Heading Toward Menopause, Still Caring About Abortion

By Andrea Plaid, cross-posted from On The Issues Magazine.

I’m not an aberration because I’m a childless, employed, divorced, college-educated Black cisgender woman — regardless of what the promulgated stereotypes undergirding the media stories about women like me say. At this point in my life — I’m in my early 40s –I’m drumming my fingers waiting for my first hot flash. And I still deeply believe in keeping abortion legal.

Even with this profile, statistics about abortion render my realities invisible — which may lead some people to think that I may be an aberration.

When I researched the numbers about middle-aged Black women and abortion, I found very, very little — and I found even less on Black trans men and non-binary people and abortion. At most, I found alarmist and slut-shaming articles about 40-something women in the UK and Australia getting abortions and how, said a Sydney Morning Herald piece, “It was concerning that older women were either underestimating their fertility and pregnancy risk or failing to choose more effective methods of contraception, such as uterine devices.” These articles don’t have the racial breakdown of the older child-bearing people.

I asked members of the Women of Color Sexual Health Network Facebook page, and one person suggested AARP’s study, Sex, Romance, and Relationships: AARP Survey of Midlife and Older Adults. Though the 2010 study did a great job breaking down race and gender as far as sexual attitudes of people my age and older, it has nothing about Black women and abortion — how often we obtain them, what are our reasons, whether we seek them at private practices or go to Planned Parenthood. The same person suggested using scholar.google.com, but access to those articles requires academic privileges that I simply don’t have as someone outside academia and professional organizations who may offer such things to its members.

When I researched statistics on abortion and 40-something Black cis (non trans) women at reputable sites like Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the most apparent fact is that the highest age accounted for is the late 30s. I saw very little mention of the abortion needs and reasons for women over 40 beyond this: “Women over age 35 had lower abortion rates (7.7 abortions per 1000 women aged 35-39; 2.6 per 1000 women over 40).”

The Guttmacher Institute studies — another good source about abortion — rarely mention any numbers about women my age, except for this: “At least half of American women will experience an unintended pregnancy by age 45, and, at current rates, one in 10 women will have an abortion by age 20, one in four by age 30 and three in 10 by age 45.” A more accurate — and interesting — reflection would be stats on the numbers of abortions broken down by age group, like “women from 40-50 have x number of abortions.” Other than that, one would practically have to be a statistician to parse the actual numbers implied in Guttmacher’s study.

Our Bodies, Ourselves For a New Century, the venerable feminist-based health book, says this about middle-aged women and abortion:

If you are sexually involved with men, remember you can still get pregnant; keep using some form of birth control until you haven’t had a period for one year. Some midlife women consider the chances of pregnancy to be so low that they rely on abortion as a backup. But if you are certain you do not want a child and would not consider abortion, continue to use birth control for two years after your last period.

A post on Babble.ca explains this through numbers: Biologically speaking, my opportunities to get pregnant each month lessen as I age. My chance goes from 20 percent in my 30s to five percent in my 40s. However, that statistic does not mean that I can have sex without protection, as Our Bodies, Ourselves for a New Century advises.

Caring Goes Beyond The Numbers

Though more information is available about Black women and abortion in general, these numbers rarely reflect the ages of the women seeking the procedure.

  • 67 percent of Black women have unintended pregnancies. (Guttmacher; unfortunately, this statistic does not state if the Black women are non-Latina or not.)
  • 30 percent of non-Latina Black women obtain abortions. ( Guttmacher)
  • When it comes to the numbers, Black women have a higher ratios and rates than white women and other women of color; however, white women make up the largest percentage of women obtaining abortions. (CDC)
    • So, you may wonder why I still care about abortion when my story isn’t statistically reflected.

      Though I’m not in the numbers, I’m in the reasons why some Black women seek the procedure, and why quite a few cis women — in solidarity with trans men, trans women and non-binary people of many races and ethnicities — fight so hard to keep it legal.

      My mother did an excellent job of both encouraging me to get my education and discouraging me from having children while I was a teenager. My mom failed to convince me in my 20s and 30s to “have children.” My co-workers failed, too. The rare co-worker nowadays still tries to talk me into it — and yes, even my mom still tries — appealing to some notion of an impending spinsterhood if I don’t essentially create my future caregiver and “someone who’ll love me.” As I had to remind Mom, having children is, essentially, a crap shoot as far as their “loving you” and you “loving them”: how many stories have we heard of people who give birth but who don’t form that “nurturing instinct” with their newborns? How many stories have we heard about children disowning and getting disowned by parents, let alone loving you enough to want to take care of you in your old age? (The resentment and burnout of grown children taking care of elderly parents are real.)

      My long-held reason, I tell them all, is that I simply do not like children enough to gestate or adopt and rear one (or two or more). I don’t have the patience to provide that long-term emotional support and don’t wish to share my material resources with a child. This is very much in line with a study cited by the Guttmacher Institute in August, 2011: “The reasons women give for having an abortion underscore their understanding of the responsibilities of parenthood and family life. Three-fourths of women cite concern for or responsibility to other individuals; three-fourths say they cannot afford a child; three-fourths say that having a baby would interfere with work, school or the ability to care for dependents; and half say they do not want to be a single parent or are having problems with their husband or partner.”

      Now that I’m entering the middle part of my life, a colleague summed up my new viewpoint about children: “She’s not just running down her biological clock. She’s taking the clock and throwing off the Empire State Building.”

      So, I support abortion rights because I want keep my options safe and legal so I can continue running down my clock. And, on the real, I support keeping abortion — and other reproductive technologies — legal because I deeply, passionately believe that all potentially child-bearing persons have the right to chart their own life course, whether that means bearing children or not and being able to access those options.

      At whatever age.

      11 comments for “Heading Toward Menopause, Still Caring About Abortion

      1. WitchWolf
        January 27, 2012 at 3:04 pm

        Thank you for your wonderful story! I am a white women in her mid 40s who is also childfree by choice. I am also very supportive of abortion access because it’s important to make sure that it’s accessible.

        — Did you find in your studies that if their was a social-economic reason why WOC had less abortions than her white women?

        (I am not sure if you have access to – But I think some public libraries now have remote access to online journals – Each are different — I have used it before – and some have access to journals that you might find on google.scholar. Again, some libraries allow you to access online books from your library as well. Again each library is different – You can start by researching your town library or the biggest nearest city and see if they allow access with your local library cards. There is also inter-library loan. )

      2. damigiana
        January 27, 2012 at 4:35 pm

        I tried having children because I knew I could give a child a less crappy childhood than I had myself by the simple means of leaving them alone. I also figured out I was probably sterile, as I’m pretty unfeminine (I’m shaped like a can, not like an hourglass, and have moustache, beard and chest hair).

        I surprised myself and everyone by being absurdly fertile and liking my kids. Even more impressively, two (happy sex-replete wanted) pregnancies moved me from tepidly to foam-at-the-mouth pro-choice.

        Thank you for writing such a beautiful article, and extra special hugs for stating your viewpoint without bashing those of us who (in my case, selfishly and thoughtlessly) decided to have kids.

      3. oldlady
        January 27, 2012 at 7:41 pm

        Way past menopause and still concerned about abortion. Old women talk about this a lot–last night, dinner with friends–two 78s and an 83. We talked about the latest assaults on women’s rights to abortion. What we fought hard for years ago is being chiseled away, bit by bit. Chiseled is the operative word here.

        Enforced pregnancy is more than colonization of women’s bodies; it is dehumanization of women: she has no will of her own; she is a machine to make babies.

        We worry that the younger generation forgets. Your story gives me hope.

      4. B
        January 27, 2012 at 9:58 pm

        FYI, the stat says “1 in 4 by age 30, 3 in 10 by age 45”

        1 in 4 = 250 out of 1000
        3 in 10 = 300 out of 1000,

        this implies 50 out of 1000 must have gotten abortions between the ages of 30 and 45.

      5. Echo Zen
        January 27, 2012 at 11:24 pm

        I love this article. In my experience, women tend to care more about abortion rights and access as they grow older, which jibes with the healthcare stats I’ve seen — they indicate women who obtain abortions are usually older and already have children. Anyone who thinks most patients who have abortions are teen girls is smoking a crack pipe.

        Last year was a terrible year for reproductive rights, but a good one for advocacy. The youth generation was galvanised to fight back when the anti-rights faction in the U.S. stopped dressing up their attacks on women in the language of wanting to “protect” women from themselves, and made obvious their belief that anyone who tries to manage zir reproductive health is a promiscuous, irresponsible (?) slut. We should thank them for finally being honest about their hatred of women who dare to live independent, assertive lives.

      6. January 28, 2012 at 1:22 pm

        At 31, I’m at the age that friends and acquaintances are just beginning to procreate. Most waited the whole of their twenties to start a career, get married, and only begin to think about something else afterwards. I don’t want kids. For one, there’s a very high likelihood that any child formed from my DNA is going to have bipolar disorder, or at least have depression and/or a severe anxiety disorder. Seeing someone you love suffer is awful.

        In taking that risk, I’d be also conscious of the fact that he or she would need to visit medical specialists starting early in life. And even if I were to adopt, I’m simply not ready to be a father. Being a good parent, in my estimation, requires a person to center one’s entire life around children. Parenting never ceases for a second and should be top priority.

        I was told earlier last year that I may well be sterile, this because of an endocrine/hormonal disorder. Naturally, nothing is ever for certain. I’ve known women who were told they couldn’t have a kid, stopped taking birth control as a result, and miraculously ended up pregnant. I think in particular that my own health limitations might prevent me from having the energy and the focus needed. How do you help raise a child when you barely have energy for yourself some days?

      7. January 29, 2012 at 7:39 am

        I’ve never wanted children (the same way I’ve never wanted to be an accountant), and my husband had a vasectomy several years ago. About six months after his vasectomy, I was angry/excited about something that threatened abortion rights, and he said, “You can’t get pregnant. Why do you care so much?”

        The fact is, I might be able to get pregnant – just not by him. But my answer was and is that it’s not about me. A right is a right, whatever the age, the type of person, or the reason.

      8. January 29, 2012 at 1:11 pm

        I’m a single woman, nearing the end of her thirties who doesn’t plan on having any children. I also live in a pretty conservative, anti-choice state (I think NARAL gave us an “F”), so yeah, of course I still care about abortion rights. Thanks for righting this (and to Feministe for reposting it here — I’m always glad to see the writing of women over forty).

      9. Echo Zen
        January 29, 2012 at 1:28 pm

        “You can’t get pregnant. Why do you care so much?” That’s as naive as asking heterosexual allies why they care about marriage equality. Most people with a thing called empathy (something missing from most sociopaths, such as anti-choicers) find it hard to stand aside and do nothing while extremists attempt to turn the people they care about into second-class citizens.

      10. Daisy
        January 29, 2012 at 9:09 pm

        Great article. I’m in my 40’s and I only have one ovary. I have to admit that in the back of my mind I really don’t think I can get pregnant. But I menstruate like clockwork every 26 days, so of course, I can. I would terminate if it happened, but this was a timely reminder for me.

      11. January 30, 2012 at 10:35 am

        I’m a boomer woman and care very much about legalized abortion. How dare these conservatives think they can decide what women can do with our bodies! It means so much more than pro-choice or pro-life. It’s called power over our own bodies. No politician or religious extremist should be choosing for us.

        Sorry, I just get so riled about this subject.

        Great article, Andrea. And wonderful comments. Just wanted you to know another woman cares. :)

      Comments are closed.