(Full disclosure: This is an update of previous essay I wrote. I still think it’s relevant and wanted to share it with you.)
I’ve been pro-choice all of my life. And yet, I remember the day that revealed what Choice really meant to me. I was seventeen and on vacation from my fancy boarding school, where I was a scholarship student. As usual, my friends and I were meeting at our junior high school to spend the day together. I was just back from visiting colleges that summer, and I had my heart set on going to an Ivy League school. My father dropped out of the ninth grade. Pop, my maternal grandfather, left school in third grade to support himself by running errands and doing odd jobs. Going to college, particularly an elite school was a big deal to my entire family, and my chances for going to one of those schools were looking good.
I hopped onto the train headed downtown and slid into an empty seat. Next to me sat another young Latina, and like me she was wearing bright red lipstick and hoop earrings. We both had long curly hair, which she wore loose down her back. I was much less confident and wore my mass of hair in a ponytail high on my head. She seemed deep in thought when I saw it – a neon green pamphlet. In big bold letters on the front it read, “After your abortion, then what?” My mind exploded. What was she doing with that pamphlet? This girl was my age, from my neighborhood; our families were probably from the same island. For all I knew we could have been related. Why her and not me? I could have just as easily been sitting in her seat holding that green pamphlet. Instead, I had dreams of making the honor roll and going to Yale, and she was considering her “then what?”
A few months later, I was back at school working on my college applications and dreading the personal essay I had to write. Then I remembered that day on the train. I went back to my dorm and searched my journal for the entry I had written about the Latina with the neon green pamphlet. She changed my life that day. In my eyes, she was doing the best she could to make her life better, to make the right decisions for herself. I wanted to reach out to her and hug her that day, let her know that she wasn’t alone, but I couldn’t. So I did the only thing I could think of – I pulled my journal out of my bag and started to write. I didn’t want to lose a single detail of that train ride or the young Latina, who could have easily been me. Later that year, I earned a place in Yale’s freshmen class, I think in large part, because of her. I never knew her name or the outcome of her “then what?” But I hoped that her life’s path had lead her to amazing places, and I was grateful an abortion would allow her a different “then what?” than might have been possible otherwise.
Since that train ride, I remained steadfast and loyal to the ideals embodied in Choice. But over time, my work with young women made clear to me that Choice and I were no longer a good fit. Choice is meaningless without access to information, funding or services. Choice doesn’t address classism, racism or sexism, for that matter. Choice doesn’t shift POWER to the most vulnerable. And I’m no longer confident that I alone can make the world better for women and girls. After years of being firmly rooted in Choice, I realized that it speaks only to a small part of the way I live in this world, and I must have more than that. I deserve more than that. Yes, we owe a tremendous debt to all those who fought for Choice, but I’ve realized that my relationship with Choice just isn’t enough for me anymore, and it shouldn’t be enough for any of us.
I have left Choice behind for something more. I have embraced Justice. Justice gives us the tools to identify power and talk about it, but it doesn’t stop there. Justice requires us to confront power when exercised against us, acquire it and use it to create change that benefits us all. Justice helps us understand whatever privilege we may enjoy without blaming us or pitting us against each other. Or without letting us off the hook. With Justice I can be a whole person, and not just the sum of my identities. And with Justice I can I bring all of myself to every issue I care about.
When people ask me what I do for a living, I often respond, “I’m trying to change the world.” Choice is not going to deliver us from the multiple oppressions we suffer as women, women of color, young women, immigrant women, queer folk, low-income women and disabled women. Justice just may. And that’s what Justice is at its core – about trying to change the world. There’s nothing wrong with Choice, we’ve simply outgrown it. We need something more radical, more revolutionary than Choice. We need Justice, not just for ourselves, but for all of us. Surely, we deserve that.
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