I’ve avoided writing this for a long time now. Over eighteen months, if the truth be told. But tonight, reading an essay by Ayelet Waldman on Salon.com, and in light of the upcoming Supreme Court debacle and what it’s going to mean for reproductive freedom, I couldn’t put it off any longer.
So here I am, finally writing about the A-word. Oh, I’ve written about it plenty before, in my usual callous, there-are-too-many-goddamn-mouths-on-the-planet-to-begin-with vein.
But that was before.
Not before I became pregnant. I was pregnant once before, at eighteen. I didn’t know it until I lost it. I mourned that baby, even though I probably wouldn’t have had it had I known. Hell, I went stark raving mad from the grief and the hormones. But I never really grasped the reality of it; it wasn’t mine for long enough to be real. Even after, on two oh-shit-I’m-late scares, I knew without a shadow of a doubt that if I were indeed pregnant, I would abort. Not just because I didn’t want a baby, but also because no baby deserves to be carried and raised by a junkie. So I’m certainly no dyed-in-the-wool pro-lifer. Not by a long shot.
When I found out I was pregnant with my daughter Penny, I was almost certain that I would have to abort her. I bore all the symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy. That night, after I peed on the stick and saw two lines instead of one, I called my friend Stephanie over. We sat around and drank Boone’s Farm and joked about “Tubi”, as we called her, and I tried to be nonchalant. But after she went home, I cried myself to sleep.
The next day, after the ultrasound showed that kidney-bean-shaped clump of cells safe and secure right where it should be, after I threw out my cigarettes and bought a copy of “What To Expect When You’re Expecting”, I still would have said that I thought that abortion was just fine and dandy. It wasn’t my own experience, but that of a friend-of-a-friend, that made me face the fact that my views on the subject had changed irrevocably.
This friend-of-a-friend had gotten pregnant and then aborted the baby at twenty weeks. I felt my own child begin to twitch and turn at 14. After commiserating with the first-degree friend on said chick’s utter stupidity and fickleness (the story was that she’d gotten knocked up on purpose and then changed her mind), I realized with something like shock that what I felt wasn’t sympathy for this woman for having to make a painful decision, but revulsion at the decision she had made. She had seen her child on ultrasound. She had almost certainly felt it quickening within her. And yet she still decided to kill it.
Now before we go any further, I feel that I have to justify my use of that word. Even before my shift in viewpoint, I was of the opinion that yes, abortion is indeed killing a baby. No matter how early on in the gestation it was performed, no matter how irrevocably damaged the fetus was, abortion is still the ending of a life. It’s killing. But I really didn’t have a problem with that. Being raised the child of a hunter and a cat breeder, I witnessed and came to terms with deliberate death at a young age. Yeah, I was a proponent of abortion. But I was (and still am) a proponent of hunting, the death penalty, the meat industry, killing in self-defense, justifiable war, and suicide of both the independent and assisted varieties. I had no problem with the statement “abortion is murder”. But I believed that it fell into the category of “justifiable homicide”.
Now, though, I’m really not so sure. Not after having seen my baby progress from a clump of undefined cells to a tadpole to an articulated person hiccupping in my womb to finally this giggling, willful, irascible toddler who clings to my legs when she’s frightened. Not after watching the evolution from two lines on a stick to a person.
Now I turn the channel when the pundits begin to debate the abortion issue. Now I feel uncomfortable when reading blogs discussing it.
I think it would be easier if I were a religious person. Then I would have a dogma backing me up, I would have the belief that my own opinions were upheld by those of divinity. But I’m not, and I don’t.
So I have to take a deep breath, go out on a very long and shaky limb, and say it. I believe that in most cases, abortion is wrong. It’s killing a child, and it’s a bad thing. But even though that is what I believe, I still don’t have the right to look another woman in the eye and say she can’t do it, or pass a law saying the same.
Because you know what? I’ve never had to make that choice. I’ve never been impregnated by rape. I’ve never had a doctor tell me that my child will be born with debilitating defects. I’ve never been a teenager and knocked up. Hell, I’ve never even been poor and desperate and pregnant on top of it. Even with my newly evolved beliefs on the subject, I still believe that most of the above are cases in which abortion is the lesser of two evils.
So yeah, I’m still pro-choice. One of my many, many reasons for this is that it is a dangerous and slippery slope and we need to stay the hell off of it. Once we begin passing laws that dictate a woman’s reproductive freedom in this manner, there is no stopping it. Today, it’s banning abortion, tomorrow, it’s banning the morning-after pill, the next, it’s banning the Pill period, and a week from now it’s banning condoms. And then we’re right back in the fucking dark ages. If we say that a woman can’t terminate the life she carries, then we say that she can’t take a chemical that keeps a fertilized egg from implanting in her womb, and then we say that she can’t prevent that egg from being fertilized by any means but keeping her legs shut.
But really, at the heart of the matter, it’s not about right and wrong. It’s about our freedom as Americans and as human beings to do the wrong thing. If I believe that we have the right to say mean and stupid things to each other, to do things that are bad for our bodies and possibly the very Earth that we live on, to squander our own potentials and resources, then I have to believe that we have the right to terminate a life within our own bodies. Yes, I believe that it is wrong to kill your unborn child. Yes, I believe that you have the right to do it. And although I think, personally, that you are doing a bad thing, I will not tell you this if and when you choose to do it. Because it is your dilemma, and your choice, and frankly, I think that having to make that choice is painful enough without me telling you what a horrible thing you’ve done.
This is not about me telling you what to do, or why, or that you’re a bad person for doing it. I’m simply explaining how I came to believe what I believe. What you do with your body is your business, and I pray to my nebulous and ill-defined God that it stays that way. I guess I’m really just trying to explain how someone can be pro-life and pro-choice at the very same time. The two are not mutually exclusive, and the debate is not black and white. We live our lives in shades of gray, and no legislation, no matter how well intended, can change that.