The map shows abortion laws all over the world. In most of North America and Europe, it is legal on demand. Click to enlarge. (Courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

The controversial issue of pro-choice stance continues to be a hot topic among Canadians today, despite the fact that the law allowing abortions has been in place since 1969.

Many still protest against abortion laws, while others protest to keep them in place. But no matter what side you’re on in this heated debate, both support a woman’s right to keep her baby. Yet, we live in a society that passes judgment and ridicules young pregnant women.

Ryersonian reporter Tamara Sestanj (Alisha Sawhney/Ryersonian)

Ryersonian reporter Tamara Sestanj (Dasha Zolota/Ryersonian)

Where is the support when these young women need it most? Where are the people who fought for her baby’s right to live or her right to choose to keep her baby? So much attention is put on the debate of right to life or for choice that hardly any support is given to the young women living it. 

In 2012, there were over 83,000 abortions in Canada, according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information. The age group with the most abortions were woman between the ages of 20-24, accounting for over a quarter of reported abortions. 

I asked a friend and classmate of mine, Tania – who is expecting her first child – how people have reacted to her surprise pregnancy.

“Friends, people who I hung out with once in a while or knew from school/workplace and acquaintances were the ones who often brought the negativity,” she wrote in an e-mail. “I had people messaging me as if they were entitled to know every detail of the pregnancy. To me it was like if you don’t even know who I’m dating, how dare you ask me if it was an accident and how dare you talk to me like my life is over.”

Tania said, for her, abortion was never an option.

As many young women do, I’ve had conversations with my friends about what we would do if one of us were to have an unplanned pregnancy. The answer is almost always the same: “I wouldn’t want to, but I don’t think I could face my family or friends. I feel like abortion would be the only choice.”

As a Catholic, it’s always been hard for me to think that I’d get an abortion. I feel it’s selfish to end the life of my unborn just to avoid being judged. But I can see why many young women feel it’s their only option.

My older sister was the result of an unplanned, out-of-wedlock pregnancy. My mother had her when she was 22. I hate to imagine how different my life would have been if my mom had decided to have an abortion. It makes me angry to think my mom could have aborted my sister simply because she was afraid.

Maybe that’s why I’m not as quick to judge when I see young women who are pregnant. In fact, I have respect for them.

Walking down the street you can’t tell which woman was the one who had an abortion, but you can tell the woman who decided to keep her baby. These women have something in common, even if you can’t physically see it. Both had sex and got pregnant – the distinction is the choice they made afterwards.

Why are we so quick to judge? Sex is common ground for most university students. According to a 2013 study conducted by Trojan and The Sex Information and Education Council of Canada (SIECCAN), only a quarter of university students have abstained from sex.

The women who decide to keep their babies deserve more respect and credit than our society gives them. They don’t deserve the stares, the whispers, the gossip. These women are fearless, brave adults who are taking responsibility for their actions. Her age does not dictate whether she’s going to be a good mom.

As a Catholic, it’s always been hard for me to think that I’d get an abortion. I feel it’s selfish to end the life of my unborn just to avoid being judged. But I can see why many young women feel it’s their only option.

Speaking to Tania, what was most surprising was that judgment from others wasn’t limited to strangers and acquaintances – professionals, people who are supposed to be supporting and helping her through this were also passing judgment.

“(Visits with midwives) seemed like an episode of (MTV’s) Teen Mom, where we were spoken down on like we had really messed up. They also continuously said things and made it look like Matthew had ruined my life by getting me pregnant. It was so awful,” Tania wrote. “Questions we had more than the right to ask became conversations that made us feel like we were irresponsible for having this baby.”

Tania, and any other women who are in the same position, deserve better. They deserve support, especially from professionals. This made me think what kind of support Ryerson provides to students who get pregnant, so I did some research.

A quick online search for Ryerson services to support pregnant students yields absolutely nothing. Although the Ryerson Student Services website offers up specialties in aboriginal services and for students with disabilities, I could find no visible support for students who are pregnant. In fact, the closest support resource I could find online is a “Sexual Health Topics” section that provides information on healthy sexual relationships, breast exams, contraceptives and STIs – but not one thing about pregnancy. A little naïve of Ryerson, don’t you think?

As a society, and as human beings with compassion, we need to expect more from ourselves.

“Pregnancy is a beautiful thing but so is scandal. People love scandal and people love to discuss other people. I am not ashamed nor do I feel irresponsible for deciding to start a life with someone who has proven to be just as in love with me as I am in love with him,” wrote Tania. “Not one thing that goes through my head worries me or makes me regret this baby.”

We need to change how we think. Instead of seeing a young, pregnant woman and thinking about how much of a slut she is, we need to remember that most university students have sex. Applaud the women who are taking upon the responsibility of raising another human being. Help her out, give up your seat on the subway, offer to carry her groceries.

Don’t pass judgment on a life you know nothing about.

Ryersonian reporter. Amateur baker. Avid watcher of both television and movie screens. Tamara graduated from the Ryerson School of Journalism in 2015.