The year was 1998. I was walking towards my honors history class. Little did I know that the next half hour was going to make such an impact upon my life and belief system. I was in the eighth grade going to a middle school in west Texas where we are unfortunately known for our prejudices and less than mediocre educational system.
Sitting down at my desk and fumbling to retrieve my notebook our teacher introduced two individuals to the class. To this day I cannot remember their names. Looking up I saw a man and woman standing next to her. She announced that they were here to talk about a subject and that we were going to participate in a “debate” of sorts. Our teacher sat down at her desk and turned us over to the man and woman. The man directed us to move our desks (to be split evenly) to the opposite sides of the room and we were to stand in the middle. We obliged and stood there fidgeting in uncomfortable silence, still in the dark about what this was really all about.
“Today we are going to discuss a controversial topic. Are you guys familiar with Roe vs. Wade?” said the woman. We told her we did by nods and half mumbles as teenagers are known to do. She then went into a quick overview of the case and the Supreme Court ruling anyways for some of the other students who most likely had no clue about the case but were too self-conscious to admit it aloud.
“Now, I want you to stand on the right side of the room if you think abortion is wrong and should be illegal. If you are unsure then stay in the middle where you are. And if you think abortion is OK and should stay legalized, you stand on the left side of the room.” The man said. Students crowded the right side of our small classroom. My heart was beating wildly and the sweat began beading on my forehead. I was wide eyed and shocked as I shuffled over to the left side of the room…. alone. I was standing alone on the left side of the room and the rest of my classmates were on the right staring, mumbling, smirking at me. I wished myself invisible. I clenched my trembling fingers knowing in that moment the rest of my 8th grade year was now in ruin. For standing on the left side of this room I would be whispered about in the halls, bathroom, cafeteria… everywhere on this campus. I could already hear the rumors spread standing there by myself. I could have cried.
The man turned towards the majority. “Why do you think abortion is wrong?” My classmates looked around to see who was going to speak up first. A girl said, “Abortion is murder.” Many nods in agreement followed. “Why is it murder?” the man asked. A boy spoke up, “It says ‘Thou shalt not kill’ in the Bible.” The girl followed with, “Murdering children is wrong!” Louder, more vocalized agreements from the right. The woman turned towards me, “Why do you think abortion is OK?” My mind raced as my hands shook. The lunch in my stomach turned to stone. My voice wavered as I began, “Well… what if the woman was raped? What if a child was raped and she became pregnant?” I asked the majority. The boy who spoke earlier laughed, “A girl can’t get pregnant!” I looked at him red-faced, “Many girls get their periods at a young age. My aunt got hers when she was ten! It’s possible.” The boy shifted uncomfortably as I glared at him.
“Let’s calm down. This is controversial for a reason. Miss, continue please.” I felt confidence flood my veins. I looked at my opposition. “What my point is, is that nothing is so black and white. What if a woman was sick and it was the difference between life and death for her?” The girl shook her head, “It’s still wrong.” I shifted my eyes to her, “I had a teacher once in fifth grade. Her son was my best friend. She became pregnant while she was very sick. I don’t know what was wrong with her but I remember my friend crying because the people at our church were being mean to his mother. People found out she had an abortion. She had it to save her life and be there for her family.” I wanted them to see, to understand, to at least sympathize with my friend’s mother. I wiped damp hands onto my jeans and stared at my sneakers. “How many of you are now unsure of how you feel about abortion?” The woman asked. No hands raised. “If any of you have changed your minds you can switch sides or move to the middle.” No one moved but some wore uncertainty on their faces now.
“Aside from your excellent points, why should abortion stay legal?” I looked up and said, “Because I don’t want anyone to have control over my body except for me.” The bell rang, class was over.
It’s fourteen years later and I can still remember the fear of standing alone on the opposite side of that classroom from my peers. I said what I believed in spite of that fear and I always will.
Have any of you had an experience similar to mine when you were in school? Was this an appropriate topic to be debated on in an eighth grade classroom? What would you have done?