On Class and Choice.

29 Apr

In 6 days, I will have completed my first year at Smith College, and so will the 20 girls of the class of 2013 who live in my house at school.

Tomorrow, one of them is having an abortion.

She is not the first friend or classmates I’ve known who’s been driven to a clinic in Springfield or Brattleboro (Vermont) but the striking thing about this event is how it has been received by my social circle.

Smith College’s curriculum is very good about remembering minorities. As an all women’s college, every class I’ve taken has heard female voices, and African-American voices, and Asian voices, and every class of people who has ever been oppressed is mentioned, and our professors tell us that we must remember history is written by the winners, and that we have to seek our the alternate histories of groups who were silenced. We have a support group for femmes, one for butches, one for genderqueer, one for transmen. We have a college-sponsored event called Sexhibition every April, which features the art of students with content that is primarily nudity-based. Our Convocation is notoriously clothing-optional.

Fine, great. But this college’s inclusive nature is limited to race, gender and sexual orientation. I hear no conversations about class.

That is the great lie of my college, held up everywhere by statistics about the percentage of students on financial aid and the number of students who are the first in their families to attend college. The great lie of Smith is that class trumps everything, and this, too, is the great lie of the country.

Money is something I can’t talk about with my friends at this school. If I do, I regret it. With my financial aid package, I pay about half of what my friends’ parents do. Their parents’ money subsidizes my education. I work at an off-campus job about 20 hours a week, while I take the same course load as my peers.

So when Amanda* found out she was pregnant (a fact that is still under wraps) and the reaction of those in the know was, “Poor Amanda, this is so awful, that she has to go through this, she doesn’t deserve it,” I wasn’t particularly sympathetic. Yes, that sucks. But at least she can have (afford) an abortion.

My peers have whispered in hushed tones about the drama and sadness. Tragic, they say. Amanda has to pay for it out of pocket. Amanda can’t tell her parents. Amanda had to tell the dean in order to get extensions on her papers.

Amanda is having an abortion, but at least she’s not forced to carry her pregnancy to term. At least she doesn’t have to drop out. At least she has the money to pay for it out of pocket. At least she doesn’t have to travel by train or bus or plane out of state somewhere for the procedure.

I don’t know how to say this to these girls I have lived with for nine months that this could be much worse, that this is actually a good thing. At least we are in Massachusetts. At least she realized she was pregnant in time to get an abortion. At least, at least. There are one million ways this situation could have derailed a young woman’s life, but because of the privileges of Amanda’s life, it is merely a bump in the road.

Is it unfortunate? Yes. I don’t believe anyone has sex intending to abort. Abortion is never the desired effect of a series of decisions. But we do well to remember that the right to abortion is given to us by virtue of our status in society and that another girl somewhere may now be realizing that she can have an abortion or she can eat for the next month. She may now be realizing that she cannot afford an abortion. That she has no one to take her. That there is no clinic she can reach easily. That she cannot afford the bus ticket and the abortion. That she will be having a baby.

Amanda is not, and I’d like it if my peers remembered how amazing that is.

*Name changed to protect her privacy.


8 Responses to “On Class and Choice.”

  1. Stacey April 29, 2010 at 12:47 pm #

    Sarah, congrats on finishing the first year at Smith!

    And, I don’t know if you knew this already, but the Abortion Gang has a team on the National Network of Abortion Funds‘ virtual bowl-a-thon for exactly the reasons you outline in your post.

    What actually happens when a woman with an unintended desperately wants an abortion but doesn’t have the money for it? Or when she’s 5 months into a wanted pregnancy and gets the horrible news that her baby is not developing a brain, but her insurance won’t cover the $9,000 for an abortion?

    I’ve taken the calls on an abortion fund hotline, and I can tell you what happens: she’s going to run through every option. She’s going to borrow as much as she can from all the people she can actually talk to about it. She’s going to skip class (without the dean’s sanction) to take another shift at work. She’s going to pawn her television. She’s going to delay paying rent. Sometimes she’s just going to have that baby.

    If she’s really “lucky”–if the abortion fund still has money at the time of year she’s calling–she’ll get some assistance. The fund might put $100 towards her $400 procedure, or the fund manager might be able to cobble together a bit here and there from funds around the country so she can travel to one of the few clinics that performs later abortions.

    That’s why the Abortion Gang has a team, and with less than 48 hours left to meet their goal, I wonder if the women in your house might be interested in taking up a collection to contribute to that goal so that a woman they will never meet might have a choice?

    The team page is here. Thanks!

  2. Triptrain April 29, 2010 at 1:17 pm #

    Although I agree with the premise – that the barriers to abortion access are exponentially greater as you move down each pay grade, and that it’s a HUGE (and almost completely ignored) issue – this piece sort of rubbed me the wrong way.

    Yes, Amanda should be thankful for the fact that she doesn’t have nearly as many obstacles to get over than the next girl. But that doesn’t change the fact that she shouldn’t have to pay out of pocket. She shouldn’t have to keep her medical concerns from her parents, for whatever reason.

    I can totally understand the bitterness toward a system that so clearly discriminates against the poor. But it almost sounds like you’re directing some of that toward Amanda, and it’s just not her fault.

  3. Vvixen April 29, 2010 at 1:21 pm #

    This is awesome! Thanks for writing it.

    I also was a scholarship student at private college where all my peers came from wealthy and privileged backgrounds, so I can relate.

    May times I hear people complain about “those people” who have babies when they are teenagers or have many children they cannot afford and have to apply for government assistance. They say “those people” should just refrain from having sex and stop having babies. What they don’t understand is that the only difference between “those people” and the privileged is that the privileged have money and access to birth control and abortion. That’s the only difference. Take it from me, the privileged are not morally superior or more sexually restrained than the poor.

  4. Stacey April 29, 2010 at 2:00 pm #

    Whoops–that should say, “What actually happens when a woman with an unintended pregnancy desperately wants an abortion but doesn’t have the money for it?” in my comment above!

  5. Revolutionary Vagina April 30, 2010 at 11:28 am #

    Triptrain – You’re right. It isn’t Amanda’s fault that inequality exists, and it isn’t her fault that she is easily able to attain an abortion over so many other women. I don’t think Sarah is blaming Amanda, but rather pointing out that all these women at her school aren’t considering how lucky Amanda is to be able to have an abortion at all.

    Sarah – you make an excellent point about class bias and inequities in abortion care. It is unfair that Amanda has to pay out of pocket for this expense, that she can’t tell her parents. What’s more unfair is that so many other women can’t have an abortion for the same reasons. Those barriers, for them, may mean no abortion at all. It’s not the fault of these women that these inequities exist, but perhaps they and we can all do something to make abortion care a reality for everyone.

  6. ProChoiceGal April 30, 2010 at 8:18 pm #

    Hey Sarah, there’s one problem I’d like to point out about this. It’s “trans men”, not “transmen”. Imagine being called a “mexicanwoman” or a “lesbianwoman”. It may seem like a little difference, but that space really does matter. Writing it without the space is othering, it implies that there are men (cis men) and then there are a totally different kind of men, “transmen”.

  7. ProChoiceGal April 30, 2010 at 8:21 pm #

    Oh, and other than that, I do agree with Triptrain about the fact that she SHOULDN’T have to pay out of pocket, and that she SHOULDN’T be afraid to tell others. In an ideal world, abortion would be accessible, completely legal, free, and without stigma. However, I do agree with you about the fact that Amanda is privileged compared to many others. She is very lucky to be able to access an abortion. Many women don’t have the privilege, and in that sense, you’ve made a good point.


  1. On Class and Choice. | Abortion Gang England university - April 29, 2010

    […] original post here:  On Class and Choice. | Abortion Gang By admin | category: SMITH College | tags: all-women, basketball-roster, college, […]

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