“Women deserve better than abortion,” the man stated firmly, before sitting back down next to me in the crowded Maryland senate hearing.
He was a member of one of the many “pro-life” groups that testified on March 8 in Annapolis against Senate Bill 798: Declaration of Rights - Right to Reproductive Freedom. I caught a glimpse of his phone background, which was a beautiful, smiling picture of a young girl, likely his daughter. It struck me at that moment: We were there for the same reason.
We both wanted to stand up for that little girl, we wanted her to have the freedom to be whomever she wants to be when she grows up, and we were both there to advocate for the dignified and respectful treatment of women and children. The same values that inspire me to dedicate my life to serving women as a birth doula, a nanny, a nursing student and a future Certified Nurse Midwife/ Reproductive Health Nurse Practitioner are the same values that motivated him to testify against the Right to Reproductive Freedom Bill.
Where we differ is that this man believed that restricting reproductive freedom will protect women and children, when in practice bodily autonomy is the cornerstone of liberation.
There are no conditions on which abortion should be limited, as abortion access should be unconditionally safe and legal for all people. All restrictions to accessing reproductive care are tools of oppression and perpetuate institutional and interpersonal violence against women. The leading cause of death for pregnant women in America is homicide. In fact, just being pregnant is considered a risk factor, as a woman’s chance of being killed increases by 35% when she is pregnant. In a country that prides itself on the constitutional right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, how can we sit idly by while women are being systematically abused and killed?
Individual reproductive freedom is a pillar of a person’s right to self-determination, and often this access to reproductive health care can be lifesaving for persons who are affected by interpersonal violence. It cannot be ignored that the leading U.S. professional health organizations collectively promote the right to reproductive freedom. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, the American Public Health Association, the American College of Nurse Midwives, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, and even the larger World Health Organization concur that everyone deserves access to comprehensive, evidence-based reproductive health care, which includes abortion. Consecrating the right to reproductive freedom in state constitutional law is a crucial step to ending the epidemic of interpersonal violence in America. There is no place for federally or state sanctioned forced birth in the modern world.
To the man who sat next to me and testified against the Reproductive Freedom bill, which was signed into law Wednesday by Gov. Wes Moore, and to all others who share his beliefs: You were right, women do deserve better than abortion. Abortion is integral to self-determination and should be considered the lowest rung on the ladder to achieving gender equality. I want you to look that little girl in the eyes and tell her that she does not deserve the right to make her own private health care decisions that could ultimately determine her future. She does not need protection against the monsters under her bed, she needs protection against people who want to control her future.
Together we must choose as a nation to build a system devoid of the institutional abuse of women and children, and that starts with securing reproductive freedom for all.
Meredith Britton (firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @merebritt1) is a graduate nursing student; the views expressed are her own.