"It is just unfortunate that she hasn't learned from her own example that every life must be given a chance to realize its full potential and that every life matters."
That was Texas governor Rick Perry, speaking about state Senator Wendy Davis shortly after she filibustered his anti-choice bill in late June. The bill has since passed, but Perry's words, and Davis's eloquent response, have stayed with me. This idea that being pro-choice and also a mother are somehow incompatible is something that I've thought about a lot over the past year and a half, as I've become a mother myself.
I was solidly pro-choice before I became pregnant. I volunteered at Planned Parenthood in college, worked in the reproductive rights field as an adult, and spent three years immersed in research for a book that I wrote on the subject. But going through nine months of pregnancy and now raising a child has made me even more pro-choice than I ever thought possible.
My firm belief in reproductive rights doesn't come from a place of disrespecting life -- quite the opposite. It comes from appreciating just how precious life is and believing that it is too precious to be undertaken under duress. I absolutely cannot imagine ever telling another woman what she should and shouldn't be allowed to do with her body, what choices she should and shouldn't be allowed to make. And I cannot comprehend the arrogance of anyone that would try to do so.
My pregnancy also strengthened my belief in other aspects of reproductive rights that don't generate as many headlines as abortion does. Access to reliable, affordable contraception meant that I could delay pregnancy until I was done with school, had a job, was in a stable relationship, and felt somewhat emotionally and physically ready to become a parent. While it may be a cliché that there is no right time to have a child, there are definitely times that are less right than others, and I was able to wait until my own "least wrong" time to become pregnant.
I'm hardly alone in having the opportunity to make that decision. I've lost count of how many parents I've talked to, both mothers and fathers, that mentioned how they waited until they felt ready to have a child, or described how they came to their decision, or in a hundred other ways indicated that choice played a role in their becoming parents. Not all of these people support abortion, yet in being able to choose parenthood, they are all in favor of reproductive choice. I would venture to say that anyone that has used a condom, taken the Pill, filled a prescription for an IUD, or inserted a NuvaRing could technically be considered pro-choice: because they made a deliberate choice to delay parenthood.
My experiences are nowhere near as high-profile as Wendy Davis', but I've been questioned about how I can be a pro-choice mom. Most memorably, a group of anti-choice activists in Pittsburgh almost visibly recoiled at my mention of having a daughter. They couldn't, or wouldn't, let themselves think for even a second that it was possible to support abortion rights politically and not make that choice personally.
I suspect that they would also have a hard time believing that I support a woman's right to choose motherhood just as much as I support her right to abortion. But my own experience helped me understand that what I needed to be comfortable becoming a parent was just that -- what I needed. I know plenty of women, both married and single, that chose to have children under circumstances that I would consider less than ideal. But those women decided the time was right for them, and that's what mattered. And that's all that should matter. If a woman feels that it's the right time for her to become a parent, she should. If she feels that it's not, then she should have other options available: contraception, adoption, and, yes, abortion.
My daughter is almost ten months old. We are years away from having to talk about sex, contraception, and abortion. But this summer, 40 years after Roe v. Wade, has brought a concerted effort from all corners of the country to restrict women's access to reproductive health care. It's hard for me not to worry about what the landscape will look like when my daughter is old enough for us to have those conversations. Her great-grandmother and grandmother's generations knew full well the dangers that came with making abortion illegal. I am a pro-choice mother for many, many reasons, but perhaps chief among them is because I don't want my daughter's generation to know those dangers too.