Jill Alger-James: Women with free agency over their bodies have better family outcomes

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) A rally in the Capitol Rotunda in Salt Lake City on Tuesday May 21, 2019 was part of a nationwide series of protests to bring attention as a number of conservative states pass laws aimed at getting abortion before the U.S. Supreme Court.

I am a licensed clinical social worker, mother, wife and an advocate for reproductive health policies that give women free agency over their own bodies. I have dedicated my career to supporting women and men in becoming free agents of their lives, standing by them as they grapple with difficult decisions. I have seen firsthand how women, including myself, have better outcomes when allowed to exercise their agency to plan their families.

In some cases, that includes abortion.

Abortion needs to be talked about. One in seven women in Utah will have an abortion by age 45. Around 59% of these women will already have children when they have an abortion.

Everyone has her own unique reasons for choosing abortion. However, 95% of these women share one thing in common: They believe they made the right decision for their circumstance. They knew the decision would better their economic, social and emotional outcomes more than women who were denied the right to exercise their right of having free agency.

Women who were denied abortions are four times more likely to live below the poverty line, be single parents, stay in abusive relationships and be unemployed or on public assistance.

My own family story offers an example.

At 18 I was in love with my boyfriend. It was the summer of 1977, and I was preparing to go to college when I realized I was pregnant. My boyfriend was intent on giving me free agency over my body, knowing that this decision had the potential to have a much bigger impact on my life than his. I consider myself lucky because he supported my decision and took complete financial responsibility.

Telling my parents wasn’t feasible. We had never even discussed sex and contraception. It was a taboo topic and I thought my parents would be disappointed in me. At 18, the shame seemed too big to bear. Years later I realized there is absolutely no shame in a woman exercising her right to be a free agent over her body.

Later in life, I learned that my grandmother had a back-alley abortion in order to save her life. Although it was a procedure that was medically necessary, it was illegal at the time, as was the contraception that would have prevented her from needing one in the first place.

In the 1930s, my grandmother did not have free agency; the law did not allow women to practice agency over their reproductive lives. However, my grandmother’s abortion allowed her to live a healthy life until she died at age 102, surrounded by her six children. Abortion does not prevent a large, happy family from existing — it is the reason I am here today.

I wonder why we don’t share these stories more to help remove the shame from other women in these positions, and instead surround them with compassion and empathy. If we did this, and gave women free agency over their bodies, we would see that families are happy and healthy because of their matriarch’s independence. When women have free agency, communities thrive.

I invite anyone with a story about their reproductive health, where agency mattered, to join me and dozens of other women that are sharing their stories using #FreeAgency on social media.

Jill Alger-James

Jill Alger-James is a licensed clinical social worker in Salt Lake City.