This article was written by Sophia C., an Essex County, NJ Middle School Student.
The following article is a part of a new series, “Listening to Youth Voices in the New Year.” Each Sunday, articles written by Essex County Middle School students will be published, each week relating to a new topic. You can learn more about this series here.
When a prompt to write an argumentative essay was assigned to me in school, I wasn’t quite sure what social issue to write about. This quickly changed when I heard a news report about an extremely restrictive bill in Ohio that former presidential candidate John Kasich was to possibly sign. I saw a fantastic opportunity to speak up about this issue, and to learn more about it in the process. While researching, I found some evidence that absolutely blew me away. I had never really felt so personally outraged and admittedly frightened for my future rights. When It was time to turn in my paper, I was nervous about pitching it to news sources like Huffington, because I was afraid that readers wouldn’t take me seriously due to my age. I was scared that people would scorn my essay because it seemed “inappropriate” for a girl of my age to be writing about sex or abortion. But then I realized that if nothing else, people could read this and understand that this issue is more urgent than they thought, because even kids are coming out of the woodwork to speak up. I believe that this was an important risk for me to take, and I am honored that The Huffington Post is publishing my article.
“Not everything [about an abortion] is easy, but sometimes it’s what’s right,” remarked thirty-five-year-old Alicia, a woman who at 19 weeks pregnant found out her baby had a terminal disease. After a solemn discussion with her husband, the couple decided that the best way to spare Alicia and keep the baby from experiencing further anguish was to have an abortion. The day of their appointment at the abortion clinic, they were met by a mob of angry, relentless protesters who even demanded that her husband “be a man and get her out of here!” A private issue had quickly escalated to a public matter in which strangers felt the need to harass and belittle a choice that was Alicia and her husband’s alone. When I first heard this anecdote as a young American female, I was frightened of the fact that someday I could be in that very same position. In our polarized society, this tragic turn of events has become all too regular of an occurrence at all levels, from protesters intimidating patients, to government officials and politicians abusing their power by inhibiting abortions, restricting the use of birth control, and teaching biased sex education. Their unfair control on women’s health care can take a toll on women today and can impact the future of girls like myself.
Contraceptives are necessary for many women to stay in charge of their lives and not be met with responsibilities that they aren’t ready for, or able to take on. Yet using birth control is often associated with shame and sexual irresponsibility by those who oppose it- a shame that is ingrained in the heads of growing girls. According to the liberal news source Mother Jones, the concept of outlawing birth control has only grown since 2010, and continues to do so. In October of 2011, Republican Congress Members pushed to have fertilized human eggs qualify as legal persons, meaning that the use of any kind of contraceptive that would kill them would be equivalent to murder.
In addition, in 2012, Republican Senator Marco Rubio proposed the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 2012” which aimed to override a recently passed law by the Obama Administration. Obama’s law said that all religious employers were required to cover contraceptive costs for their employees. However, the legislation Rubio tried to make made it so that if providing optional birth control was against a religious employer’s morals, they did not have to. Though this act was thankfully not passed, it is still a prime example of the fact that many government officials abuse their power to take reproductive rights from the hands of women who need them and girls like myself who will need them in the future. This is especially true considering that Rubio was backed by twenty-one other senators in his attempt. With President Trump now in office, the likelihood of circumstances like these occurring has only skyrocketed.
As is evident to all humans, biological men are unable to get pregnant. This simple fact, however, becomes very important to take into account alongside the fact that 77% of all anti-abortion leaders are male. While not representative of all males, these men will never have to worry about having to decide to terminate a pregnancy, or even worry about getting pregnant in the first place. Yet, they use their tremendous power to control an extremely serious choice that is ultimately up to a mother and her family alone. In fact, abortion can often be the saving grace for people like thirteen-year-old Gina: a rape victim who was impregnated during assault, and knew she was not ready to handle a child. With the help of readily available reproductive health services like Planned Parenthood, she was able to terminate the pregnancy at twenty weeks, and treat the chlamydia that also was passed to her from the perpetrator.
However, needed support like this is no longer provided in Ohio due to the recent passing of a “pro-life” law. Republican Governor John Kasich, a former 2016 presidential candidate, recently vetoed a pro-life bill called the “Heartbeat bill.” However, that did not stop him from signing the similar Senate Bill 127 that forbids abortions after nineteen weeks of gestation. This means that women or girls like Gina who live in Ohio now can’t abort a child- even if they are slightly passed nineteen weeks of pregnancy, and seriously want an abortion. In this girl’s case, I couldn’t help but imagine how powerless and ashamed she would feel if she was forced to give birth to this child that was conceived in such a painful way for her. What if I was in that girl’s place? This abuse of power is at the expense of the women under its thumb, and downright wrong.
Of course, some pro-life activists and government officials--the very people abusing their power on this issue--have many common arguments. Perhaps one of the most used is that abortion causes “abortion trauma syndrome” for woman. However, a New York Times article published in December 2016 reported the following findings: “Researchers followed nearly 1,000 women who sought abortions nationwide for five years, and found that those who had the procedure did not experience more depression, anxiety, low self-esteem or dissatisfaction with life than those who were denied it” (Belluck). It is now clearer than ever that the choice to abort a baby, while very painful and difficult, does not result in any permanent trauma. This is an invalid reason to take an extremely important option like this away.
Biased Sex Education
Education is an immensely powerful tool; our schooling teaches us not only academics, but also the facts of life. We rely on schools to teach us and to teach our future children the importance of staying sexually responsible and safe. I am someone who is growing up with this system and will most likely be affected by it. However, many schools have adopted Sexual Risk Avoidance Programs, or “abstinence-only-until-marriage” programs to provide this important information for their students. In stark contrast to the very rare Comprehensive Sexual Education option, these teaching methods often skip over important topics such as birth control, abortion, and homosexuality. They often can also instill a sense of deep shame and self-hatred into recipients who aren’t virgin. In fact, twenty-six U.S. states require abstinence to be enforced as the best method, and coincidentally, these are the states with the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country.
The people who create these curriculums, many of whom are the very same people who restrict birth control and abortions, abuse their power by clouding my and other student's views with a biased perspective of sexuality and general well being.
A Vicious Cycle
In summation, the people in our country who restrict reproductive rights and heavily influence sex education in this country abuse their power in seemingly subtle ways that make a big impact. When the information presented is observed as one, it becomes apparent that this iniquity is a constant cycle: kids aren’t taught the full story on sex, then are discouraged from using contraceptives, and then feel ashamed for wanting an abortion of a child they weren't ready for. Down the road, I want to have control of how and when I have my future children, as well as ensure that they are brought up with correct, unbiased knowledge about their bodies. It’s time we bring about change so that women and girls can finally gain control of their own physical being and personal lives. Are we not the very people who bring human life into this world?