I was very disheartened, yet not surprised by the backlash this politician received after her personal disclosure of a termination during her teen years:
The reasons behind my reaction is based in the fact that the issue of terminating a pregnancy has been battleground here in the US (and in other countries as well) for YEARS and will continue to be so. But as this war over women’s rights rages, the one thing that is often lost as policy gets adjusted is the face of who this issue impacts: the woman who is exercising the right to choose.
It is essential to protect that right to choose that a women and as to be supportive of those rights as possible – even if one doesn’t agree with the choice that woman may make.
On the 9-5, working with young people around handling a pregnancy is often the most emotionally taxing part of my job. This is so because deep in your heart you know that once you find out that this was an unintended pregnancy, there will be some emotional residue left over for the women no matter what her decision is going forward.
One classic story I will never forget was an experience a coworker of mine had while working at a Planned Parenthood location. Often times at some of these locations you will have a group of pro life protesters outside those locations, trying to influences clients as they walk into the facility. One day, my coworker saw a client who was pregnant and choice to terminate an unintended pregnancy. A few weeks later, on her way into the clinic as she passed by the usual group of protestors, she recognized one of the faces in the group – it was the same client she has seen who chose to terminate her pregnancy.
It isn’t about the age: it is about the choice that woman has to make. I often tell clients who are facing this decision is that in spite of all the stories you have heard, you have to make what you feel is the best choice for you.
My own personal views on this issue have changed tremendously over the years. I will readily admit that going into this line of work I shared at the beginning some of the haughtiness that many in the general population pointed at to women of all ages facing an unintended pregnancy: “if you had protected yourself in the first place, you wouldn’t be in that situation”. I grew up in a culture where there was – and still is – some stigma around both contraception and terminating pregnancies. Women who “dash weh bellies” were looked on with a similar level of disdain as women who were perceived to be “promiscuous”. Now having done this work long enough, while most of the unintended pregnancies I encounter have common themes, each situation is still unique enough where that broad stroke of judgment has about as use as a rock club in a gun fight. My stance now both professionally and personally is more focused on the issue of preventing pregnancy and being fully supportive of a woman as she exercises her right to choose once she discovers she is pregnant.
It is never solely about the fact that she is pregnant; it is also about how she got to that point and more importantly, what she chooses to do going forward.
Clinicially, there is a whole battery to things to cover with a pregnant client that I cover with once she walks into my office that I won’t get into here. But, what I will say is that the emotional ramifications of the choice she makes going forward are far reaching. There is much fear medically and emotionally as a decision around pregnancy is being made; whether it is a first pregnancy or a 10th pregnancy, those fears are still the same. I often encourage my clients to make a decision that they feel comfortable following through on, and that supportive services are ALWAYS present. For some women who choose a termination, they may need the extra support at any time – even years after the pregnancy in question have been resolved.
I applaud Assemblyman Lucy Flores’ courage in revealing what she went through personally at that time as an example of had she had more access to information in a supportive manner, perhaps she would have chosen to use contraception or not putting herself into behaviors that led to her having to make that choice about that pregnancy. The issue is that many people will blindly see her as poster child for the termination process because of her experience or at the minimum now no longer see her as a policy maker trying to improve women’s rights because she can make the connection from city hall to the woman sitting in her room figuring out her decision.
We shouldn’t lose sight of the courageous decision the Assemblywoman as made twice surrounding this pregnancy: both back then on how to handle it, and now on how to share her experience to drive her policy work in a human yet healthy manner. It is not our business to tell a woman what to choose, but it is our business to be supportive of her choices and her right to choose.