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.
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.