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Ladies' Choice

Naveen Sultan about over 1 year ago

photo by Flickr/wilvia

Ladies' Choice

By Amy Beeman

Women in the United States are enjoying the right to choose today more than ever, but not necessarily for the reasons you may think. This month is Women's History Month, and at no time in history have women had more choices regarding maternity.

For decades the idea of 'Choice' for women has been controversial. Since the Supreme Court ruled that abortion is a legal right for American women in 1973, the word 'Choice' and 'Women' in the same sentence has usually referred to whether or not a woman who had an unplanned pregnancy would choose to carry the pregnancy to term or terminate it.

While that is still a woman's legal choice, it is one that is having to be made less often. In February a study conducted by the Guttmacher Institute, a research and education organization for reproductive rights and sexual health, showed that as of 2011 U.S. abortions were down to the lowest level they had been since SCOTUS passed Roe v Wade 41-years ago. Reasons are multifold, if mostly theoretical.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that U.S. birth rates dwindled in the late aughts, to reach record lows in 2011 and 2012. Less pregnancies are cited as an overarching part of why abortions are down.

The Guttmacher Institute study looked at the years of 2008-2011, which predated much of the new anti-abortion legislation that has been passed as of late, so the authors do not cite the new laws as being part of the reason for the decrease in pregnancy terminations.

According to the authors of the study one reason for the decrease in pregnancies and abortions was likely the recession. Since having a baby is not ideal during times of financial struggle, women were more prudent about avoiding pregnancy, and prudent women use birth control. The availability and effectiveness of long-term birth control methods is cited as another important factor. They say it's also possible less women are aborting their pregnancies because having children out of wedlock is not as disparaging as it once was.

Not only are women taking more control over avoiding unwanted pregnancies, they are also taking more control of when they do start their families.

On the flip side of the Guttmacher study, a different study released this past February by the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology showed that births of babies conceived using Invitro Fertilization were at an all time high in 2012, accounting for 1.5% of babies born in the U.S. that year. That's 61,740 babies conceived in a dish, essentially.

Advances in IVF have steadily increased since its first success in 1978. Obviously women turn to IVF when they're having trouble getting pregnant, but a large majority of those women are struggling to conceive because they chose to wait to start a family. Many wanted to establish careers, or waited to have children until they found a stable partner. Sometimes those things take a while, so once they hit advanced maternal age, 35-and-older, for many women it is harder to conceive. Statistical information from the CDC shows that "from 2011 to 2012, birth rates declined for women aged 15-29, but rose for women aged 30-44," further signaling the trend that women are exercising their choice to wait longer to start their families.

Though IVF is expensive and not without certain risks, it still affords women the luxury of options as they put off parenthood to enjoy the freedoms and opportunities in their twenties and early thirties that used to belong mostly to men, like education, careers, dating and travel. There's another relatively new option in the works for some women who want to become pregnant and thought they never could, if medical technology can pull it off, that is; uterus transplants.

The first uterine transplant was done in Saudi Arabia in 2000, it's still in the experimental phase because of the very few done since then, all overseas, none have resulted in being able to carry a baby to term. Though fertilized embryos have been successfully implanted, ultimately the pregnancies have ended in miscarriage.

Candidates for this surgery have either lost their uterus due to cancer or other medical reasons, or were born with a condition called Mayer Rokitansky Kuster Hauser Syndrome, or MRKH, which means they were born without a uterus. MRKH affects about one in 4,500 girls, so it's not as if this surgery will be an option for most women, but it's still an amazing possibility.

An article by CBS News reported that earlier this year in Sweden, nine women underwent the surgery using donated uteruses from family members, the first to try it with donated organs rather than those harvested from dead women. Recipients of the organs must take anti-rejection drugs and when the time is right, undergo IVF because doctors did not attach fallopian tubes to the uteruses.

The biggest factor cited is having enough blood-flow to the uterus, allowing for a healthy placenta, a fetus's lifeline. If successful, the transplanted uterus has a shelf-life of two pregnancies maximum so that the woman doesn't have to stay on the anti-rejection medication, which can cause health problems.

If this operation seems a little radical, it still may afford another choice for women who would've otherwise never been able to get pregnant and feel those amazing flutters and internal kicks from a budding little baby. Though there are plenty of babies and children who need good homes, clearly there are a lot of people who want the experience of pregnancy and having a biological child of their own, as is evident by the growing rates of IVF.

But even as medical advances allow women more options on whether and when they become mothers, another equally important factor has been evolving. Western societal expectations have shifted dramatically from even 30 or 40 years ago.

Sure, mommy-blogs are abundant, but so are blogs about reasons that women do not want to be moms. An article about choosing to be child-free was Time Magazine's cover story in August last year, asking the question, "What happens when having it all means not having children?"

Whereas having a family used to be expected of women, and those who never had children may have been stigmatized, now girls grow up with the idea that if they want to dedicate their lives to things besides motherhood, that's an acceptable option. Women can choose their paths now more than ever.

Women's History Month is a good time to remember that for the thousands of years preceding our modern era, women had very few choices. In some parts of the world this is still true.

Women have always played the vital role of mother, caregiver, nurturer. For some women, this role comes naturally but for others, it's a burden. While women still are largely cast in that role, modern times mean they can choose how much of that role they want to fulfill.

Some are all in, some want to opt out, but the beautiful thing is that more and more, it's their choice.

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