My name is Amanda Reyes. I am a second year Master’s student in the University of Alabama’s Women’s Studies program and an instructor of Introduction to Women’s Studies. Throughout my career as a feminist, women’s studies student, and university instructor, I have always been passionate about reproductive and sexual justice and eager to engage anyone on a discussion of these topics. Though their notion of “access” is generally limited by assumptions of affordability, legally documented immigration status, and personally-owned transportation, many individuals can understand the need for women to have access to basic preventive health services, sexually transmitted disease testing and counseling, annual well woman exams, and contraception. However, attitudes can quickly change when the topics of emergency contraception and abortion services are mentioned.
Because of misinformation spread by politicians, organizations, and individuals hostile to the notion of reproductive and sexual justice, many individuals do not understand the difference between emergency contraception and abortion. Emergency contraception works by keeping a woman’s ovaries from releasing eggs, or ovulating, so that there is no egg to join with sperm. Furthermore, an individual can only use emergency contraception to prevent a pregnancy up to five days after the unprotected sex occurs. An abortion terminates an already existing pregnancy. Even at this juncture, there are still many individuals who question women’s need for abortion services. Frequently, I’m asked “How would you feel if your mother had decided to get an abortion?” and, fortunately, I can answer that question quite well.
My mother, Jeanne, is the reason I believe in reproductive and sexual justice. At seventeen years old, my mother had unprotected sex that resulted in my conception. Because abortion was a legal and accessible option for my mother, she had the personal power to make a decision concerning her pregnancy. My mother elected to not have an abortion, marry my father, and start a family because she felt that she was ready and had the familial support to do so. While my conception was unintended, my birth was eagerly anticipated and brought joy to my mother, my father, and our family.
Things weren’t always easy. My family experienced financial hardships throughout my childhood that might not have been issues had my mother elected to have an abortion. It also took the support of both of my parents’ families to enable my parents to further their individual educations and careers to become professionals in their respective fields. Because my mother and father had a supportive familial network and truly desired to raise both their intended and unintended children, my younger brother and I were always loved and cared for. Some people respond to this by saying or thinking that my mother’s story proves that having and raising unintended children is something that all women are able to do and that, for this reason, there is no need for abortion services to be legally, medically, locally, and affordably available. However, my mother was only able to successfully raise two children in a loving household because she wanted to and had support from her partner, her family, and her career. My mother made the decision based on her own abilities and desires, and I would have never wished for her to care, bear, or raise me if she would have felt that these duties were overwhelming. Access to comprehensive and medically-accurate sex education, contraceptive services, emergency contraception, abortion services, and comprehensive prenatal care, should be available to all women so that they can make empowered decisions concerning reproduction.
My mom has also helped to empower me to make my own decisions concerning my health and reproductive life by sharing knowledge with me and supporting my reproductive choices. Even before I got my first prescription for birth control, my mother did not shy away from explaining to me how one became pregnant. Though she didn’t get into all the details, I knew from a young age that pregnancy occurred as a result of unprotected sex. Instead of discouraging me from premarital sexual activity like my school and my church, my mother urged me to use condoms and request medical contraception when I decided to become sexually active. My mother urged me to be healthy and smart no matter how she or others might feel about my sexuality. She also encouraged me to feel comfortable talking to her about any questions I had about sex and my sexuality. Though I never needed to ask my mom many questions thanks to our reliable internet connection, she supported my ability to make decisions for myself by trusting that I could make these decisions and by encouraging me to be comfortable asking her questions or looking things up on the internet. My mother also took me to her undeniably-feminist gynecologist for my first well woman exam. I wasn’t sexually active at the time, but my mother wanted me to be comfortable talking with a gynecologist about my reproductive capabilities and undergoing the annual exam, breast exam, and PAP smear. She also wanted me to have the opportunity to inquire about and request a prescription for regular contraception from my gynecologist. Because of the conscious steps that my mother took to educate and empower me, I have been able to live a healthy sexual life and accomplish my educational and career goals without worrying about contracting HIV or STDs or having an unintended pregnancy. Though she would never describe herself as a feminist and no matter how our politics may differ, my mother’s life experience and her strength, courage, and trust will always form the bedrock of my commitment to feminism and reproductive and sexual justice for all people.
- Amanda Reyes