HAVANA TIMES — A sad feeling got hold me of some years back while waiting at the abortion ward in Havana’s Maternidad Obrera hospital. Even many days later, I could still remember the scene in which each of the girls who were waiting for their turn would recite, like a poem they had learnt by heart, the abortions the women in their families had had, or how they would casually say: “this thing’s goin’ out today.”
A phrase would resonate in my mind and get in the way of any attempt at reflecting on the issue: there’s something wrong with a country where women go to get abortions en masse. And I stick to this.
Abortion is a complex issue that stirs up passions as well as ethical, religious, philosophical and biological debates. Generally, the person voicing an opinion – no matter what camp they belong to, in favor or against – denies that the opposite opinion has any validity.
I use the word “camp” because, at times, these debates recall battles where many think they are the sole owners of reason. The issue is complicated precisely because we must reflect on it without assuming an extreme position – it is a question of bringing people’s attention to bear on the need to respect our rights and our freedom. What rights are at stake in this issue is something we have to think about carefully.
The first thing I’ve noticed about these debates is that people speak from the here-and-now, that their arguments insist on how things should be now. The majority aren’t aware of why and how much people have struggled around the world to legalize abortion.
In countries where abortion is illegal, women are subjected to the designs of the powerful, who, insensitive to the facts, approve such laws and condemn them to a life they are unable to control or shape in accordance with their wants and needs, limiting sexuality to reproduction.
This is why people in Europe are again mobilizing in view of the danger posed by Spain’s abortion law reform, to prevent (as they successfully did last century) such control over the body and female sexuality.
For me, anti-abortion laws can be interpreted in two ways, for, while glorifying life, they also condemn life to suffering: the newborn was neither wanted nor planned nor even well received and, at the same time, women (and sometimes men) have to shoulder the responsibility of caring for the unwanted child.
Many women have to resort to alternative forms of abortion that put their lives and their fertility at risk, or resign themselves to an unhappy life with a child they cannot nurture or whose needs they cannot satisfy.
It’s natural that there should be talk of a right to life, but the child isn’t the only one this right applies to. The life of the woman in question is also at stake from every conceivable angle, for the pregnancy involves her freedom and her body and can dramatically change the course of her life (her aspirations, projects, plans, wishes). Not involving women in decisions over their own bodies is therefore misguided. I, and not the State, should make decisions about my own life.
If the decision to interrupt a pregnancy becomes an official prohibition, we cease to have control over our lives. Recently, I met with some friends and we were debating whether Cuba, given the increasingly cozy relationship between the government and Church, could one day outlaw abortion. I don’t know – I hope not.
I do believe, however, that there should be a broad debate where everyone who wants to – be it a man or a woman – can express their ideas or views on the issue. To date, the subject continues to be addressed by a handful of specialists, leaving out those who stand to lose or gain the most: women, particularly the large numbers of women who fill the obstetrics wards around the country every day.
To find a solution to these problems, we have to look at the roots and try to eliminate them (something that can’t be achieved overnight). Most of the pregnancies that are voluntarily interrupted in Cuba are the result of irresponsible sexual relations. The precarious financial situation of families, the lack of proper housing, the scant prospects of a better future and other such situations complete the picture.
Though there are some ad campaigns dealing with the issue – televised spots that explain abortion is not a contraceptive measure – they are not well divulged. There isn’t a real, nationwide campaign around this issue. Nor are men encouraged to consider themselves involved, quite the contrary: men are not allowed in the abortion ward. They aren’t even allowed to stand by the entrance to give support to their partners who, though they may express themselves in a cold and impersonal tone, are actually vulnerable, fragile and depressed when they come out of that room.
We have to take action and soon. We must also encourage a healthier sexuality where the use of contraceptives isn’t the responsibility of one of the partners and isn’t practiced after intercourse, but preventively. We must underscore the positive sides of family planning, make adoption easier and, above all, instill a love for life in people – not teach them to consider it sacred, but to value it in all senses of the word.
It’s curious that most of the girls in that waiting room weren’t even aware of what they were doing. As such, they were incapable of an ethical or any type of questioning, they were only conscious of the impossibility of remaining pregnant. It was a pure survival impulse.
None of them spoke of the burden of having to end a life or the sadness involved in being forced to do so. The phrases I heard the most there alluded to the burden a child represents. Should we therefore consider them murderers?
It would perhaps be healthy for the country (both society and the State, which is responsible for public health) to see things in a different light, without going to any extreme. The voluntary interruption of pregnancy must be a woman’s right (following a conversation with the man involved), but rights should be exercised responsibly.