Tuesday, September 29, 2015
When I was 2, according to a faint whisper amongst the cacophony of family stories, a member of my family had an abortion.
I won't say which member or how she's related. Her story is not mine to tell, nor am I clear enough on the details to write about it with confidence. The story was told in a dark moment of desperation, and today I am telling it for one reason only: to explain the impact it has had on me. Because, that's MY story, and the only one I can tell.
My first response was a lightbulb. Oh. That's why she hates me. My very existence created a difficult and painful situation. And so many things fell into place.
I've begun to write this entry half a dozen times, but I am realizing that I can't tell the full story, even my part in it, without revealing more than I have a right to share. So, I will stick to the point- what the story is meant to illustrate:
When we talk about abortion, we often talk about choice, rights, and morals. We talk about the right to choose. We talk about a woman's right to control her own fate, her own destiny. Many on the other side dismiss those "rights" as invalid- saying that the woman had the "right" to choose to have sex, to live a lifestyle which might lead to pregnancy. And both sides have a point.
A woman does have the right to choose whether she will engage in, or abstain from, sexual activity. But, pointing that out too often dismisses the responsibility that is carried, not only by the woman, but by the men with whom she partners. When abortion comes up, the moral responsibility is always on the woman, but we rarely hear about the boyfriend or husband who got her pregnant. It's HER choice, after all. And, shouldn't it be? If she's being called upon to risk her health, and to take ultimate responsibility for a child, shouldn't she have the right to choose?
Some will say an unqualified absolutely yes, and some will say no. I am not here to debate those answers. I am only here to talk about my experience, and maybe, to explain why I feel the way I do.
The fact is, abortion is not a cut-and-dried "yes" or "no" answer. It is not something upon which we can stamp a label, it is not something that fits neatly into a box of morality or feminism or rights. If you think there are pat, cut-and-dried answers, you lack the emotional and intellectual maturity to enter into the discussion.
Medical science and many on the pro-choice side will tell women that they have absolute autonomy over their own bodies. Except when they don't. Pregnancy is not the only choice over which we lack complete control. Cancer, for example, takes away our "right" to choose our life path. As does, more relevantly, infertility. The bottom line is, we don't always have a choice in how our lives will play out.
On the pro-life side, many will tell women they are "murdering a baby," a phrase which is repugnant in its accusatory, hateful tone. It dismisses the mother as a "murderer," tossing her aside in favor of a mythical child which is not even yet a fully realized human being. It dismisses the many, MANY stories of women who are in abusive situations, who are faced with the very real choice of living a life of poverty if they carry a child to term. Who have no supports to carry them as they raise a child. The village becomes very silent when a single mom steps forward. The very people who would strip a woman of her right to choose post memes degrading foodstamps and other welfare programs- vital programs that, if more generously funded and administered, might make it possible for a woman to both become a mother and to have a career which will support herself and a child.
The hypocrisy on both sides is sickening.
I support a woman's right to choose- not because I believe that abortion is ever the right answer- but because I believe in respecting a woman's intellectual ability to make choices for herself, and yes for her unborn child. I believe in a woman's right to choose, the same way I believe in parents' rights to raise their children. Yes, some parents will abuse their children, and that is tragic. And some women will choose abortion. Also tragic. But the way to prevent it is not to remove parental rights and put children in the charge of the State, nor is it to remove women's legal rights.
If we want abortion to end, we must work harder at education. At providing options. At making having a family an affordable, viable way of life. Affordable daycare. Reasonable concessions for working parents- many countries offer a YEAR of paid leave to new parents. A year. Not six weeks. Many countries actually value children and families, and show it in ways that put America to shame. Affordable, accessible adoption. Better options for women who want to bring a child to term but don't feel able to raise one. Better education for families and for individuals about the entire process.
If we want abortion to end, we must teach our young men respect for their partners, and responsibility. We must teach our young women the TRUTH about birth control (it fails at least 1% of the time, some methods more often,) and the truth about the risks they take when engaging in sexual activity, without telling them that sex is ever a shameful thing. It is an expression of love, but it also comes with a commitment to the other partner. It's not just about selfish pleasure. It's something that is exchanged, not something that is simply gained, and it is a precious transaction.
How dare we call sex shameful? How dare we shame a woman's choice to share herself with a fellow human being? How dare we call an act which results in the conception of a child evil (except when it is the result of a selfish and violent choice, and not a partnering between two willing adults.)
And there ends my carefully controlled rein on my emotions.
HOW DARE YOU call a woman in MY family a murderer? HOW DARE YOU?
Who do you think you are, to make a judgement like that? Who do you think you are, to look at this person, whom you know NOTHING about, and judge her?
You want to talk about rights? You have none in this place. Not without knowing her. Not without hearing her story, and the stories of all the women who have made this very personal choice. Even hearing the story, you have no place. You have not stood in her shoes. You have not lived her experience. You have not faced her demons. It is not your choice to make.
Learn to love. Learn to LISTEN to the stories. Read the #ShoutYourAbortion stories. Read these women's experiences. Understand what led them to make the most painful and personal decision of their lives. Until you can weep for these women, for all that they face, and all that they suffer, until you acknowledge and recognize the women who are ALSO SOMEONE'S BABY, someone's mother, someone's sister, someone's cousin, someone's niece, you have no right to talk about abortion. None.
So, unless you can speak with empathy, and support the policies that will make families strong in America again, kindly shut up. That's someone I love that you're talking about.
I will not "shout" her abortion, but you can be very sure that I will shout in her defense, and you may not like what I have to say, but until you can hear the words, until you can understand the grief and the loss, and the hope that comes after the trauma, until you can begin to contribute to the healing, you will have no place here in this sacred space surrounding my family.