Growing up, January 22 was not a day I thought of as any different from other days in January. However, as I learned more about the history of reproductive health politics in the United States, this day has transformed into both a celebration and a yearly opportunity to reaffirm my vision of the kind of health care provider I want to be.
Today, on the 41st anniversary of the Roe v. Wade case that legalized abortion in the US, I’m thinking about all the recent hype around the Korean “Baby Boxes.” In theory, they provide a way for “desperate young mothers” who “can’t” parent their infants to “safely” and anonymously give away their children. I’m thinking about what the sanctioning of anonymous abandonment means for the very fabric of Korean society. What does it mean for the human rights and dignity of Korean children, who are suddenly cut off from their families, their birth story, their medical history, and if adopted, their cultural lineage?
As a Korean-American adoptee, I think every day about my birth mother, who became pregnant with me against her will. I wonder how much of her pregnancy, the continuation of her pregnancy, and the process of my adoption felt like a “choice” to her. What options were truly available to her? What would she have done if she had had access to the kind of contraception and family planning care that I believe is a human right? How might her life–and mine–have been different if single-parenting in Korea were a real choice, not a guaranteed sentence to a life-time of stigma and shame?
It should go without saying that I am grateful for my life. Yet at the same time I am deeply troubled by the fact that given what I know of Korean history and politics, it is highly unlikely that my birth mother felt any kind of true agency or empowerment in her decision-making around her pregnancy.
Today I stand with the many unwed Korean mothers, Korean adoptees, activists and leaders in Korea who are voicing their concerns with the Baby Boxes and working to offer real support for all parents, not just those that fit the mold of “appropriate” parents.
I stand with those who refuse to pit abortion and adoption against each other as moral opposites. Adoption is not a more “noble” decision than abortion, nor is abortion immoral. They are simply two of the possible three outcomes of a pregnancy.
I stand with all the leaders in the adult adoptee community who are advocating for more ethical practices in the domestic and international adoption industry.
I stand with the courageous health care providers–the nurses, nurse-practitioners, nurse-midwives, physician’s assistants and physicians who provide compassionate, supportive abortion care every day. I aspire to be among them in the future.
I stand with all the people of the world who have experienced a pregnancy–intended or not–who have felt judged, stigmatized, or ashamed for the way they feel about their pregnancy.
As a Korean-American adoptee, future nurse-midwife, and reproductive justice advocate, I affirm my commitment to be a leader in the realm of full-spectrum reproductive health care. There is so much at stake. We need all of us to create the kind of world that supports all families, regardless of who they are, how much money they have, or what others think of them.