In 10th grade, my teacher for a class on National, State, and Local Government changed how I viewed the abortion debate forever.
As usual, he was goading the class into a debate. This time, though, the debate centered on the nature of parenting. Our collected group of fifteen and sixteen year olds felt like we had everything all figured out. People shouldn’t have children they can’t pay for, we demanded, it just isn’t responsible! Children should be properly planned for.
"Oh?" he asked, leaning against the chalkboard. "So are you saying poor people shouldn’t have children? That poor people can’t be good parents, and rich people automatically are?"
A pause hit the room. We were in a low income school district – lots of us were raised by poor parents doing a good job with what they had.
Sex. Abortion. Parenthood. Power.
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We rushed to clarify. "No, no, no, we weren’t saying that – we just think people should be better prepared! They need to think about what they are doing before they do it, and weigh the consequences."
The class continued on in this way for a while, with our teacher listening to us take an overly righteous stance and then poking holes in the argument. We had finally gotten around to a list of ideal conditions for parenting, and how they should be enforced, and a recommended parenting age when he asked "what makes you think you have the right to tell other people when and where they can have sex?"
We were floored. The backpedaling started – but the idea remained. So much of our conversation had, indeed, revolved around policing the sex lives of other people. But we were just being responsible! How could you bring a conversation about parenting and distill it down to people having sex?
As I got older, my teacher’s words stayed with me. When many of my friends began to have sex, when the first person I knew had a child, when the first person I knew had an abortion, my preconceived ideas about responsibility became looser, impacted by the reality of day to day life. I began having sex, and responsibility became something I felt I owed only to myself, no explanations to others needed. And, as I started to understand the full extent of the pro-choice/anti-choice debates, I realized that those too were about the policing of sexual behavior, along with the ownership of women’s bodies, issues of the state and privacy, and matters of women’s health.
On this day, let us not reflect solely on what Roe vs. Wade granted, but on how the right to choose impacts almost every aspect of our lives.