I’m 18. I’m frustrated and terrified. But I’m going to keep on fighting for my rights. And yours.
by Olivia Data
Abortion is deeply stigmatized. You know what else is stigmatized? Teen pregnancy. Menstruation. The word “uterus.” Girls’ shoulders, if you’re familiar with school dress codes.
My name is Olivia Data. I am 18 years old and, as a girl who has a body and is alive in this world, I can tell you that just about anything a girl or woman does will be shamed in some capacity. And I mean anything. We’ve all heard the jokes about teenage girls and pumpkin spice lattes, right?
Today the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that overturns Roe v. Wade. With the ruling, trigger laws in nearly half of U.S. states will ban all or most abortions.
The thing is, persecuting abortion access isn’t about protecting life.
Rather, it’s about furthering shame. It’s about sending a message, loud and clear, to women and girls and anyone with a uterus that our bodies are shameful. That they exist to serve others, to score political points, to cave under retrogressive agendas. That our bodies do not belong to us.
If we have a bra strap showing, it’s weird. If we don’t wear a bra, it’s inappropriate. If we wear tight, revealing clothes, it’s an invitation to be sexually harassed. If we wear modest clothes, it’s… actually still an invitation! Just don’t have a body or leave your house ever; it’s not that hard.
We are sexualized by strangers, by classmates, by adults who are supposed to protect us, and often we are sexualized for the purpose of teaching us that our sexuality is shameful.
There are prejudices surrounding our choices, our interests. Even just having a functioning body is stigmatized. Stretch marks and body fat are supposed to be kept hidden. If we take a tampon with us to the bathroom, we have to hide it in our sleeve or our bag – I mean, people can’t know we have a uterus. Menstrual supplies are kept in locked boxes in public bathrooms; menstrual information is hurriedly taught in one very unfortunate day in middle school health class.
The same shame that surrounds women’s bodies surrounds abortions. Yet reproductive injustice is not only rooted in misogyny. LGBTQ+ rights, class-based equality and racial equality are also at the core of the reproductive rights movement. People of color and people in poverty are disproportionately likely to need an abortion, Black women already have higher maternal mortality rates than white women, trans and nonbinary people already struggle with a lack of access to healthcare, and people of low income are rarely able to travel across state lines to receive safe and legal care. Abortion bans are not just prejudiced; they are dangerous.
I learned a statistic recently: one in four people with a uterus will have an abortion by the time they are 45 years old.
We hear about abortion as something terrifying and disgraceful. From the grainy videos posted on pro-life websites to those horribly garish billboards on the side of the highway, abortion is supposed to be something evil and tragic that happens to other people in other lives. But it’s not. It is healthcare, it is a right and it is something that almost 25 percent of people with a uterus will choose to have by the time we reach middle age.
Based on this statistic, it is very possible that I will one day need to have an abortion.
Now, I’m lucky. I have supportive parents with a stable income. I am about to move to a progressive state. But I’m still terrified. I’m terrified because there are countless people who will lose their lives because of abortion bans. I’m terrified because the people running our country seem to believe that we don’t have the right to control our own bodies. I’m terrified because despite all the progress that has been made in the USA, my generation is still growing up in a country that wants our autonomy revoked. We are growing up as witnesses to the erosion of our constitutional rights, of our most basic freedoms and privacy.
Roe v. Wade has helped protect reproductive justice for almost 50 years. And now, even when our concerns for our autonomy are constantly dismissed and ridiculed, even when we have been assured that gender equality is a reality in this country, even when there is a plethora of case law confirming that our right to privacy with our own bodies is protected by the Constitution, the Supreme Court has still overturned the ruling in Roe v. Wade.
It seems that the majority of our current Supreme Court Justices believe that “liberty” couldn’t ever possibly refer to the ability to decide whether or not to put your own body through nine months of pregnancy, subject yourself to invasive and dangerous medical procedures and be potentially responsible for new human life. I’m sure this belief is not at all influenced by any alleged histories of sexually harassing and assaulting women (cough, cough, Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh) or belonging to a church in which women are expected to be subservient to their husbands (Amy Coney Barrett).
Editor’s Note – some Democrats voted to confirm Trump nominees, as well.
Of course, we can’t blame everything on the Supreme Court. After all, our Republican senators confirmed the Supreme Court nominations of a president who lost the popular vote. Our Democratic representatives have had control of Congress for years, and yet our rights to make our own reproductive decisions are still not protected under federal law.
This type of hypocrisy and apathy from those who have sworn to protect our freedom is disappointing but, unfortunately, not new. For years and years, people have justified widespread efforts to persecute abortion access by claiming to be protecting babies. Our representatives have proudly labeled themselves pro-freedom and pro-life, but they only act on such claims when doing so benefits their pockets and their prejudiced agendas.
And the same people calling to end abortion are calling to end and defund sex education in schools. After all, you know what stops abortions? Less knowledge about sex and pregnancy!
The same representatives who hail themselves as protectors of life are voting against bills that would address climate change, gun control or even the nation’s baby formula shortage. So, what? We’re supposed to pop out babies, but we’re not supposed to ensure they live in a world with clean air, where active shooter drills aren’t a regular part of the second-grade schedule? We’re not supposed to be able to feed them?
The same people who call themselves pro-life support bills across the nation that attack LGBTQ+ children. Apparently all life is sacred, unless that life belongs to a transgender child who wants to play sports, receive gender-affirming healthcare or live without being hate-crimed in their own hometown.
The same representatives calling to end abortion are the ones for whom safe abortions will always be accessible. Because – let’s be honest – abortion will be an evil, abhorrent thing until they or their daughters or wives or mistresses need one, and then it’ll be a completely different story.
And yes, there are many different and valid perspectives on abortion. Some people see abortions as the simple termination of a clump of cells while others see abortions as tragic and horrible, and that all makes sense. But again, these widespread efforts to ban abortions are never about protecting unborn life. They’re about controlling and shaming our bodies, the bodies of pretty much anyone who is not a straight, white, cisgender man.
With today’s SCOTUS decision, the future of reproductive rights in USA is looking bleak. But while these times are terrifying, they are not hopeless. I know there are countless people who have been fighting for reproductive justice since before I was born, I know there are countless people like me who are just beginning to join the fight and I know that no matter how long it takes, we will not back down.
For anyone looking to join the struggle for reproductive justice, especially anyone in North Dakota, I strongly recommend getting involved with a few different organizations.
I’ll start with the organization I work for, the North Dakota Women’s Network and its Youth Action Council, which is an advocate for gender equality in North Dakota. In addition to visiting those websites, you can follow ndwn_yac on Instagram or TikTok to learn more, donate and stay updated on future rallies.
Planned Parenthood also encourages comprehensive sex education and reproductive health.
Finally, if you can, please also donate to the Women In Need Abortion Fund and volunteer at the Red River Women’s Clinic; they are wonderful about helping people in our communities get safe and accessible abortion care.
Things may seem overwhelming right now, but there are so many people putting in the time and the effort to advance equality. We know how to speak up, even when our voices tremble, even when we’re told we’re too loud. We know the importance of community, the importance of equality and the importance of believing, in spite of all the bigotry in the world, that our future is bright and loving and kind.
We deserve to feel comfortable in our own bodies. We deserve to be able to advocate for our own choices. We deserve to live and grow up in a world that does not try to revoke our autonomy, does not try to shame us for our boundaries, does not try to make us feel small and powerless in our own skin. Our bodies belong to us. Our decisions belong to us. And even though Roe v. Wade has been overturned, we will continue to fight for reproductive justice until statements like “abortion is healthcare” and “my body, my choice” aren’t considered radical ideas but a protected, undeniable reality.
©2022, Olivia Data
Data is the Youth Action Council coordinator at the North Dakota Women’s Network. She is a 2022 graduate of Century High School, Bismarck, N.D., and will be attending Harvard University this fall, where she will study government and art. She is a member of the Student Advocates of North Dakota and has a passion for art, ballet, music and activism! The opinions expressed here are her own; they do not represent the positions of the North Dakota Women’s Network.