PerspectivesNikesha Elise Williams Jacksonville Today Contributor

OPINION | More than a matter of choice 

Published on April 21, 2024 at 5:00 pm

I’m a woman of a certain age. At this stage in my life I am actively raising children. Some of my friends are also raising children or considering starting their own families. Others who don’t want children or who don’t want any more children—present company included—are actively making sure we don’t have them. Yet our choices and our ability to make such a choice without the permission or approval of anyone else is consistently and systematically being eroded here in Florida and many other states across the country. 

Once a state that enshrined the right to privacy in the Florida Constitution, thereby protecting the reproductive freedom of women and all pregnant and birthing people to decide the best course of health care for themselves, Florida was an outlier among its deep South counterparts. But Dobbs and DeSantis did us in. One overturned the federal right to abortion up to 24 weeks and the other, power hungry for a presidency he fell well short of, followed the drumbeat of the demagogues in his party to roll back Floridians’ constitutional freedoms and impose a draconian near-total abortion ban—because very few pregnant people know they are with child by six weeks—upheld by a conservative court, shaped by a conservative governor and legislative supermajority who maintain their power by purposely disenfranchising voters with views different from theirs through unconstitutional gerrymanders. 

The assault on access to abortion procedures, first federally and now at the state level, now extends to access to Mifepristone, one of the drugs that can be taken to terminate a pregnancy, currently being argued before the U.S. Supreme Court. I wonder if the pattern of restriction will ever end. After Mifepristone is the morning-after pill next (which is only most effective if you’re 150 pounds or less). What about birth control and all its forms: pills, patches, rings, shots, implants, and IUDs? 

Floridians will have an opportunity to restore reproductive freedom through a ballot amendment in November — coupled with an opportunity to vote on recreational marijuana, I do expect a surge in the polls. But even if Floridians choose to enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution, serving as the only state in the deep South that allows pregnant and birthing people to access the care they need is untenable. 

And by care I am not only referring to surgical abortion procedures. Pregnancy is a stress test on the body. Sometimes there are complications. Sometimes there are losses. Yesterday marked the final day of Black Maternal Health Week. Started in 2018 during National Minority Health Month and recognized every April 11 – 17, Black Maternal Health Week is supposed to raise extra awareness about the Black maternal health crisis in this country. But what is happening to pregnant and birthing people in America is more than a Black thing. 

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The U.S. is dead last among comparable industrialized and developed nations when it comes to both maternal and infant mortality. That is for all women and pregnant people, not just the Black ones. And the racial disparity also persists: Black people remain nearly four times as likely to die during pregnancy or childbirth, and in the first year after birth, than pregnant people of other races and ethnicities. 

The anti-choice laws passed in legislatures and upheld by courts only threaten to make these disparities worse as women are arrested after their miscarriages or refused care entirely even when their own lives are in danger. 

I know the counter to my argument is that anti-choice laws have not slowed the number of people receiving abortions in the U.S. In fact that number has grown thanks to the near ubiquitous availability of the medications needed to induce an abortion at home. Medication that is currently at the center of a Supreme Court case that I mentioned five paragraphs ago.

The real issue isn’t whether people want children. The real issue is whether people want to parent. And so when one door closes, women and birthing and pregnant people have found a window to prevent parenting when they don’t want to, or are not ready to, or are already parenting and don’t want to start over and do it again because the baby’s almost potty trained, and the kid is nearing middle school, and you can almost go to the bathroom by yourself without your name being called and when you’re this close to freedom who really wants to go through the sleepless nights and a newborn nudging at your nipples. 

Certainly not I. 

The quest for reproductive freedom is locked in a battle against the rush to enact reproductive restrictions. They are fights best left up to the people to decide, though many states don’t allow that as an option like Florida. 

As a woman of a certain age I delight in my friends’ pregnancy announcements and gender reveals. I cherish my nieces and nephews as much or even more than my own children because I can send them home to their parents. And I look forward to my tropical vacations with my childless friends and liaisons as much as I look forward to returning home to dry coughs, snotty noses, and a toddler who refused to sleep until I walked through the door. (True story). 

The point is I chose my children. Just like I’m actively choosing not to have any more. Taking those choices away, one eroded freedom by one eroded freedom, and then claiming to leave the decision up to the people in states where they are legislatively disempowered is not only disingenuous but diabolical. 

Anti-choice maximalists are throwing stones and not even bothering to hide their hands, and if they happen to hit a pregnant person, that person better grin and bear the pain of whatever happens because the conservatives aren’t coming to save you. Only your baby. And only up to the moment of birth. For everything else—health care, insurance, day care, the terrible 2’s and terrorist 3’s, education, puberty and pimples, tweens and teens, the first cell phone, college, and those early 20s when the kid thinks they know everything but won’t learn for another decade that they absolutely know nothing — you’re on your own. 

As a woman of a certain age, I know a little something, and it’s more than “my body, my choice.” It’s my life. It’s my right. And I will choose—not the state, not the court, not the governor, president, or nine unelected people appointed to a job for life whose activist decisions will ripple throughout the generations . . . I will choose what’s best for me and mine every time. 

author image Jacksonville Today Contributor

Nikesha Elise Williams is an Emmy-winning TV producer, award-winning novelist (Beyond Bourbon Street and Four Women) and the host/producer of the Black & Published podcast. Her bylines include The Washington Post, ESSENCE, and Vox. She lives in Jacksonville with her family.

author image Jacksonville Today Contributor

Nikesha Elise Williams is an Emmy-winning TV producer, award-winning novelist (Beyond Bourbon Street and Four Women) and the host/producer of the Black & Published podcast. Her bylines include The Washington Post, ESSENCE, and Vox. She lives in Jacksonville with her family.

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