I’d like you to take a look around the room, and notice all the beautiful young women sitting among you. Many of these young women who are here today will be pregnant at some point in their lives. Maybe some of you already dream of being mothers. Others might be scared just by the idea of holding a baby in your arms. Maybe some of you will actively try to get pregnant. And, maybe, some of you will actively try to prevent pregnancy. Whatever your approach to the matter, it is a beautiful process of growth, self-awareness and change. However, this is complicated by the moralistic and fault finding society we live in, where people you hardly know or never met feel compelled to the right of telling you what is right and wrong for your body and life.

There is this fun conception around female’s fertility. People are convinced that it is 100% controllable, like a switch that we can turn on and off at will. That when a girl becomes sexually active, at about 17, she won’t have any reason to be pregnant unless she plans to be. And if an unplanned pregnancy occurs, the first thing they will tell her is: “I am sure you weren’t careful enough” or “You could have thought about it earlier”. I hate to break it to you, but the truth is that 45% of pregnancies are unplanned. 45%. Almost a half. Unintended pregnancies range from the married couple who would like to have children but not just yet, to the 18 year-old girl who has been sexually assaulted. And, of course, not all unintended pregnancies are unwanted. Maybe some women will decide to keep the baby, to find out later that it was the best decision of their lives. And, maybe, other women will choose a termination, and will be grateful for it forever. This kind of thinking around pregnancies being 100% controllable implies that we could deny women access to safe and legal abortion services because “they shouldn’t need it in the first place”. Here’s the truth: the illegality of abortion doesn’t stop women from getting one, but only increases the numbers of unsafe and uncontrolled medical practices whose consequences can be fatal. I would like you to point out the fact that even the most reliable form of contraception has a failure rate of about 1%. It means that out of one hundred women who will use contraception, at least one will get pregnant. That one woman is condemned to be abandoned by a society which, in the greatest majority of cases, will deny her the right to be the owner of her own body and life. 

Eventually, you will meet a woman who has had an abortion. It could be your sister, your best friend, your girlfriend, your teacher, or the funny shop assistant who works at the Walmart down the road. Maybe her contraception failed. Maybe she was sexually assaulted. Maybe she felt too young to have children. Maybe her family’s economic status was too unstable. Or, maybe, she just did not want children. Stop thinking that it is on women’s bucket list to have an abortion. Women don’t do it because they are bored, or lazy, or immature. Women chose abortions when they don’t want to bring a child into this world or it is not safe for them to do so. It is every woman’s right to make this hard decision based on her religious system, moral code, and ethical beliefs. 

Every woman in her lifetime gets about 520 menstrual cycles, and so 520 possible chances of becoming pregnant. And we are only supposed to have a baby when we are planning to. It is a lot to ask! And still, women are expected to do it. And that is the real issue. Not couples, not men, not families, but women. They are never going to ask “did the couple use contraception?” but always “did the girl forget her pill?”. 

We have a long way to go. I know that this is not going to change after my speech, nor tomorrow or next week. We can’t change it this fast. But what we can do is start a conversation around the way we think about contraception and unplanned pregnancy.

If we are going to see equality in this world, being in control of our own bodies and reproductive choices has to be part of the solution.

Elena Montanaro

About Elena Montanaro