As a retired faith leader, I know firsthand the importance of access to reproductive health care, including abortion. Because of my deep faith, not in spite of it, I believe that all women should be able to make their own decisions about their bodies and their futures.
Circling the debate around the issue of abortion is a slew of misinformation and often the positioning of “us” versus “them.” I want to share my personal experiences that are near and dear to me, and have helped inform my belief in the importance of comprehensive reproductive health care.
In the 1970s, I worked in an early childhood development program as a case teacher. I worked with many women throughout my time with the program, but there’s one woman who has always held a special place in my heart. She was 19 years old; she already had four babies to care for at home — and was pregnant, again. She felt overwhelmed and needed resources and options. I let her know she had options. I thought it crucial then — and to this day — that she empower herself to make the best decision for her life and her family. This was a decision between her and her doctor, in consultation with her family. It was very important to me that I didn’t alter her decision-making process in any way, but simply made sure she had the information she needed to be empowered to make her own decision.
She decided to have an abortion. I supported her in all of the ways I could — I took her to the clinic and made sure I was available if she needed assistance with childcare or additional help. Afterward, she was so relieved. She knew her decision was right for her family.
I, too, have had to make decisions that were only possible with the support of family and friends. My son was born to a mother who had breast cancer. She consulted with experts on all of her options and was told by doctors that an abortion may be the best course of action, to allow her to immediately start her cancer treatment. She decided she wanted to go through with the pregnancy, even though it meant delaying her treatment and putting her health at risk. She made that decision for herself.
When my son was 21/2 years old, his mother passed away. We adopted him, and he is now a grown man, of whom we are endlessly proud. I tell this story because I think it is so important to add to the conversation. His mother decided to continue her pregnancy — and that decision was hers and hers alone. No one was in her shoes, and no one else could have made that decision for her.
These stories show why access to health care, including abortion care, is so crucial for those of us with the capacity for pregnancy. Decisions we make should not be met with scorn or with judgment, but with compassion, and the understanding that we just don’t know what someone else may be going through or the decisions they may be facing.
We cannot legislate other people’s deeply personal decisions. Having access to a full range of reproductive health care empowers women to have strength in the face of uncertainty, and to make the best decisions for themselves and their families.
We may not know the challenges others are facing, but what we can do is work with one another to ensure that there are no barriers to health care access. We can listen to each other. We can support our colleagues, friends and families in the decisions they make for themselves. Too often we judge these decisions as black or white, for or against, pro or anti, but I would encourage all of us to dig a little deeper to see that these decisions are more complex than that, and that we should be leading with compassion and understanding for one another.
Karen Bash is a Democratic state representative from Albuquerque.