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Commentary: Pro-Consent = Pro-Choice

Jamie Roth.jpg
Jamie Roth

Ask yourself this question: Do I have the power to choose what happens to my own body?

Imagine having that power taken away by a stranger who forcibly goes with you to a medical appointment. This person who does not know you, but thinks they do, pressures you into making a decision that is wrong for your health; demands to know personal details; or criticizes you. That interaction would make most people feel confused, angry or belittled, and rightfully so. After all, you are an expert in your own situation, and strangers have no right to know your personal and medical history.

Having the power to make choices about your own body is a human right called body autonomy. Every person has it, yet some take it away from others as a form of control.

Let’s explore a bit further: Do I have the right to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to physical interactions I have with other people?

This human right to tell someone to stop touching you is called consent. It is a vital part of all healthy relationships, no matter if it is a friend, family member, or an intimate partner.

Survivors of sexual assault or domestic violence know about consent all too well, as their abuser did not ask for it or chose not to listen. Their freedom was taken away when the abuser wielded power and control over them. Survivors are familiar with feelings of hopelessness, fear, and self-blame that come with being denied the ability to use their voice.

Now, the final question: Do I have the right to control the reproductive rights of another person?

Making forced decisions about a stranger’s body would invalidate that power of choice for yourself. Supporting body autonomy and being pro-consent for yourself means being pro-choice for the reproductive rights of others.

Crisis counselors around the country, like those at WIRC-Victim Services in Macomb, Illinois, are deeply concerned about the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent reversal of the constitutional right to an abortion. This action places yet another barrier in front of pregnant survivors of assault, especially child survivors and victims of incest, and is a setback for women’s rights.

Consent and body autonomy are violated at disturbingly high rates in the United States. According to studies by the Centers for Disease Control, one in four girls and one in 13 boys will most likely experience some type of sexual violence before they reach adulthood, and one in five women and one in 14 men have experienced attempted or completed rape.

If you have not experienced abuse, chances are alarmingly high that you know someone who has.

Rape survivors often feel lifelong impacts to their mental health such as depression and anxiety. A rape survivor who is denied an abortion can experience compounding trauma by feeling as if they are being punished or dismissed.

As of this recording, abortion is still protected in Illinois. Some states have total bans, while others consider exceptions for certain cases of rape or incest.

Forcing someone to disclose abuse to justify an abortion, and potentially be refused, is additionally traumatizing and dangerous. Counselors know that abusers often escalate their violent behavior while their victims are pregnant or when they try to leave.

Some people dream about starting a family. They should be allowed to choose to stay pregnant and celebrate.

For others, becoming pregnant means they will put their own life at risk; go deeper into poverty; be trapped with an abusive partner; lose their childhood; or become homeless. They should be allowed to choose a safe and legal abortion.

The power of choice is priceless and empowering. Reproductive rights should be protected and respected. When they are not, we risk sliding down a slippery slope that allows exceptions for those with privilege, and controls those who are without.

Jamie Roth is the Public Relations Manager for the Western Illinois Regional Council – Victim Services.

The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Western Illinois University or Tri States Public Radio.

Diverse opinions are welcomed and encouraged.