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ALICIA WALLACE: Access to abortion and therapy is fundamental

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Alicia Wallace

ABORTION is in the news again. This time, a doctor, along with two women, have been charged for providing an abortion. The patient is reportedly a 15-year-old. Two months ago, there was a similar report on a mother who was charged for providing a medical abortion (using pills) for her 11-year-old child. It was also reported that she was impregnated, which means that she was raped, by her mother’s boyfriend.

The discussion about this story and the larger topic of abortion is disturbing. Some people focus on what they believe to be the illegality of abortion rather than the sexual violence against the girls, the horror of pregnancy at their ages, the potential health risks of such early pregnancies, and the right to bodily autonomy (which, it must be noted, is not complicated by their legal inability to consent).

The pregnancy of these girls, and many others, is an indication of several failures. These cases show us that girls are at-risk of sexual violence. In at least one of the cases, we see that girls are at-risk in their own households, and are being raped —that is the correct word for these acts — by family members and people who have been trusted to participate in the provision of their care. We see that comprehensive sexuality education is necessary, and that it must include information on the law and the legal age of consent as well as the gap between it and the age at which people can access healthcare without parents/guardians, and ways to safely report rape and other forms of sexual violence, especially if the rapist lives with the child.

The conversations demonstrate that far too many people do not care about girls. They are not concerned about their lives, much less their health. They do not understand and do not care to consider their mental health. They are unwilling to consider the fact that abortion is healthcare, and that it is the best option for many women, whether they have been sexually violated, are unwilling and/or unable to remain pregnant, or are not in a situation that is conducive to pregnancy, childbirth, or parenting. The right to choose what happens to our bodies is central to the rights of women and girls. The girls who recently had abortions were not able to choose — given their inability to consent to sex — what happened to their bodies when they were raped, and some people would have it so that they also cannot choose what happens to their bodies when they have an unwanted pregnancy resulting from that violation.

The anti-abortion position is dangerous, not only for the girls who are raped, but for all women and girls. We have the right to make decisions about our own bodies. The barriers put in place by the law and by individual doctors and health centres do not strike down those rights, but limit access to them. It is nonsensical that they not only refuse to provide abortions, but they refuse to provide tubal ligation. This is not and has never been about morals or about lives, but about control —specifically control of women’s bodies. Women do not exist to reproduce. Women are human beings with human rights. States and doctors who refuse to provide abortion on demand drive women and girls to seek services elsewhere, usually at a higher cost and lower safety. As has been proven for decades, people who need abortions will find ways to get them. It is the responsibility of the government to ensure that access to abortion is safe. This administration has proven, through the shelving of the Gender-based Violence bill and the passing of the weak “Protection Against Violence” Act, that it is uninterested in taking necessary action to end violence against women and girls, so this ought not to be a surprise, but it is upsetting. Anywhere that the rights of women and girls are restricted or denied, a red flag waves. This country, viewed from any direction, is on fire.

Which leads me to this:

Everyone needs therapy.

Therapy is, thankfully, becoming more common and acceptable, not only in The Bahamas, but worldwide. It is not just for people who are sad, troubled, or need medication to manage chemical imbalances. It is for everyone who is facing challenges as they navigate life. That means everyone. We could all benefit from a safe place to talk, honestly, about what has happened, what is happening, and what (we think) will happen. We could all use guidance and tools from someone who does not know us in any other way and has nothing to gain aside from their well-earned pay. It is a good idea to look for a therapist before you feel as though you need one. Having a therapist who already understands your family dynamics, your workalike, your challenges, and your goals is incredibly helpful when you experience loss or have a crisis to navigate. You do not have to start from the beginning and build context. For some, however, the need must be pressing for them to act. Here are six signs that you need a therapist sooner than later.

1 You have recently experienced a traumatic event. It could be an act of violence, a horrific accident, or another shocking or dangerous experience that not only causes fear in the moment that it happens, but stays with you long after the event itself has ended and you are out of (immediate) danger. The three main types of trauma are acute (one-time event), chronic (repeated), and complex (varied and invasive events), and they can all result in the return of the fear the event first caused, avoidance of certain circumstances and environments, and hyper-reactions to events that seem similar or anything that seems like a sign that the incident(s) could occur again. A therapist can help you.

2 You know you are still impacted by a traumatic event that took place a long time ago. Many people experienced trauma early in life, and there are ways that trauma from childhood can shape our worlds and make our worlds smaller. They can also lead people to behave in aggressive, harmful ways as they try to (re)claim power. Sometimes people do not even remember the traumatic events that impact their lives, or are not aware of the impact that events they do remember have had and continue to have on them. Therapists are trained to ask questions that help people to reflect on events and consider the effects those events have had, and they can create treatment plans. Sometimes they make referrals to other therapists whose practices may be better suited to the client’s needs.

3 Talking to family and friends is not enough. We build communities for ourselves, and we determine who, within our communities, are the people with whom it is safe to talk. We talk to people and hear the advice they give, and we eventually work out who gives the best advice in which areas. There can come a time, however, that the advice from family members and friends it not enough. They do not always have the skills or experience to offer the best advice. Sometimes, what we need is not advice, but gentle, productive questioning. We often need someone who is impartial and can more easily tell us when we are wrong. In many cases, the advice we receive from family members and friends is based on incomplete information. A therapist must be non-judgmental, must listen with intent, and must work to show you yourself. They help you to see where there is room for growth, and they guide you through that intentional process. You can be honest with a therapist in a way that you may never be honest with your parent, sibling, cousin, or best friend.

4 You are going through a transition. We know that life brings changes our way, some of which we choose, and others we have little control over. While we may expect or plan for certain changes, actually going through them can be quite difficult. New jobs take time to settle into and there are often many factors involved, from people and the physical environment to tools and work culture. New relationships have their own learning curves, and ending relationships present a wide range of challenges. Moving, pursuing a certificate, diploma, or degree, change in diet, and a change in income level can all be difficult to navigate. While many will say these changes are all a part of life, we do not have to go through them alone or without the tools to make it easier. A therapist can prepare you for what is ahead and provide a safe space for you to share thoughts and feelings about what is and is not happening, and they can point you to helpful resources.

5 You think you may have a mental health condition. More and more, people are talking about their mental health diagnoses. On social media, in text and in video, people share the symptoms that led them to see a mental health professional. Some acknowledge that they struggled for a long time, not knowing “what was wrong with [them]” for years, so they are happy to share that the odd things they thought were specific to them are actually experienced by other people with the same or similar diagnoses. It is often a relief to get a diagnosis. It, for many people, makes everything easier to understand, and they have a way to explain their interactions and reactions with other people. Naming a mental health condition is not always about getting medication, but about understanding who we are, how we function best, and what accommodations we need to be comfortable, creative, healthy and, in some cases, productive.

6 You have unhealthy coping mechanisms. We sometimes learn ways to cope when we are very young, by the way we are comforted by adults around us and the way we observe them when they are at rest or otherwise enjoying themselves. We sometimes try to “cancel out” the bad feelings with something that makes us feel good, neglecting to solve the underlying issue that results in the negative feelings. We may resort to alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, sugar, comfort food, and exercise in excess. We reach for the things that we can afford and that have comparatively lower barriers to access. People with more money and connections may choose differently. Still, the issues do not disappear. A therapist can help with identifying triggers and the issues to which they are connected, and they can recommend new practices for us to respond to them. This is, of course, not an overnight change, but a longterm process of identifying and addressing rather than avoiding and covering.

RECOMMENDATIONS

1 A letter to the friendships I have lost and will lose, by Ijeoma Olio. This blog post can be found through a Substack link on the homepage of ijeomaoluo.com.

2 Read Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo with Feminist Book Club, coordinated by Poinciana Paper Press and Equality Bahamas, and discuss it with the group at Poinciana Paper Press, 12 Parkgate Road on November 16 at 6pm.

Comments

empathy 4 months, 2 weeks ago

Thank you. You’ve shined the spotlight where it needs to be!

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trueBahamian 4 months, 2 weeks ago

As a man (though not relevant here) I find it odd that men from the state dictate rules that impact women. Thebpoitns raised here seem very obvious. So why is the state taking such a hardline? I do believe that abortion in general can not be approached lightly but it is not the state that should be dictating this. This seems rooted in the church's position on the subject. However, church and state are supposed to be separate. This is a serious topic but one that should not be a state decision.

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AnObserver 4 months, 2 weeks ago

Agreed 100%.

BUT, is the church and state really separate here, or are we aligned with such other progressive countries as Iran and Afghanistan?

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