Most of our country’s debates about abortion – whether it should it be legal and under what circumstances – center on the question of when exactly a fetus becomes a person.

This has been a dead-end argument since about the dawn of time, and definitely for the last few decades. Some people believe that the moment a sperm meets an egg, that combo cell is the moral equivalent of a newborn child. There are some who think that until a baby pops out and breathes air along with the rest of us, it’s still part of the mother’s body. Most Americans are pretty fine with abortion in the first three months of pregnancy, while the fetus still looks more like a sea monkey than a homo sapiens.

This is the wrong way to look at it. The right way is this: Pregnancy is the only time the government of the United States forces its citizens to use their bodies against their will to keep another body alive.

Imagine that a child is dying of leukemia (which happens, every year). The only treatment that will cure them is a bone marrow transplant. (Often true, depending on the cancer and the treatment methods.) And imagine you are the only genetic match in the world for them. (Though there are 7 billion people in the world, this could very well be true – their siblings could be too young and their parents could have a medical condition that rules out a donation. ) As a bone marrow donor, you bear few risks; without the marrow transplant, the child will die. If you didn’t want to donate bone marrow to a dying child, you’d probably be publicly pilloried as a jerk and canceled forever, but the government cannot use eminent domain to get your bone marrow. You cannot be forced to donate against your will.

So why should we force people through pregnancy?

Don’t give me any crap about “because pro-life, wah wah wah.” Nearly 107,000 Americans are waiting for an organ transplant right now. Some of them are patients at the place where I work. Others are my friends. Well over a dozen people die every single day waiting for an organ transplant that could prolong their life by decades. And yet, if you die without registering as an organ donor, and if your family does not consent to donation, your perfectly good, life-saving heart and lungs and kidneys can be buried in the ground to rot, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. And it’s not like you can use them anymore.

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Dead men’s bodies are given more respect and autonomy than the bodies of living women. Does that seem right to you?

I’ve donated platelets six times so far this year. Donated platelets go mostly to trauma victims and cancer patients. It’s an honor to be able to perform this service, but it’s not easy. Each donation requires sitting for over two hours with a needle in each arm. My fingers go numb. My lower back cramps. My nose always itches and I can’t do anything about it. I am physically exhausted afterward for at least 24 hours. (I do get to watch Netflix while I’m doing it.) I’d like to know how many people who restrict abortion access in the name of saving lives are willing to put themselves through this even once a year, much less six times or more.

Platelet donation is much easier and safer than pregnancy. So is bone marrow donation, which involves drilling a needle into your hipbone, which I am also registered to do if I am ever found to be a match. Even living kidney donation, in the U.S., is easier and safer than pregnancy and childbirth. One involves a small incision and removal of an organ. The other involves squashing all your inner organs for nine months and then shoving an 8-pound bowling ball – oops, I mean baby – out of an opening that can usually barely fit a tampon.

By the way, I’m also undergoing health testing to see if I can safely donate a kidney. If I’m a match for my intended recipient, I will go under the knife without hesitation. I’m at the stage of my life where I am also considering pregnancy; pregnancy scares me a lot more than kidney removal.

I’m not actually in favor of mandatory organ donation, because I value bodily autonomy and I try to live those values. However, if our government is going to be in the business of forcing some of its citizens to use their organs without their consent in the name of “saving lives,” we should go whole hog and mandate organ donation as well, especially cadaver donation. I’m a Mainer, I hate waste, and the thought of perfectly good kidneys going into the ground drives me nuts.

But mandatory organ donation won’t happen, because it would affect men.

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:
[email protected]
Twitter: @mainemillennial

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