I’m in my early 40s, and I’m childfree (childless by choice). Over 8 years ago I had an abortion. The father was a man I thought was my soulmate (although kind friends have told me deep down I already knew he was the dangerous, destructive person I eventually found him to be). We were practicing safe sex and birth control when I got pregnant, but I wasn’t yet childfree. Ending my 40-day-long pregnancy was one of the most gutwrenchingly difficult decisions I’ve ever made, and it was the most painful — emotionally, spiritually, and physically — experience I’ve ever been through.
And not only do I fiercely defend the right of other women to make the same choice, I would do it again if it were the right decision.
The 40 Days for Life campaign is back. Every year during Lent they pace and pray outside the Planned Parenthood clinic near my house. This is the same clinic where I had my abortion — but that was before I’d gotten a really good job and bought a nice house nearby. Those are two of the many wonderful things that very likely would never have happened had I not let my child go that day.
Yes, I said child. I identify as politically progressive (no, not liberal) and staunchly pro-choice. And I believe that teeny tiny embryo inside me was life. And yes, I ended it. And no, I don’t feel guilty. Anymore. Sometimes I do feel a little regret. There’s no way of knowing what my life would have been like had I allowed that child to come into the world. I’m sure there are beautiful, joyful moments I’ve missed because of my decision. But I’ve also had many beautiful, joyful moments I wouldn’t have had if I’d birthed that baby. And I’m 100% certain that neither my life, nor that child’s life, would be as healthy and happy as they are today had we not parted ways. I still believe that I saved two lives that day I took the pills to end my pregnancy.
When I see the 40 Days for Life folks now I feel a range of emotions: anger, pity, disgust, rage, grief, frustration, empathy, gratitude. I wonder what their stories are. I wonder if they know how condescending and insulting their signs are to me, like “abortion hurts women.” I wonder if they think they’re talking about me, or if they’re talking about themselves?
The whole “abortion debate” really isn’t a debate because the two sides come from such different sets of values that can’t seem to really hear each other. In fact, I have’t always been pro-choice. But here are the reasons I am pro-choice and likely will be until I die:
1. This is a woman’s decision, not a man’s decision. Sorry guys, but until you carry the children, bear the children, raise the children, and support the children financially to a degree that comes close to what we women do, you don’t get to decide this for us. As long as women get paid 76% of what men get paid and women are raped, beaten, abused and harrassed in epidemic proportions by men, we get to decide whether or not it’s safe — for our children and for us — to bring them into this world. If you are a man against abortion, be celibate, always use two methods of birth control when having sex, or get a vasectomy.
2. This is a personal decision, not a group or governmental decision. Sorry government, but until you pay for prenatal care, the birth, diapers, food, clothing, HeadStart, K-12+ education, child care and health care, you don’t get to make me have a child I’ll need to spend countless hours and a couple hundred thousands dollars to raise to functional adulthood.
3. We don’t need more humans on the planet. Seven billion miracles is enough. Per reason #2, I could see some justification for the group stepping in to say the survival of our tribe or species is more important than my individual desire to not have a baby, but not only is homo sapiens not anywhere close to having this problem, many of the most dire problems facing homo sapiens today have to do with there being too many of us, living in unsustainable ways on our tiny planet.
4. We don’t need any more unwanted children. More and more research is showing how the circumstances of our conception and births affect our development and how we perceive and interact with the world for the rest of our lives (see conscious conception, or from womb to world). I know personally what it feels like to be raised by parents who didn’t entirely want you, and it’s something you carry your whole life. Child abuse and neglect is another epidemic in the US which takes an epic toll on our individual and collective lives. Hurt kids hurt kids, and hurt people hurt people — just check out the statistics on how many folks in prison were molested or abused as children.
Adoption is certainly one option for unwanted pregnancies, but given #3 above, the disconnect between the number of babies and the number of adoptive families; how adoption (not to mention being carried by a woman for 9 months that doesn’t want them) affects kids; and how carrying a child she’s going to give up can affect the mother emotionally, economically and physically, it’s not the answer. Sure anecdotes abound of unwanted kids who turn out to be amazing, and even loved by their parents, as well as people who thank their mom or their fiancée’s mom for not choosing abortion since the resulting human turned out so fabulously. But there are also plenty of anecdotes about horrible people who were wanted kids, and non-aborted people who kind of wish they’d never been born. Anecdotes alone don’t point to absolute truth, hence the importance of a mother’s choice to maximize a child’s chances of an excellent start in life. As one of my friends says, “wanted babies only!”
5. An embryo is life, but not the same as a person. An embryo, a fetus, and even a newborn are helpless without adults. Privileging the rights of an embryo or fetus over those of a fully formed human being isn’t fair, nor is saying that pro-choicers who fight for social justice and human rights are being hypocritical when they don’t fight for the rights of proto-humans. Apples and oranges.
6. Human life is not the most important life form on Earth. We end life every day without hardly thinking about it. The animals we kill to eat. The forests we cut down to make room for cattle, or to make cheap furniture. The rivers and lakes we choke off to power our cities. The oceans we pollute with our vasts amounts of non-biodegradable waste. I’m not saying these behaviors are OK, but to say abortion is an abomination above all others is frightfully anthropocentric and narcissistic. A tiny human embryo is not more important nor more deserving of life and health than our air, water, soil, animals, and plants, and we are much more dependent on these for survival than on the existence of one more human embryo. Again, see #3.
7. Being “pro-life” doesn’t make us moral or ethical as a society or nation. I think I understand the concern of the “pro-life” camp about us not being a society where human life is taken, and I admire the dedication to standing up for what they feel is immoral and unjust. But why so inconsistent then? Why pace and pray in front of family planning clinics, yet cheer the execution of prisoners, accept the enslavement of undocmented immigrants and abuse of workers in general, promote the slaying of civilians overseas in unjustified wars, ignore the animal cruelty on factory farms, tolerate hate crimes and discrimination against African Americans and LGBT people, and vote against policies that would bring the poor (including vast numbers of children) out of poverty? The death penalty, the treatment of undocumented workers, the Iraq War, factory farms, hate crimes and neglect of the material needs of families and children are far more immoral than ending the future potential of a human embryo.
Frankly I would consider joining a movement that worked proactively to change this list of immorality and also happened to be anti-choice. But until we truly do respect and cherish all life as sacred, I stand for the right of a woman to decide whether or not to bring another person into so much immorality and suffering. Sure, each embryo represents potential and could be the next Mozart or Einstein, but until we regard our existing children as bursting with the same potential and genius, treat them as such and set them up equitably for success and happiness, the argument about an embryo’s potential falls flat.
And speaking of morality, why doesn’t 40 Days for Life set up camp outside fertility clinics where boatloads (estimated hundreds of thousands in the last 30 years) of embryos are “discarded” in the process of in vitro fertilization? These are intended pregnancies that are ended by the dozens per couple. How is this not immoral if life begins at conception? How is this OK, but a woman ending an unintended pregnancy for the good of herself, her child, and the world is not?
8. Your beliefs don’t make them true for me. Perhaps you fear the divine wrath of God for permitting abortions in your midst. I appreciate that fear and where it comes from. However, your beliefs don’t make them true for me, or true at all. I am the one that has to face the consequences of my own choices, and taking such responsibilty is moral, ethical and mature. If you are against abortion, don’t have one, or don’t cause a woman to have to contemplate one. If you are against abortion, work to ensure wage parity for women, stop violence against women and girls, superior schools and child care, and an end to poverty — where 40% of our children grow up.
9. We have choice. Perhaps this is where I differ most with religious anti-choice folks, but I don’t believe in a Divine Being who presents me with situations just to test me and see if I “pass.” I believe Life and the Divine present me with opportunities to grow, learn, and shape a life — my life — to be full of happiness, health, creativity and joy, and share that with the world. I have been given the ability to choose and wield the decision of life or death for myself. I don’t believe in a Divine that would give me such power and not “allow” me to use it or to test me to see if I do. I don’t believe in such a jealous God — that’s a human notion, not Divine.
10. Not wanting to is reason enough. I am responsible for much that determines the quality of my life. If I want to take on the commitment of parenting for reasons of joy and love and service — or whatever — that’s up to me. If I — or any woman — don’t want to go through a pregnancy or bear and raise a child because I want other things for my life and my soul calls me to a different path, that’s a good enough reason. I just don’t want to, and I don’t need to justify it any more than that, nor feel guilty about doing what makes me happy.
When it comes down to it, my main problem is not with the anti-choice (“pro-life” is a misnomer — see #7 — and wrongly implies pro-choice folks are pro-death somehow…also pro-choice folks can also be anti-abortion) position which has a life-affirming moral basis I agree with in many ways. My main problem is with anti-choice people and what feels to me like the invasive, aggressive, and often deceptive approach most of them seem to have. I find it highly arrogant (and anti-American?) for a stranger to pass judgment on me and my choices when I am the one to face the consequences of my actions, which don’t adversely affect them in any material way (and, in fact, might ultimately benefit them and society). Pro-choice folks certainly don’t demonstrate outside churches, clinics, hospitals or adoption agencies touting signs of images of miserable mothers covered with children, trying to convince pregnant women they should have an abortion. Pro-choice people don’t judge women for deciding to become mothers, so anti-abortion folks should stop judging women for deciding not to. We women have so much more to experience in life than just motherhood, and we have so much more to contribute to the world than our genes.
Ultimately, trying to prevent a woman who wants to terminate her pregnancy from doing so ends up creating more, worse problems with far-reaching consequences for many. For if we don’t trust that woman to make such a decision for herself, how can we possibly trust her to make the many, many important decisions required to parent?
And making it shameful and frightening for those of us who have had abortions to say it out loud, or talk about it even with close friends and family keeps us isolated as individuals and dishonest as a society. One in three of us have had at least one abortion. It’s time to take back the power, speak the truth of our experiences, and reject the shame and guilt others try to make us feel about our lives and decisions!
Here’s to a world where there are only intentional conceptions, joyful pregnancies, wanted babies and loving parents. Here’s to a future where all lifeforms are cherished and honored as sacred. Here’s to a day when all women wisely and consciously wield our awesome powers, and are respected for our decisions.
Until then, may we all be philosophically anti-abortion, fiercely pro-choice, and unapologetically shame-free.
In lak ech,