I started having sex when I was about 17. I realize now that 17 is neither too old nor too young, but pretty normal. However, at the time the main messages I received from my parents, my school, and the media were saying, “Good girls don’t have sex. If you’re having sex, you’re bad, and bad things are going to happen to you. Furthermore, you will be in no position to protest because you will have done it to yourself.” That was only 13 years ago in the deep south, and based on the behavior we saw in the Texas state senate last night, I know things haven’t changed very much since then.
As a sexually active teen, I was smart enough to take precautions, but I knew that if I got pregnant or got an STD, I would have no one to turn to. Sure, my parents said I could tell them stuff, but could I really? Not without a whole lot of fear and shame. I didn’t want to be told that I was ruining my future or worse, disrespecting myself. I heard more than enough times that having sex was somehow degrading to me, which is complete bullshit because I was acting on my own desires and no one else’s. Still, I knew I couldn’t be honest with my parents, teachers, doctors and certainly not any of the priests at my Catholic school. Instead, I carried condoms with me, confided in my girlfriends, and made a point of knowing where I could get an abortion should I ever need one. I kept a $500 cushion in my bank account at all times because I heard that’s what an abortion would cost. There was no Planned Parenthood in my town, either, so I was prepared to drive several hours to the nearest clinic I could find on Google, which was in Texas. Later, when I moved to Texas to go to college, I made it my business to know where the nearest women’s health clinics were and their prices.
Aside from getting birth control pills and treating a couple UTIs, I never had to use those services, but I felt safer knowing where they were and that I could take care of myself. If my boyfriend left me, my parents disowned me, and I was pregnant with a baby I couldn’t take care of, I knew exactly where I could go and what I could do. Even now, happily married, I know that I could take care of a baby if I became pregnant, but should I need an abortion, I know where to go. That’s a pretty powerful thing, and young women need it. Young women need to know that they are in control of their own bodies. They need to know that they have the right to decide to become a mother or not.
What the Texas state senate showed the women of Texas and those watching from all over the world last night was that we still have to fight for sovereignty in our own bodies. We have to stand up for 13 hours explaining the issue to a bunch of men who don’t want to hear it. We have to scream from the gallery even if we might get arrested. And we have to stand up for one another. This is not a women-against-men issue, for the record. I am grateful to the male and female colleagues who stood by Wendy Davis to the end last night, but the sad truth is that the power over women’s bodies is still largely in the hands of rich, old, white men who cannot accept that women are human beings with a right to self-determination.
I hope we all remember Wendy Davis and her filibuster the next time a bill like this comes up, and it will, probably soon. We have come a long way, but we are not there yet when you can say a discussion of legally mandated pre-abortion sonograms is not germane to a discussion about abortion. When the movements of female senators can be blatantly ignored by the president of a mostly male senate, all is not right with the world. When the senate takes a vote after midnight and half the members aren’t even sure what they’re voting on but they vote anyway in hopes of forcing through legislation that the people don’t want, we’ve got serious work to do.
Yes, we all want to reduce the number of abortions taking place, but if you try to do it by making abortions illegal, it only results in more risky behavior. I know for my own part, 17-year-old me would have driven further than Texas. I would have sought other means of terminating any unplanned pregnancy. I very well could have made some dangerous choices, but I didn’t have to. I don’t want other women to face those choices.
If you want to reduce the number of abortions, educate kids about sex and their rights. Here is what you tell them:
- You own your body, and you are solely responsible for yourself. No one has the right to force, coerce or expect you to have sex when you don’t want to. You do not have the right to force, coerce, or expect sex from anyone else.
- Go masturbate. It’s not wrong. It feels good. You can’t get pregnant doing it. Furthermore, you’ll have better sex later in life if you learn to get yourself off now.
- Birth control is a many splendored thing. There are tons of options out there, and when practiced properly, most of them are pretty good. Masturbating with your partner is also lovely alternative to the boring old in-out act.
- Abortion is a safe, legal medical practice. It’s available to you as an option, should you need it.
Thank you, Wendy Davis, for standing up for all of us last night. Thank you Leticia Van de Putte for calling out the sexist bullshit on the senate floor. Thank you Kirk Watson for standing strong with your female colleagues. Thank you Royce West for fighting against the senate president’s abuse of the rules. Thank you to the audience in the gallery for raising enough hell to let the lawmakers know that we are watching them and we won’t let them trample women’s rights. Thank you to everyone on social media who put up a fuss last night and made sure the world took notice.
“Liberty and justice for all” is an extremely lofty goal, but every little victory is worth it. Stay alert. Stay strong. Stay true to your heart. The work’s not done yet.