New World Economics
1 In 2011, I am 23 years old, living in Kensington (the hip part of Calgary, not London), and I pass not one but two abortion clinics on the way to my favorite café. What you’ve heard about Canada is true: winters are endless, politeness bleeds into boredom, and healthcare is cheap — so cheap that if you’re like me, you’ll take it for granted.
Forgive me, but youth and arrogance aside, it’s hard not to when an abortion costs less than a cappuccino.
2 But sometimes not. Sometimes, I remember whispers in the voices of my mother, her mother, her sister. They speak in Tamil, my mother tongue. They are talking on the phone or sitting on straw-woven mats in Chennai, the city where my mother became a mother. They are whispering about mothers who did not want to become mothers, for the first time or again. They are whispering about a teenage cousin I’ve never met, about the sweet-eyed neighbor’s daughter who I used to play hopscotch with, about Chitra, our maid, now mother to six — or is it seven?
They cluck their tongues. They shake their heads.
“We’ll send them some rupees,” my grandmother always declares.
And my aunt always sighs. “Vēṟu eṉṉa ceyyalām,” she says. What else can we do. It’s not a question.
3 In Niger, desert flatlines into cloudless sky. An economist, I’ve been hired by an international non-profit to figure out how to get more women into the workforce. After the first day, meeting with Ministers in double-breasted suits and academics wearing haggard looks, I wonder why I’m here. Everyone agrees on the solution: fewer kids. The average woman in Niger has 7.5 children, I learn, and she looks after them between tending to fields of millet and maize. But no one agrees on how to move forward: contraception is frowned upon, abortion illegal.
The next day, I speak to the wife of a village chief, a wizened woman in a flowing purple boubou, powerful in her own right. “Every child is a blessing, and we want more of those for our women,” she says. Her eyes seem to burn amber, concentrating the heat of the desert around us.
4 In October 2016, I stay at a shared Airbnb in Denver. The other guest is a Planned Parenthood employee from New York, seconded to the Colorado office for the month. She’s here to canvass for Hillary.
“I didn’t know Planned Parenthood was so active in political campaigns,” I say.
She laughs. “Oh honey,” she says. “I’m here to campaign for our survival — and I don’t just mean Planned Parenthood.”
5 For a while, I live in Uganda, where abortion is very illegal, with few exceptions. My best friend, L, works at a British non-profit that provides every family planning service but abortion: information, contraception, and so forth. L travels to villages deep in the green Rwenzori mountains, and to homes scattered across the savannah of Karamoja. She returns with stories of shamans and vile potions that ‘cure’ pregnancy. Occasionally, she tells me, they work; other times, the concoctions expel too much, nearly everything — embryo, shit, vomit, liters of blood; sometimes, the bodies slip into a forever slumber.
In 2018, the non-profit L works for loses most of its funding when Trump reinstates the Global Gag Rule. In countries where abortion is legal — the UK, for example — the non-profit provides the service, meaning it can no longer receive American funding anywhere it operates.
When I learn this, all I can think of is the Nile winding through the country. How roiling white-crested it is in some stretches, blue silent in others.
6 Last night, I dream of a republic of refugees, seeking asylum for their wombs under siege. They are all colors, these womb bearers, some with bellies swollen and others not. This place looks a little like Canada, or maybe Sweden: signs in multiple languages, greeters at the airport with free fresh coffee, expanses of grass green and hay yellow. I know, however, that for all their pretensions otherwise, these countries’ borders are also iron sheets circling, circling, impenetrable.
But this nation conjured between ink-dark and pink dawn allows anyone with a threatened uterus to enter. And despite having neither military nor oil, this nation becomes a superpower, a benevolent behemoth, eclipsing the BRIC and the EU and the G20 and the G8 and NATO.
Close your eyes. You’ll understand how.
Raksha Vasudevan is an Indian-Canadian economist and writer. Her work appears or is forthcoming in The Threepenny Review, Catapult, LitHub, Electric Literature, NYLON, TASTE, High Country News, Hippocampus, Roads & Kingdoms, Entropy and Africaisacountry. She tweets at @RakshaVasudevan.
Art Trần Văn Cẩn Public Domain (see link for more details)
This story is part of our Pro-Choice theme. If you are interested in helping support women’s right to autonomy, consider checking out these websites and if you’re able maybe even giving to organizations like these:
Alabama’s Yellowhammer Fund https://yellowhammerfund.org/
Planned Parenthood in the US https://www.plannedparenthood.org/
Alliance for Choice in North and South Ireland http://www.alliance4choice.com/
Marie Stopes International https://mariestopes.org/what-we-do/our-services/safe-abortion-and-post-abortion-care/
and many other pro-choice organizations and charities. We are looking forward to expanding this list as we learn more.