Alabama: This is the wrong fight for life and we all will suffer because of it.
“You come. Find this girl…find this girl. Your girl is dying, she is dying here in front of me.”
These are the words I heard screaming from Pokira’s phone as she answered a frantic call when I visiting her in one of Uganda’s most remote districts — Kyegegwa — nearly seven years ago.
Pokira, thinking it was her own daughter the woman was calling about, ran, fumbling out the door. The call had come from the head cook at the local high school, just minutes down the road from where we sat.
When she arrived at the school, she saw the cook running behind the school carrying a basin of water, stained red with blood. “Come, she is dying. Come now,” she yelled our way.
As she rounded the corner behind the school building towards the kitchen, she saw a girl lying in a pool of blood, her blue school uniform dripping crimson.
The girl was not Pokira’s daughter, but a young student. She was two months pregnant and, fearing the repercussions of her family for the unplanned pregnancy, the girl had tried to self-abort with a stolen knife from the school kitchen. She had collapsed from the pain and loss of blood, where the cook had found her lying the ground
Pokira immediately began gathering cotton cloth to stop the bleeding, but it was too heavy and the girl was screaming in pain. Pokira carried the girl to the local health clinic in-town where they stopped the bleeding and was later transferred to a nearby hospital for care.
As she came back from the school, covered in red, Pokira described the girl.
“I never found out the girl’s name,” she said, “but I will never forget her face.”
I think of the story of this girl often.
I think of her — racked with pain — as she debated her options. I think of her desperation and of how close she came to death because of it.
And I think how many women we put in that position — who we force to make such an incomprehensible trade-off — when we restrict access to abortion services.
I thought of her as Donald Trump signed into effect the Global Gag rule, banning US funding to support organizations abroad that provide or refer women to abortion services. I thought of her as gunmen attacked the Planned Parenthood clinic in my hometown, with women huddled behind desks as bullets shattered the walls behind them. And I think of her now as Alabama moves to ban abortion across the state, laying the groundwork to challenge Roe vs. Wade.
I think of her and I can’t help but believe women deserve better.
We know that banning abortions do not stop them from happening — they just happen less safely and at the cost of far more women’s lives. We know this because the evidence in unequivocal and because those of us on the frontlines of this fight see this everyday — we see that girls and women will turn to kitchen knives and back alleys, to unknown pills and toxic herbs when they cannot access safe abortion services.
And many of them die.
So as this debate rages in the plush halls of state capitals and in the galleys of churches, mosques, and synagogues, I can’t help but think we’re missing the point.
If we believe in protecting lives, banning abortion certainly will not.
Access to contraception will. Giving women reproductive health services will. Building societies that give women power to negotiate their bodies and their sex lives will.
But the America we are so rapidly moving towards — one where abortion is banned and women’s reproductive health is under fire — will leave so many of us just like that young girl in Kyegegwa, navigating back alleys, desperate, and forced to make incomprehensible decisions.
This is the wrong fight for life and we all will suffer because of it.
America, it’s time to do better.