Viewpoints: Two students on abortion, choice and opportunity

Bhavya Sharma and Lauren Colaco pose in front of the U statue on campus.
Bhavya Sharma and Lauren Colaco pose in front of the U statue on campus. Photo credit: Contributed photo

“We both woke up with a sort of feeling of dread because it’s—even if you’re pro-choice, it’s never a happy feeling to have to terminate.”

Lauren Colaco, the president of the National Organization for Women at the University of Miami and a senior majoring in biology and psychology, reflected on the morning she drove a friend to get an abortion.

“It’s a solemn day, and it’s a hard thing to do,” Colaco said. She believes anybody would feel that potential for life and that getting an abortion is one of the most difficult things a woman can go through.

“We’re rolling up in the car, and we feel nervous because we’re like, ‘What if people see her?’” Colaco said that abortion has been stigmatized so much that her friend was scared of people finding out, despite believing termination was the right decision.

“When we get out of the car, there’s so many pro-lifers in front of the building,” Colaco said. “They were really harassing her.”

Colaco said she doesn’t believe protesters are going to change women’s minds by approaching the issue like that, and they just made her friend feel worse.

“It showed me that people should have a lot more compassion for women or what they’re going through. It seems that there’s a disconnect maybe between two sides and until you see the human side of it, it’s really hard to connect with pro-choicers.”

Bhavya Sharma, a freshman majoring in neuroscience and the treasurer of the National Organization for Women at UM, worries about how unplanned pregnancies can interrupt a woman’s life. She stressed that women need to be prepared to have a child not only financially but also emotionally, socially, and academically if they want to go to school.

Sharma pointed out that being told you must carry a pregnancy to term represents a great loss of control over one’s own life for women. “Once that hits, that can lead to very strong emotions of depression, anxiety, and long periods of them too.”

Sharma added that going through these mental health issues would make raising a child even more difficult.

“Abortion does play a large role psychologically on the mother. But I do feel like the toll it would take to raise a child that you’re not ready to raise would be much greater than any toll that you might receive from abortion,” Sharma said.

She believes resources for navigating abortion could be helpful for women who have had one. “Just like … resources should be provided in the hospital when you give birth to a baby. They give you all these resources to kind of help you on your way. Same thing should be with abortion,” Sharma said.

Colaco said her friend felt sorrow in getting an abortion, but she also felt relieved. She plans to have children one day, and she’s thankful she’ll be able to provide for her kids and give them a better future when that time comes.

“The maternity gap is huge in terms of motherhood, in terms of the workplace,” Colaco said.

She made the point that raising a child isn’t just expensive; it can also result in a lower income. She pointed out that in a two-parent, heterosexual home, when both parents work and it is decided that one should become a stay-at-home parent, the expectation tends to be that that will be the mother.

This is on top of the fact that a mother may have to take time off during her pregnancy, when she has the baby, and for maternity leave. This missed time could result in fewer paychecks, and, possibly, fewer opportunities for raises and promotions.

As a result, Colaco worries that the opportunities for mothers to get ahead are not as extensive as they are for men, and she believes reproductive choices help to eliminate barriers.

“I don’t necessarily want to increase the rate of abortion. I think that there’s so many steps prior that somebody can take that this makes it only like a last-ditch effort,” Colaco said.

Colaco’s hope for women is that they don’t end up in this position in the first place, so they don’t have to feel the pain abortion brings. But she doesn’t want women to feel shame if they end up with an unplanned pregnancy, and she believes women should have the right to make the decision they believe is best.

Colaco said the sexist culture of shaming women needs to change and reproductive education needs to be more in-depth, both to help women avoid unwanted pregnancies and to help women who unintentionally get pregnant.

“Women are still shamed for sexual impurity,” Colaco said. “Sometimes a woman’s worth is pinned on her sexual nature, which is very unfair because … it takes a man to get a woman pregnant.”

Colaco also wants to see men bear equal responsibility. She talked about the stigma unmarried women face if they become pregnant and how often women are left to handle things on their own. “I think the pro-life movement is as strong as it is because the burden of it falls onto women. I think because of the patriarchal society that we live in, if the burden had fallen onto the other gender, this pro-life contentious issue wouldn’t be as big of a debate.”

She explained that she does believe some people in the pro-life movement truly have concern for the unborn child, but she thinks it wouldn’t have gained as much steam if not for the ability and tendency of fathers to leave responsibility entirely with mothers.

Sharma said, “Historically, we have a society where we favor the female body if it’s being sexualized. Modeling, pornography, literally many domains … men just want to see it for their own pleasure.”

Sharma believes the abortion debate is largely a continuation of the control exerted over women by many men because they don’t want to give the power to women to make that choice and control their own bodies.

Colaco and Sharma both emphasized that supporting the pro-choice cause goes beyond reproductive choice after conception. They want women to have access to all contraceptive options: condoms, birth control, IUDs, arm implants, etc.

They also believe a big part of this is education and want reproductive education to be more expansive. Colaco said that should include lessons on pregnancy itself and what happens during each trimester. She highlighted the importance of males receiving this education as well, pointing out that it’s a dual responsibility.

Colaco said education on how birth control works and why “the pullout method” doesn’t should also be included. She wants birth control for men to receive more attention as it becomes available too.

Colaco and Sharma both said that ensuring people can plan and have control over when they become parents will enable them to provide for their children and give them the childhood all children deserve.

Colaco and Sharma diverge on what they believe pro-choice means after conception.

Sharma believes women should be able to get an abortion at any point in pregnancy because she thinks it should always be the woman’s choice.

Colaco and Sharma believe abortion bans like the six-week ban in Texas are essentially total bans. Colaco reasoned there would hardly be a point to the pro-choice movement if this was the cut off for pro-choicers because many who would get an abortion if they could wouldn’t know they were pregnant at six weeks.

She said that women who are not trying to get pregnant need something to indicate there’s a chance they are pregnant.

Colaco and Sharma both think it’s important to consider that menstrual cycles can be erratic and that women can still get spotting when they’re pregnant, so they believe it’s not always a simple matter of missing or not missing a period.

Colaco elaborated on her view, saying, “To me specifically, it (pro-choice) doesn’t mean abortion at any point.” She believes women should have the right to get an abortion in the first trimester. She also thinks it’s important that abortion is legal in the second trimester, though she believes there are moral limits and the goal should be for abortions to take place in the first trimester.

“It can be a really difficult decision to make, or it can be hard getting access to care any time before those 15 weeks, especially women who are living in poverty,” Colaco said of recent abortion legislation. “I of course do believe that most abortions should be within a first set of weeks … but … there are cases where you just don’t have access, and you have to travel so far to get an abortion.”

Colaco worries that reducing the number of abortion clinics could inadvertantly lead to women who want abortions getting abortions later, as access would be limited.

Colaco thinks third trimester abortions should be illegal with exceptions for extreme genetic defects if it is believed the child’s life would be miserable.

“There’s extreme cases where I imagine that a mother doesn’t want to bring a child into the world to suffer.”

Colaco thinks having more abortion clinics and reducing stigma around abortion would make it so women would get abortions earlier on. She also thinks pro-life protests that take place in front of clinics can cause women to delay abortions they will eventually get anyway.

“There’s a disconnect for pro-choice and pro-life as to when life begins fundamentally. And that I think is the hardest thing to overcome,” Colaco said. “I support pro-choice. I’m not saying every woman should get an abortion. But I do truly believe that it should be an option for every woman.”