By Sarah Tuttle
Sarah Tuttle is passionate about pursuing reproductive justice, and serves on the board of The Lilith Fund, an abortion fund based in Central Texas. In her spare time, she is an instrumental astrophysicist.
[Editor's note: more people than just cis women need and want access to reproductive and abortion health care.]
I give women money for abortions. That is what my husband likes to say when he’s being shocking, which is pretty much any time there is an awkward pause somewhere inappropriate. We spent a decade in Manhattan, and before that we lived in Coastal California. And now? Now we live in Texas. In Austin, to be fair, but I point out it is still located in Texas. I cringe a bit when we’re standing at a birthday party and he practically shouts this and I think to myself, “Ugh, what birthday party did I just get us uninvited from?”
I volunteer for an organization called “The Lilith Fund”. It is an abortion fund; a category of organization I didn’t even know existed until a few years ago. Abortion funds operate in a variety of ways, but with a shared purpose. We provide funds to help women pay for abortions. More people than just cis women need and want access to reproductive and abortion health care. I found my ignorance of these organizations a little surprising, because I’ve always considered myself a feminist and an advocate for Planned Parenthood, and the pro-choice movement in general. Perhaps something about my impending middle age has made me more blunt (probably hard to imagine for anyone who knew 17 year old me), but I suspect it is more my yearning for the practical. I will certainly fight on the big policy stage, but I tend to gravitate towards causes that are feet on the ground, addressing problems locally. When I found out about abortion funds, I looked for one local to me, and I volunteered.
My ignorance doesn’t truly surprise me, because abortion funds don’t send out the same mass mailings as Planned Parenthood. You don’t see a lot of bumper stickers for NNAF (the National Network of Abortion Funds). I suspect because slashed tires are too expensive to replace regularly. I suspect it is because of the word. ABORTION. It takes some getting used to. Abortion. Did it make you a smidge uncomfortable to read? That’s where women terminate pregnancies. I joke about being a baby-killer, but mostly because I realize that 1) I am and 2) this really flips people out. Except perhaps surprisingly this doesn’t come from a deep hatred of babies, or life, or even just a misplaced feeling of freedom to do whatever you want even when its destructive. This comes from my desire to liberate women from biology. Something we have the power to do. The scientific power, if not the political will. I believe the rights of a woman come before the rights of a fertilized egg, and I trust women to make choices about their lives and their health.
Women’s lives are inextricably linked to reproduction. Having access to the tools to control our bodies, and that reproduction, is crucial. Abortion is certainly the bluntest tool to accomplish those aims. But I’ll believe every anti-abortion crusader is really about saving babies as soon as I see them handing out condoms and birth control pills like candy.
We can turn a blind eye and act like sex is evil (until you get married and ought to have ten thousand babies). But please. Sex is great. I was late to the party and I can tell you – sex? Awesome. Distracting as hell, definitely. But it feels great, and is a fantastic way to connect. Oh, PS? Sex is dangerous on so many levels. I grew up straight in the middle of the HIV panic and I still remember my mom apologizing to me for growing up at a time when careless sex could carry a death sentence.
For women, though, sex is lethal in a much more subtle way. Women who are unable to control their fertility are unable to control their lives. Why would we prevent this? Women who can control their fertility can have children when they choose to, when they have resources available, financial and otherwise. Women who control their fertility have a chance to make good choices for themselves and their families. Most women do not desire chaos and poverty for themselves or their children. I know, totally shocking revelation. You should probably tweet about it. But sex has been used as a weapon against women for millennia, and now is certainly no different.
I spent my early teenaged years dodging sex like dodging bullets. I know, I know, years of counseling. But I had dreams, and aspirations, and I knew that sex had a really good chance of damaging that. I watched girls and women I knew get derailed by having children. And I don’t need letters telling me about how awesome it is to have children. It is great. I love mine. I haven’t sold him on E-Bay even once. But I believe it is a choice. A choice that you can make, an adventure to be pursued – not an obligation. Now that I’ve had a baby grow in my belly I can tell you the idea that anyone would be forced or required to do such a thing is inhumane beyond imagining.
Do you know who has abortions?
Everyone. Old women and young women. Women who are scared to tell anyone, and women who just can’t wait to be done with this pregnancy, women who have borrowed money from everyone they know and have still come up short. Women who are heartbroken but know they can’t carry the pregnancy to term. Women who have used one, two, three forms of birth control. Women who just couldn’t be bothered. Women who have been raped.
Do you know what we, as a society, provide for these women? Nothing tangible, but certainly plenty of shame. In my charming adopted state, we mostly provide heartbreak. A new law requires women to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound 24 hours before an abortion. An invasive medically unnecessary procedure that is an exercise in humiliation. If you have a medical reason, nominally, the doctor will not sit and read to you a scripted description of baby parts. But the ultrasound costs extra money, of course, and an extra appointment. And is one more risky visit to a clinic that easily could be an hour or more away. You might think in a climate where we submit women to humiliation before we let them terminate a pregnancy we would provide cheap and easily accessible birth control. Obviously, the best way to prevent abortions would be to help women to not become pregnant when they don’t want to be. And to provide back up options like the morning after pill and medical abortions for when they are needed. We don’t do that though, because people who speak out against birth control and the morning after pill and abortions wrap their hatred of women in a cloak of caring. They care for the unborn children, they tell us. If they cared for the children, they would want them to be wanted. They would provide support for these precious lives after they were born. And they would support them when, after they reach puberty, they want to thrive. They would remember that half of those babies grow up into women who deserve to choose their paths.
I give women money for abortions. Some of it is my money, because I believe in putting my money where my mouth is. Some of it is other people’s money, because I work a hotline where we get hundreds of calls a month from women looking for assistance. Some of them are all business, and some of them move me to tears. I can’t help all of them, and for that I apologize. But it isn’t how I thought it would be. At the end of every shift I feel stronger, because I’ve been able to give another group of women a chance at controlling their lives. We can’t provide miracles, but we can hold doors open for a little bit longer. I will keep working hard to provide access to birth control for women, through education and health care. But until that day when every woman has the access she needs? Until that day, I will answer the phone and give out as much money as I can.
Addendum: I recently joined the board of The Lilith Fund. My husband asked if our house would be firebombed any time soon. I told him probably not, but that we had good neighbors who would probably rescue the chickens and the cats, so not to worry.
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