What I Have Learned About Bodily Autonomy

Jun 26, 2022

The day that picture was taken marks the day that ultimately led me onto the path of becoming a mother. It’s the day Gerald and I became *a couple*. 

About five months after this picture was taken I was invited to a debate about abortion. The debate was hosted by my room mate as part of an assignment.

It was Belfast in 1999 and the women present were representing the two camps Pro Choice and Pro Life. 

Women in Northern Ireland at the time had to get themselves onto a boat to England in order to avail of medical abortions. One of the women there had done this and was talking about her decision and her experience. Some of the women in the Pro Choice group believed that there wasn't a moral question to answer because life didn't start until the foetus was fully formed.

There were women from a church group who believed that life in the womb needed to be protected no matter what. They took part in the debate to present their views. That’s in the days when constructive debate was encouraged as a life skill and none of us got personal or were offended by the *other side*.

I was invited because I believed in our autonomy as women to decide over our reproductive reality whilst also understanding that abortion meant terminating life. 

In my mind there is no doubt about when life starts. It starts at conception. Pretending that there is no moral conflict to consider doesn't make sense to me.

I totally get the moral concerns expressed by Pro Life activists AND I can see that any attempt to regulate our reproductive rights is going to result in failure, it can’t be policed and therefore it can’t be controlled, like it or not. You might as well legalise it.

Women have known how to release their pregnancies forever, and that can be done with utter awareness and even with love.

About a week later I found out that I had been pregnant during that debate night in our community living room.

I was pregnant whilst arguing that my excellent education in all things female cycle and natural contraception gave me total autonomy over my body. It was definitely superior to expecting kids to wait until they were married before having sex as proposed by the women from the church group. 

I insisted that my mother was right teaching me all this when I was a teen and the German school system was right in providing teens with sex education. I
 didn't regret any of my decisions up until now (I was 25 at the time). Northern Ireland was just behind the times. 

Finding out that I didn't have total control over everything after having argued my point so absolutely is still one of the most humbling experiences in my life to date. 

This is a picture of my mum's 'Zyklograph', it helps you predict your fertile days. I used a slightly more advanced system, taking my temperature the same time every morning and charting it to confirm my fertile window. This worked until I stopped being totally meticulous about it - for at least four years.

Here’s what early pregnancy taught me:

  •  My baby’s life really did start at conception 
  •  Being aware of your cycle is your responsibility - the temperature method does not tolerate sloppiness, even if you have years of experience in using it
  •  Humility goes a long way 
  •  Being sexually active demands taking responsibility for the possibility of pregnancy and maybe there is value in delaying when you start having sex
  •  Having access to legal abortion meant that I didn’t have to go searching for other solutions on unfamiliar turf (I had only been living in Belfast for around six months. I was also still registered with German healthcare where I had the option to legally terminate up to 12 weeks)
  •  Knowing that I had options meant that I could turn my shock pregnancy into a conscious and very much wanted pregnancy - I loved being pregnant
  •  I feel that life is sacred - all life, for me, abortion is off the cards, particularly medical abortion 
  •  I totally respect and love anyone who chooses abortion, I get why you would and I understand why you want easy access within your healthcare system
  •  Any pregnancy, no matter how it ends, will imprint on your life forever

What I have learned since:

  • I love my daughter fiercely and she has changed my life for the better
  • Parenthood is huuuuugggggeeee
  • My health is my responsibility
  • Medical contraception is still off the cards, it doesn’t suit my lifestyle choices 
  • I will protect my bodily autonomy at all cost.  
  • My body cannot be legislated any more than anyone else’s
  • The Pro Life/Pro Choice argument is deeply harmful and full of half truths on both sides

Legal vs illegal abortion

The image that women only face the possibility of dying during illegally performed abortions as a Pro Choice argument is a fallacy. I don’t have time for it just as much as I don’t have time for the dramatic elaborations about baby killers coming from the Pro Life camps.

Pro Choicers don’t love *killing babies*.

Women bleed to death after legal abortions, and illegal abortions are not as dangerous as they are made out to be.

The risk of death from legal abortion in the US between 1988 and 1997 is quoted as 0.7\100 000 and the relative risk increases with the number of completed pregnancy weeks.

In 1972 the CDC recorded that 34 women are known to have died from illegally performed abortions in the US. The number of illegal abortions in that year was estimated to have been 130 000. This estimation is raised by a neighbourhood survey and it is likely that more illegal abortions were performed. This type of thing happens discretely, it cannot be regulated. The risk of death in illegal abortions also increases with completed pregnancy weeks.

My point is that it is impossible to establish exactly how much *safer* legal abortion is or if it is any *safer* at all. 

In reality women die within medical systems across the world we just don't talk about it.

They die in birth, they die during fertility treatment and they die as a result of medical abortion. 

Women die of suicide after having been traumatised in birth and they die of suicide because they have no legal option for abortion. 

I think that the current Roe v Wade argument distracts us, it’s meant to. It keeps us from talking to each other with love and respect. 

It keeps us from finding solutions together based in our communities.

Institutionalising women’s reproduction allows for our bodily autonomy to become subject for political gain. Don’t allow it.

Drawing other arguments into the debate distracts us too. 

Could we instead start to find solutions that serve everyone? We need to be on point and debate one issue at a time. 

How can we safely hold all women in all situations?

The most constructive initiative from people who want to protect unborn life that I am aware of was provided at The Farm community in Tennessee. They offered young women to live there during pregnancy, be fed, be cared for and be held in love. They could give birth there and leave their children in the loving care of the community. They had the option to stay in touch.

On the other hand I know that there are women’s circles who teach women about their cycles and encourage loving and caring relationships with their bodies. They offer women support with early pregnancy release, safely, with love. Experienced elders have supported this, discretely, forever, even in *modern times* and even alongside existing access to medical abortions and pharmaceutical contraception.

It takes a village!

The medical system does not own our reproductive rights or any claim on our bodily autonomy, neither does the state.

Don’t go asking for autonomy, claim it instead. 

Look away from inflammatory divisive arguments and be the solution you would like to see. 

Love,

Nicole

Sources:

Cates, Willard, and Roger Rochat. “Illegal Abortions in the United States: 1972-1974.” Family Planning Perspectives, vol. 8, no. 2, 1976, pp. 86–92. JSTOR, https://doi.org/10.2307/2133995. Accessed 26 Jun. 2022.
 

Bartlett LA, Berg CJ, Shulman HB, Zane SB, Green CA, Whitehead S, Atrash HK. Risk factors for legal induced abortion-related mortality in the United States. Obstet Gynecol. 2004 Apr;103(4):729-37. doi: 10.1097/01.AOG.0000116260.81570.60. PMID: 15051566.

Birth Matters: a midwife's manifesta Paperback – 15 Mar. 2011

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