they were the record keepers in any given city or village. Slaves in Latin America and the United States were not legally allowed to marry. There were no religious ceremonies and contract signing, two people were in love and decided to be with each other against all odds. Slave men would be separated from their families as punishment and the women were raped at their master's whim. We'd like to believe that we have moved on from this mindset, but we have kept the same ideals for women.
Women have had access to contraception and abortions throughout history. The Talmud mentions inserting a sponge soaked in lemon juice into the vagina as a spermicide. Hippocrates wrote about using the plant Queen Anne's Lace seeds as a sort of morning after pill. The need for women to control how and when they have children is imperative to equality, fairness, and limiting the amount of children that are abandoned and unwanted. No one wants to have an abortion, and in an ideal world no woman would need one. But in the world we live in women are sometimes raped and impregnated against their will. This is a world where we shun comprehensive sexual education in schools and in our homes and then blame a pregnant teenage girl for her suppose lack of morality. In this world, we posit motherhood as the single most important achievement for all women, without realizing that some women simply do not want to become mothers and some are not financially able to do so. If we truly care about motherhood we should want women to enjoy their sexuality and have children on their own terms. If we want to decrease the number of abortions then we should make motherhood easier for women. Fund daycare centers, ensure that parents get paid maternity and paternity leave, give young men and women the access to sexual education and contraception, and most importantly, let's value women as individuals, not potential baby makers.
Being pro-choice means that I get to decide what I want for my own body. I do not get to tell another woman that she should or should not have sex based on my beliefs. I do not get to judge women on how they lead their personal lives. Those who want to be bound by religious moral standards have every right to do so, but they do not have the right to force their stoic lifestyle on anyone else.
Putting science aside, those who passionately oppose abortion on the idea that the rights of a fertilized egg or an embryo trump the rights of a woman try to make me feel uncomfortable and dirty by calling me a "baby killer." They use words to attempt to dehumanize me and tug at my sentimentality, and for a long time those words hurt. But you know what hurts more? Crippling poverty, hunger, sex slavery, honor crimes, child brides, rape, human trafficking, and far too many other things. If you truly want a better world fight for social justice and human dignity.