“Fighting against the world that we don’t want is a critical first step, but fighting for the world that we do want is where liberation truly begins.”
I can’t recall when I became “Pro-Choice.” Maybe it was by default. When I “chose” to have an abortion, 2 of them, two-months apart from each other, at the ripe age of sixteen. (Though I know others who made the same “choice” and who are equally “Pro-Life.”)
I never gave abortion much thought; not politically speaking. It was a personal, desperate, practical act; that I knew was wrong, inside, but I grasped at it anyway.
Afterward, when I became more conscious of politics, I didn’t feel I had any right to say no to abortion, no matter how I felt.
I did do my best to help other young women avoid that choice, by providing all I’d learned about birth control. While keeping my own abortions secret. Secluded. Shamed.
Later, as a married woman, I suffered two miscarriages, and I knew that these devastating losses were punishments, self-inflicted, for the carelessness with which I had treated life.
In my early thirties, I met a new friend, who shared her own abortion stories, with reverence, but not with shame, which loosed my own, and opened me into motherhood.
I have been a good mother. Good enough. I have devoted my life to my children with consciousness, creativity and fervor.
Before this chapter of parenting, I had been a teacher–a kind and passionate steward of young hearts; and before that, a sister–the oldest of eight, tending as best I could to the lives of little ones.
I’ve always had an affinity for children. And elders. An immigrants. And the downtrodden. Those on the margins, I suppose.
As I age, a radical appreciation for women takes form inside. For who they are. For what they endure. For what they have to offer the world. For how they make a difference.
With this awareness, I know that women’s reproductive rights must be their own. And yet, as I approach 50, and that hard-earned sovereignty is threatened, I realize that I have a responsibility to fine-tune my thoughts and attention and consciousness. And so, I ask, how am I anti-abortion and pro-choice at the same time?
The answer is that these are not stances, or political sides, but instead truths that resonate inside of me.
I still think abortion is wrong. I think it IS the taking of a life. Abortions performed after the first trimester are particularly alarming given how developed a baby is; especially now that science and technology have radically shifted outcomes for premature births. Those delivered in the early part of the last trimester can now thrive. Even some born in the second-half of the second trimester survive. And who knows what new technology might bring.
But do those developments determine the dignity of life? Is a life only worth honoring if science can save it?
When I think back to my miscarriages–one at the end of the first trimester, and the other at the beginning, I remember how dismissive many were of my loss with comments like… Just try again or At least you know you can get pregnant or None of this will matter once you have a child or It was so early, are you sure?
Liberal or Conservative, religious or not, pro-choice or anti-abortion, we all differentiate when it comes to the unborn; but we can’t take this into consideration because to do so would make us vulnerable to the “other” side and we each have so much at stake.
The culture is to blame. January marked the 40th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade; celebrated or grieved; but of course, abortions themselves, legal or illegal, have been a part of women’s lives forever.
What has also been a part of women’s lives is subjugation and inequality, still evident in the places where laws are created that shape our mutual futures.
As women, we must move forward, together, in ways that honor the legacy of what it means to be a woman, and a mother.
Perhaps Naomi Wolf described it best, in her piece “Our Bodies, Our Souls”:
Now imagine such a democracy, in which women would be valued so very highly, as a world that is accepting and responsible about human sexuality; in which there is no coerced sex without serious jailtime; in which there are affordable, safe contraceptives available for the taking in every public health building; in which there is economic parity for women—and basic economic subsistence for every baby born: and in which every young American woman knows about and understands her natural desire as a treasure to cherish, and responsibly, when the time is right, on her own terms, to share.
In such a world, in which the idea of gender as a barrier has become a dusty artifact, we would probably use a very different language about what would be—then—the rare and doubtless traumatic event of abortion. That language would probably call upon respect and responsibility, grief and mourning. In that world we might well describe the unborn and the never-to-be-born with the honest words of life.
And in that world, passionate feminists might well hold candlelight vigils at abortion clinics, standing shoulder to shoulder with doctors who work there, commemorating and saying goodbye to the dead.
I’m not sure if my own words should end with hers. I don’t really want to stand outside abortion clinics. I don’t want to face the horror of what happens there nor do I want to intrude upon the women who make that choice.
But I am only half of the equation. I can let my Pro-Life sisters lead the way. They are fierce protectors and lovers; they will show me how.
As I write these words, a deer, a doe, steps into my view, outside the window at my writing desk, heading East, into the place of new beginnings.
With her characteristic gentleness.
A favorite Rumi verse comes to mind: “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”
And just as I decide to end with that, a second doe steps forward, facing West, into the direction of wisdom and women.