By Karly Stilling
Author’s Note: this article has been edited since publication to be more inclusive of all individuals these circumstance might affect.
I always suspected that I wouldn’t get an abortion.
It’s not that I’m against them in any way. I have no religious or moral objections, and I don’t believe that an abortion before 24 weeks (or in some cases, after) equates to the murder of a child.
But I’ve long suspected that, faced with the choice, I wouldn’t choose abortion.
As it turns out, I’ve never had to make that choice. Here’s why.
Reason #1: I wasn’t taught to fear sex.
I grew up in house with a healthy attitude towards sex. While it wasn’t exactly openly talked about, it wasn’t taboo either.
My mom gave me the proverbial sex talk with a book (the hilarious 80s classic Where Did I Come From?) and made me read it to her.
Mortifying, but effective—it meant the subject was out in the open, and despite the embarrassment involved, I knew that I could talk to my parents about sex if I ever needed to. (Luckily, I never did!) The same went for sexual health and bodily autonomy.
When sex is treated as taboo in the household, or when children are prematurely sexualised, it can result in a lot of misinformation or trauma around sex—and that can lead to unintentionally self-destructive behaviour and further trauma.
Reason #2: I wasn’t taught abstinence-only.
My middle-class Canadian city had a robust sex education programme in school. At 8 years old, me and my classmates had special classes to teach us words like ‘penis’ and ‘vagina’ and explain what they’re for and who should and shouldn’t touch them.
At 13 years old, we covered anatomy, STIs, and conception in biology. At 14, we were split by gender and the girls got a second helping of education about STIs, along with frank discussions about sex and birth control. I have no idea what the boys got, but I expect it was something similar. This was repeated again at 15.
As a result, I was very well-informed about my sexual health options long before I started thinking about having sex.
When I did start thinking about it, I knew exactly what my options were and I felt empowered to make my own choices. Which leads me to…
Reason #3: I wasn’t denied access to sexual health services.
Sexual health services are part of the Canadian healthcare system. I grew up within walking distance of a Planned Parenthood clinic, where I had my first pelvic exam at 18, and my first birth control consultation that same year. I knew a lot about the options already (because of the aforementioned sex education), and I got even more information and support at the clinic to help me make the best choice.
In my adult life I’ve used the pill, the depo-provera shot, the Nuva ring, and, of course, condoms, all available at low or no cost from Planned Parenthood.
Low-cost, anonymous, and readily available sexual health services and sex education are highly effective at reducing abortion rates. There really is nothing that has as big an impact as empowering people to be in control of their own sexual health.
Reason #4: I wasn’t forced into sex.
I’ve never been made to do anything I wasn’t comfortable with. I’ve rarely had my personal boundaries crossed by someone I was intimate with, and my choices regarding my body have always been respected.
As a result, I’ve always been able to dictate terms that I’m comfortable with when it comes to sex, including choosing not to have sex at all.
Reason #5: I wasn’t the victim of sexual violence.
I’ve been very lucky (so far) not to be one of the 1 in 4 Canadian women who have experienced sexual violence in their lives (in the UK and the US the reported numbers are closer to 1 in 5, and the numbers get much higher for members of LGBTQ+ communities). I’ve never had to contend with rape and its possible aftermath like STIs or an unwanted pregnancy. Every time I’ve had sex in my life, it’s been consensual and I’ve been the one to decide how and when it happens.
Although it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly how much sexual violence factors into abortion rates (often the violence is not disclosed), it’s clear it does play a role.
Reason #6: I want kids.
I always have, and that’s okay.
Some people don’t, and that’s also okay.
Some people think they don’t and then do, and some think they will and then don’t.
It’s all okay.
Reason #7: Luck of the draw.
Sometimes you can do everything right and still end up with a pregnancy you’re not ready for. It happens all the time—it just hasn’t happened to me.
When someone is faced with an unexpected, unwanted, or dangerous pregnancy, there are so many factors that go into why they have to make the choice and what they decide to do. Abortion isn’t a black-or-white, pro-or-con issue. Every person’s situation is unique, complicated, and difficult.
If all of the reasons I listed above hadn’t been true—or if just one of them hadn’t—and I had to make that agonisingly difficult choice myself, I don’t know what I’d choose to do. If something changed in my life now and I was faced with that choice, I don’t know what I’d choose to do.
But I do know one thing: it would be no one’s business but my own.
If you need help with anything related to sexual health, here are some links you can go to for more information:
In the UK: NHS’s Guide to Sexual Health Services
In the US: please check your local health services.
In Canada: Action Canada for Sexual Health Services