Sunday, September 5, 2010

Close your eyes and imagine something for me

welcome to your new home

What if you moved to another country and had no family there, and your first language was one that very few people in your new home had even heard of, and you spoke very little of theirs? You might be relieved and happy to find someone who shared your mother tongue and your host country's language, someone who could help you navigate this new place as well as be a friend who understood where you came from.

You might start dating this person, move in with him, end up relying on him in most aspects of your life. He might be a lot older than you, take advantage of your dependence, control your access to food or transportation or a phone, and refuse to use birth control. 

What if you got pregnant? What if you got pregnant and had always looked forward to having children and this person who had final say in your life was not a fan of the idea? And what if you couldn't get your own job or lease or even typical social services -- shelter, healthcare, food for an infant -- because your immigration status wasn't clear? What would you do? 

You might decide that, as much as you'd rather have a child, the only feasible course of action is to seek an abortion, just like he is telling you. You might have to rely on him to translate during the counseling session, and there's really no point trying to say how you really feel, because he already knows it, and he won't translate it to the counselor, and anyway what you'd rather do doesn't change what you must do. 

After the abortion you might try to spill your guts, in spurts, and using a combination of elementary vocabulary and charades, to the various staff in the recovery room. Unfortunately, if you talked to me, I might have a really hard time understanding the full extent of your situation, and try to comfort you with tissues and talk about the hope of having a child when you're in better circumstances -- not realizing that the road to better circumstances isn't visible from here. (It's a lot harder for me to write about this failure to listen well than to read J's story of a failure in his early days as an aid worker: why?) But I'd notice that you kept saying you didn't feel strong enough to get dressed and be discharged yet, even though your vital signs were normal three times in a row. 

If you talked to my more perceptive colleague, she might try to ask you if you had "somewhere else to go" -- but you don't know anyone or anyplace other than this man. She might call in a counselor and make a bunch of phone calls to informal assistance resources, trying in vain to find someone who spoke the right language. The three of you might make a plan to have you come back in a few days for "a check-up" and hope that this guy at least respects medical orders and will give you another ride to the clinic. 

All of this, to our regret, would happen after the abortion that you wished you didn't have to have, because while antis are lately fixated on stopping "coerced" abortions, they are apparently completely clueless about the forces and circumstances that actually make women have abortions they wish they didn't have to have. When language barriers don't prevent women and girls from telling us what's in their heart, when immigration laws don't leave the most vulnerable with nowhere to turn, when men don't take the opportunity to take advantage, when families don't make their daughters believe that can't possibly come home pregnant, (you fill in the blank): that's when women will only have the abortions they want

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