Freedom of Choice
My mom could have legally aborted me.
Not that she did, obviously. She didn’t even want to. I was her first child, conceived in wedlock at a perfectly reasonable childbearing age.
But I just turned 38 in December, which means that about a year and three months before I was conceived, the Supreme Court ruled on the case of Roe v. Wade and declared that American women had a Constitutionally protected right to seek an abortion for whatever reason they saw fit. And when my mom discovered she was pregnant in the spring of 1974, she had more options than she had only fifteen months earlier.
The historian in me watches the observance of Roe v. Wade‘s 40th anniversary with a mixture of gratitude, dismay, and bemusement. I’m grateful to have lived my whole life in an America where the highest court of the land could write such a powerful statement of trust in women’s wisdom about their own reproductive rights. I’m dismayed that, in the intervening time, people who don’t trust women with such power have been so successful in circumventing this fundamental, adjudicated right.
And I’m utterly bemused by the multiple levels of collective amnesia surrounding the real history of abortion, fraught as it is. The surveys released this week that showed how few women under 30 actually know that Roe v. Wade was about abortion have conjured a great deal of justified facepalming. But I’d like to see a little acknowledgement that abortion is as old as civilization, and that for most of that time, women had control over those decisions. It wasn’t considered a conflict with one’s religious beliefs; every medieval woman knew how to make tea from rue, tansy, bayberry, or pennyroyal to “bring on late menses.” Only with the pathologizing of reproduction, with male doctors in charge, did abortion become a battleground and women the most unreliable judges of their own best interests.
I’ve said for a long time that I’m unequivocally pro-choice. I turned out for the 2004 March for Women’s Lives in Washington D.C.. I march at Planned Parenthood on Good Friday, as a visible contradiction to the crowds of abortion opponents who clog the sidewalks to shame and condemn the workers inside, despite the lifesaving work (overwhelmingly above and beyond abortion) they do for our communities’ most vulnerable women.
But I’ve always said that, while I’ll gladly fight for every other woman’s choice, I couldn’t choose that for myself. I’m a living, breathing paradox: an anti-abortion, pro-child, pro-choice American woman. And I am far from alone in this slippery category. In fact, I have a feeling that we’re the silent majority.
I’m incredibly fortunate to have chosen when and how many times I became pregnant, and that I was able to carry those pregnancies to term. That said, my pregnancies were absolute hell. I was nauseated and vomiting 20 hours a day for 5 1/2 months with the first one, 24 hours a day for 7 1/2 months with the second, which contributed to the most excruciating, interminable flares of fibromyalgia in my entire life with the disorder. And as much as I love and prize my amazing, energetic, hilarious, brilliant, gorgeous sons, they both have special needs that make parenting an exhausting challenge on the best of days. As my husband and I age, the chances of another child bearing those same conditions only rise.
So I need to be perfectly honest: if I became pregnant again, I don’t know that abortion would seem as impossible as it once did. My health would suffer immeasurably, leaving me unable to work, so our family’s finances would strain to the breaking point. The upheaval would have a massive impact on the equilibrium and routine that help our sons function, with unimaginable consequences. It’s said that all a child needs from its family is love, but diapers and an active mom help too.
And before someone suggests that I’m too educated and self-aware to face an unplanned pregnancy, let’s be honest: education doesn’t magically repel sperm anymore than a lack of consent. While our kids are a phenomenally effective form of birth control, like any other form, they are not 100 percent foolproof. By age 45, over half of American women will experience at least one accidental pregnancy. And 61 percent of women seeking abortions are already mothers; more than three-quarters of them cite the impact of another child on their precarious balance of responsibilities. (All statistics are from a 2011 study by the Guttmacher Institute.)
I don’t have a story to tell about how abortion has impacted my life. I don’t have an important point to make on this anniversary of a landmark declaration of rights that are in some ways more difficult and dangerous to exercise today than 40 years ago. I don’t even have a deeper analysis of the shift in my feelings on my own holistic, reproductive health.
What I do have, though, thanks to Roe v. Wade, is a choice.
I’m in the same boat as you. In college, I actually had the temerity to write a paper for my Ethics class entitled, “Abortion: It’s O’tay!” (Wrong on just so many levels. Mind you, this was the height of Eddie Murphy’s Buckwheat SNL character.) Back then, I really couldn’t see what all the fuss was about. A human fetus was so inconsequential to my ethical paradigm, I couldn’t understand why there was a debate about abortion at all. I’ve moderated my position significantly since then, and unsurprisingly the biggest catalyst for that change was having kids of my own and experiencing the process of pregnancy and childbirth.
On a related note, I also teach a pre-law class to gift high school students at a prestigious private school. Two years running, I’ve had one or two in a class of twenty who had any idea what Roe v. Wade was about (let alone the actual holding of the case). At first, I was dismayed that they could be so ignorant about such a seminal moment in our history. However, I’ve learned that, what it really means is a normalizing of the underlying principles that the decision represents. I.e., for most, abortion that is safe, legal, and rare, is an inherent ideal and not something that needs to be re-litigated. Despite media portrayals to the contrary and the rhetoric at both ends of the spectrum, there is a surprisingly solid middle ground on the issue of abortion in the court of public opinion. Without hunting for a link right now, something around 75% of the country thinks abortion should be legally available early in the pregnancy and in cases of rape, incest, and the health of the mother.
I think we are seeing the same thing with gay marriage and marijuana legalization. Forty years from now, no one will remember Hollingsworth v. Perry … and gay marriage will be thriving.
If people really want to end abortion, it needs to be done by treating causes. We need good and actually informative sex ed. We need easy and cheap access to birth control. We need accessible and affordable medical care for all women, especially those who are pregnant. We need real financial support for women who choose to have their babies. We need accessible, good, and affordable childcare for every child.
Remove most of the reasons that women seek abortions, and you’ll limit the number of abortions.
Outlawing abortion, limiting access to safe abortions, does absolutely nothing to make it more feasible or sensible or desirable for a woman to have that child. “Safe, legal, and rare” seems like a great guideline.
Honesty, if it were not for legal and safe abortion rights, I would no be alive.
As a teen my doctor told me I should take birth control. After my overly high strung mother got int a yelling match about morality, and how she was going to sue him for malpractice. After my mother calmed down, he told me and her that I couldn’t have kids.
It was a lie. I don’t think he told my mother either the real reason behind it. I think he just wanted to shut her up.
He should have told me to either be careful, or that I ‘shouldn’t’ have kids. There was both a problem with my uterus that would make me carrying to term extremely difficult.
In college, I got pregnant by some worthless guy whose mom just happened to be friends with my mom.
My first thought was to seek parents ready to adopt a child, and hoping my ex would not cause problems.
Early on, I realized something was very wrong. The doctor I was seeing started running tests. My blood test came back off.
I had a miscarriage but the fetus was still inside. My uterus was the size of a child’s and that was making it difficult for the ‘corpse’ to leave my body.
The only way to get it out of there was to perform an abortion. If it had stayed in there, I would have died.
The only way to correct my uterus to keep this from happening again was to carry a child full term, but that itself would be difficult with my odd hormone levels.
After the abortion of the fetal corpse, the doctor put me on birth control.
She told me that some of my infertility issues could have been solved if I’d taken birth control as a teen.
And people wonder why I get all upset about restrictions on reproductive rights.
Man, am I glad you were okay, KL. I think a lot of the most strident anti-abortion people don’t even know that a D&C is what keeps many women from dying of miscarriages. Amanda said it perfectly: safe, legal, and rare. Morality doesn’t belong in the discussion at all.
Ha! I should have read over that post. Never try to post something while a hungry kid and hungry husband are talking your ear off. Loads of grammar mistakes happen that way.