My mother's forehead is scrunched in anger, her eyes warning me that I'm stepping dangerously close to the boundary separating delightful debate from angered argument. "It takes two to make a baby!" she tells me, and I know she's basing this age-old cliché off the pain of her past experiences: a husband of over 20 years who constantly reminded her raising children was "woman's work." Still, as we discuss Oklahoma House Bill 1441, a bill that would require a woman to obtain written permission from her partner in order to procure an abortion, and as my mother insists on playing devil's advocate, I cannot pretend science does not exist. It doesn't take two people to make a baby. It takes one woman. It's about time the GOP and the rest of the anti-choice advocates in this country learned that, because as a woman who has had an abortion, birthed a baby who was alive and another who wasn't, and experienced multiple miscarriages, it's painstakingly obvious that only a woman's body can make and sustain a baby, not a man's, so only a woman should be deciding what her body does or doesn't do, including, and most certainly not limited to, facilitating a pregnancy.
In even the most basic of anti-abortion aspects, HB 1441 is bizarre and extreme. It states abortions cannot be performed in the state of Oklahoma “without the written informed consent of the father of the fetus,” and says:
A pregnant woman seeking to abort her pregnancy shall be required to provide, in writing, the identity of the father of the fetus to the physician who is to perform or induce the abortion,” the bill reads. “If the person identified as the father of the fetus challenges the fact that he is the father, such individual may demand that a paternity test be performed.
The argument that it takes two to make a baby, of course, is one uttered before (and usually) by women who demand their cisgender male partners be active and equal participants in the raising of their shared and agreed-upon children. Of course, if planning a family with another person (or persons), then the two (or more) parents should absolutely be equally liable for raising that child. The undeniable, scientific fact that only a woman's body can grow a baby doesn't lift the responsibility of child rearing from her partner. But it's still a fact.
However, in an attempt to strip women of their fundamental right to bodily autonomy, evoking a sense of shared physical responsibility as a reason a cisgender male should have a say in what a woman chooses to do with her body, is to deny science. It takes two people to fertilize an egg (and, thanks to medical advancements and fertility treatments like IVF, that's not necessarily true anymore). It takes a woman's body to turn that fertilized egg into a fetus, and to bring that fetus into the world as a human being.
Although that's something I've known since I was daydreaming in middle school science class and shamelessly copying my classmates' notes in health, it was made more painfully clear to me than ever when I had an abortion at 23, became pregnant at 26, had a son who was alive and a son who wasn't at 27, and suffered through numerous miscarriages at 29 and 30. All those experiences, while in the presence of sometimes supportive and sometimes not-so-supportive men, were mine and mine alone. They were not shared. They were not capable of being physically passed down to anyone else when the burden was great and the pain, greater. I'm not denying my partners the opportunity to experience their own grief, but I am saying that what happened to my body and inside my body was mine. That pain, that joy, that earth-shattering intensity was, first and foremost, my own.
We "family planned," in that we planned not to become a family, but I was the one who walked into the Planned Parenthood five minutes from our condo and signed papers. I was the one who had to give consent for the doctor to administer a light anesthetic, and then evacuate the 7-week-old pregnancy in my womb. I was the one who laid on our shared, tattered but ridiculously comfortable couch after the procedure was completed, tuning out to episodes of The Office as I grunted through painful cramps. It was not a shared experience. It happened to me.
I was 23 when I found out I was pregnant for the first time. I was in an unhealthy, dysfunctional relationship that became unsustainable the moment I saw those ominous, parallel lines on that positive pregnancy test. It was as if the proposition of shared parenthood with the man who drank a case of beer every night before going to bed removed the veil from my eyes. I knew we wouldn't work: as parents, romantic partners, or anything in between. I knew staying with him because I loved his family would not facilitate a stable environment in which raising a happy, healthy, thriving child was even a remote possibility. I knew what I had to do and, not to my surprise, so did he. In fact, he was the first to suggest abortion; a sting to my ego but a suggestion we both knew was necessary. While it hurt to hear he didn't want to parent with me, I knew that I did not and could not parent with him either. I'd mourn the fact that our relationship was over, but not the pregnancy.
Still, the ultimate decision rested with me. We "family planned," in that we planned not to become a family, but I was the one who walked into the Planned Parenthood five minutes from our condo and signed papers. I was the one who had to give consent for the doctor to administer a light anesthetic, and then evacuate the 7-week-old pregnancy in my womb. I was the one who laid on our shared, tattered but ridiculously comfortable couch after the procedure was completed, tuning out to episodes of The Office as I grunted through painful cramps. It was not a shared experience. It happened to me.
He did not bear the physical burden of continuing a pregnancy with the knowledge that one fetus was growing and thriving as the other shrank and faded. He did not feel a kick from the inside, only to be acutely aware that where there was one, there should've been two. He did not go through 20 hours of painful back labor and three hours of active pushing — the possibility of an emergency c-section hanging in the air like a thick, toxic cloud threatening to pollute what was left of a "joyous" birth — to bring a baby into the world. He did not harbor the knowledge in the same way I did: that when my son let out his first cries, my body would scream out for the son who couldn't.
I was 26 when I found out I was pregnant with twins. I was in a happy, healthy relationship with a wonderful man, financially stable, and surprisingly aware that I could and wanted to be a mother. Every dynamic of my life was different — for the better — so the possibility of parenthood (shared parenthood, in fact) wasn't as scary as it was thrilling. I wanted to be a mom. I could be a mom. So I decided I would be a mom. And while that decision did not come without a few lengthy discussions between my partner and I, the ultimate choice to keep another unplanned pregnancy rested solely on my shoulders. Would I choose to turn two fertilized eggs into two potential human beings? Would I decide to use my body to start a family? Those questions could only be answered by me, because it was only my body that had the responsibility of turning those answers into reality.
I was 27 when I found out one of my twin son's heart had stopped beating inside my womb, a loss that affected not only me, but also my partner. I listened to his voice crack when I told him we only had one fetus with a beating heart. I felt his body shake as he held me, apologizing for everything and nothing all at once. And still, he wasn't experiencing the pregnancy loss the same way I was.
He did not bear the physical burden of continuing a pregnancy with the knowledge that one fetus was growing and thriving as the other shrank and faded. He did not feel a kick from the inside, only to be acutely aware that where there was one, there should've been two. He did not go through 20 hours of painful back labor and three hours of active pushing — the possibility of an emergency c-section hanging in the air like a thick, toxic cloud threatening to pollute what was left of a "joyous" birth — to bring a baby into the world. He did not harbor the knowledge in the same way I did: that when my son let out his first cries, my body would scream out for the son who couldn't. While he felt the loss and told me time and time again he wished he could shield me from it, he did not physically endure it. He did not feel like his body betrayed him. He went out and bought two matching onesies a week after he found out he was going to be the father of twins, never again having to look at the one his dead son would never have to wear, while I carried his body with me, and inside me, everywhere.
Pregnancy — in all its excitement and difficulty, its joy and its pain — is isolating in any relationship. Even if it begins with an egg fertilized by two people, it's not an experience continually shared by two people. A heteronormative couple can't break in two, sharing an equal part of the physical toll required to create and birth human life. A potential father, regardless of how supportive he may be, cannot dip his hands into a woman's stomach and somehow care for the fetus her body is growing. He cannot will cells to divide and multiply and turn them into limbs. He cannot wish a baby to grow into existence.
And because he cannot do those things — with his body, his mind, or his religious affiliation — it makes absolutely no sense for him to be granted the ability to hand out "permission" for bodily autonomy the way a teacher allows a child to go to the bathroom during class. Women are not children. Women do not need permission. Women need freedom to make their own choices, whatever those choices may be.