Ali

Part 3 – Feminism, birth control & abortion.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Ali, 28, is from Saudi Arabia and studied electrical engineering at St. Thomas University in St. Paul, Minnesota. He is married and has two children, aged 3 and a newborn.

Conversation with Amara Hartman.


Amara
What do you think about the current culture around feminism? Like, what did you think about the women’s march in Washington DC? Do you feel like women in this country are going after worthwhile goals or do think, “What do you have to complain about?”

Ali
Well, maybe it’s because of where I came from, but I think women have a perfect life here. Even though there’s no such thing as perfect. But I would say they have an even life with men. I mean, maybe there is something behind the scenes, and I don’t see it, where women are being treated differently compared to men and women here are seeking that part. But that’s as far as I’d say.

Well, one thing I’d add to your knowledge would include birth control or family planning.

Oh, I like that you opened this subject!

So one of the main draws of the Republican party a lot of the time is that it’s the pro-life party. It tries to block funding for Planned Parenthood or businesses that provide services for women, not necessarily to even have an abortion but to learn how to have sex safely or to get medication. It’s not just, like, all about sucking a baby out of you. But I think when it comes down to politics and what side are you gonna be on, there are only the most extreme sides, and I think a lot of women are worried they’re not going to be able to get birth control or [reproductive] health care access. So, I think that feeds into a lot of it. It’s not necessarily like we think women can’t work with men, it’s more like, in some of the more fundamental ways, you know, only women can give birth, but we have a lot of old white men in Washington who are saying, “No, this is how it should go!” Well, what right does this man have to decide what to do with a woman’s body and how she wants to raise a family?

Ah, I didn’t really know about that. So, there are points I’d like to talk to you about. One is birth control. I Googled, and I asked certain doctors, and they all say it’s safe. But in the long run, it’s not really. It’s kind of like you’re making your body do something that’s not natural.

It really depends on what it is. There are different types. I take the pill, which my understanding is that it mimics what you’re natural body would do. You do still get your period, but the times when you’re not having your period, the uterus lining breaks down. Which yes, that’s not natural. But it’s so finely–and I guess this is the miracle of science–it’s so finely tuned to estrogen and other female hormones, that it doesn’t steal anything from [your natural system]. It just kind of redirects it. There are some people who react really badly to stuff. Like the IUD which goes in your uterus. I’ve heard of people who can’t get pregnant after it’s removed because it’s like it disrupted the biological balance to the point where you have those side effects.

Now, see to that point, when I got married, I told my wife I didn’t want her taking any birth control. Because to be honest, it’s us men who are giving the sperm, so we should control that. And condoms, and if it was my choice, I would give the man who invented the condom a Nobel prize.

I think it was a woman who invented the condom. [NOTE: It was Charles Goodyear in 1839. Not sure why I thought it was a woman. I think I was thinking of the founder of Planned Parenthood.]

Oh, probably! But see if I use it, my wife doesn’t need to take pills. She can just live naturally. I know science is good and all that, but a tree will only grow with water and sand. Don’t bring me some chemical you are saying will make it grow up faster and all that crap. If there is a way for me to not have my wife take pills, I’ll do it. Even though some of my friends are like, “Ugh, I don’t like wearing condoms, I can’t feel anything!” I say you are full of crap. I wear one, and I feel the same.

So that’s the first point I wanted to talk to you about. The second point is, what do you think about abortion?

Um… I think it’s a touchy subject. I think it’s very personal, not just to the woman but whoever the man is and families. Because there are husbands and wives who choose to abort a child if they find out it has a birth defect, or they just can’t afford to take care of another kid. I think, unfortunately, a lot of the stigma around it is just, like, girls who want to party, then get pregnant and don’t want a kid, so they just get rid of it. That’s not a fair representation. I think actually it comes down to both males and females being educated about what can happen [with bodies and during sex], so there are less instances of people even seeking abortions.

But also when [abortion] does happen, I kind of put it in the category of how everybody makes choices in their life that could be really good for them, or they might regret it later. I think of the pro-life movement latches on to feeling regret and tries to stop women from doing it by saying, “You’re gonna regret it later!” I mean, who’s to say? Because if this woman is poor or doesn’t have any support, they’re gonna regret a lot if they DO have the child! They can’t feed it. They can’t pay for it. And I think that’s the case for a lot of the communities in our country that are poor, and they can’t get out of that cycle of poverty. They’re not educated, and they don’t have any resources. There’s no extra money, there’s no one to watch the children, and it’s a problem that just gets bigger and bigger. So, I’m not against abortion, but it is a case-by-case situation, and you don’t have the chance to talk to everyone about it.

Well, you know, it’s tough subject I would like to talk about just to get more information. See, in Islam, it’s prohibited. From another point, like what you said, if the child has a defect they find before the child is born, I think about it like, well the afterlife would be better for this child than to be born that way. But the problem is that it’s come to the point where there is no problem with the baby.

I watched a documentary about abortion, and I don’t remember when the fetus starts having a heart beat, but once that happens, if you think about it like it’s a human being, you’re actually taking it’s life away. Is that right or wrong? Is it because that baby is still inside his mother’s stomach that it’s ok? What if the baby was outside? The thing I like about the U.S. that Muslim countries don’t have is adoption. You still have this good place, where if you can’t have kids, there’s a place where I can find a kid to raise as mine and take care of him.

I agree, that’s why I think it’s so hard. I don’t disagree with that.

But at the same time, your point is totally right.

I think the thing that makes me *EXTREMELY ANNOYED FACE* when I hear the pro-life side talk is the question of what are they doing for the child after it’s born? Because a lot of–and I’m generalizing–the pro-life side is not putting into action the programs that can help the child after the fact. They’re just saying a woman should not abort her child in order to get a politician’s votes. They know all the people who are pro-life are going to say, “Good, so is he, I’ll vote for him.” Then this guy can go off to Washington and do whatever he wants.

Meanwhile, we have all these laws coming in, like I think in Arkansas or Alabama, that have all but banned abortion. But that’s one of the poorest populations in our country! So now we have women who are essentially forced to have a baby, and once it comes out, who is getting it food? How is it going to get diapers? The same people who made the laws are making it so there’s no help! So, I mean, I’m not saying then ABORT IT! because of that, but it just opens up a whole other issue of, well, what’s your long-term plan then? Why won’t you help? So it’s tricky. In an ideal world, obviously you want as many good new people as you can get, because you never know which baby could grow up to become the next brilliant heart surgeon. But we don’t live in that kind of world.

See, that’s kind of the issue. If I go to my country, and said there are poor people in the U.S., not everyone would believe me. We have this idea that the U.S. is a rich and developed country. Just like if I told you about all the poor people in Saudi Arabia, you’d be like, “Are you serious, what about all your oil?” But the problem is, as you said, the people at the top who hold everything aren’t helping.

It just brings up my whole problem with politics in general. I do consider myself a political person, because I believe in human beings. When I see other people lacking basic rights, it pisses me off, and I want to do something about it. I’ll never run for a political office, but in some small way, I’m going to try to help. And that is exactly the opposite of what I see. People who have absolutely no understanding of life between civilians–they don’t understand how it is to live paycheck to paycheck or have multiple children because you couldn’t… like one of the things down in the south is you have to drive to a different state to get an abortion. Well, if you’re one of those people who doesn’t have a license or a car… there are any number of things that could happen, so how dare they enact laws and just be like, (mimicking signing a bill) “Have fun!” While down here, we have to pay for it.

I will say this, I’ve always wanted to adopt. I see myself adopting a child. Because it would be terrible to be that kid who was given up because of poor circumstances. That would be one of my ways of helping.

Well…

Did I answer all the questions?

I think you did. But we had so much conversation. You answered all that and more.

But I really enjoyed it.

Me too.