[Confession: I posted this last night and then got cold feet. So I took it down. I found myself worrying about what people might say, what people might think. I forgot that some of you would still read it in your Google Reader or on Feedly. A few of you asked me why I took it down. The bottom line? Fear. But sometimes the things we are the most afraid to say are the things we most need to say. So it’s back. Here goes nothing…]
Disclaimer: I know I’m wading into pretty murky waters here by bringing up a very sensitive topic. My intent is not to shame, judge or offend ANYONE. At all. No matter what views you might hold. I respect opinions that differ from my own – I would ask for the same respect in return. My goal is simply to encourage all of us to think about a divisive topic a little…differently.
I’ve always considered myself to be pro-woman. Maybe it was because I grew up in a family of four girls, or maybe it was because I always believed women could do anything they wanted to do. Typical gender stereotypes? No thank you. It never occurred to me that there was something I couldn’t do just because I was a woman. And I still feel that way.
As a college student at the University of North Carolina, this deeply held belief began to manifest itself in my course selections. I loved taking Women’s Studies courses. I loved empowering other women to achieve their dreams – and learning about those strong women who had led the way.
One of the classes I took was called, “Women in Latin America”. In that class, I wrote a research paper and my thesis came down to this – women in Latin America needed increased access to abortion services as a means to overcome their circumstances and achieve “reproductive freedom.” What could be more empowering than that?
My professor wrote a comment at the end of my paper that said, “I wish you would have talked about the reasons WHY women have abortions.”
I didn’t know it then, but that comment would prove to be prophetic in my life.
When I wrote that paper, I never considered why a woman might find herself feeling like abortion is her best or only option. Quite frankly, I had never talked to anyone who had had an abortion. But being a strong woman who wanted to empower women meant supporting whatever they decided to do with a pregnancy…right?
As I look back at that paper now, I realize that not only did I leave out any of the reasons why a woman might have an abortion, I also gave absolutely no mention of the life (or what we all must agree is at the very least a “potential life”) that would be lost. It’s much easier to think about these things in terms of “freedom” and “empowerment” – or at least it was for me.
But then I talked to a close friend who revealed she had an abortion while in college. Through her tears, she said, “I just wish I had had someone to talk to…but at the time, it felt like life was in fast forward. I didn’t know what else to do. I just had to make it go away.” But for her, the memory never went away. It still hasn’t. Every time she looks at her three children, she thinks about the other one that could have been. That should have been.
Then I began to learn of stories of other women who had abortions – not because of an empowering “choice”, but because people in their lives made them feel like they had no other option. Boyfriends pressuring them to abort. Husbands driving them to the abortion clinic. Parents telling them they were ruining their lives. Far from being a liberating ideal, it was a victimization of sorts. A power play used against them.
I began to talk to women who deeply regret their abortions. I spoke to women who were never able to bear children once they were “ready” because their uterus was too scarred by the abortion doctor’s knife. I spoke to other women who recalled their abortion and told me, “I always wonder who it might have been.”
I spoke to my OB/GYN who told me how many women break down in her office and cry when they see an ultrasound of their “wanted baby” and realize exactly what they had decided to “terminate” in a previous pregnancy. “I’m talking about smart, educated women,” she told me. Women who were probably made to feel that they had to choose between their education and their career – or their child.
I talked to a psychologist who said to me, “I’ve never counseled a woman who decided against having an abortion – but I’ve counseled women for decades because they regret their abortion.”
And I began to wonder…is abortion the best we can do for women?
Statistics say that 1 in 3 women will have an abortion by the time she is 45. Maybe it’s time to start asking the question – why? Why are so many women finding themselves in a place where they feel like abortion is their best or only option?
Why is there so little support for pregnant students on college campuses? Why should women have to choose between their education and their baby?
Why aren’t we spending our time and energies on better options and choices for mothers – better maternity leave, better childcare options, better access to maternal and prenatal health services?
Why do so many women later say that the reason they had an abortion was a “lack of resources and support”? Why isn’t providing them with those resources and support the rallying cry of women?
I now work for an organization whose vision is “to end the demand for abortion in our community by meeting the needs of those we serve.” Every woman’s story is different. Every woman considering having an abortion has her own unique set of reasons. But there are many common threads – and they usually come down to fear, feeling alone, or feeling like they are without options. Some of those fears are internal – but some are the result of very real external pressures.
A friend of mine from law school told me that she was on partner track at her law firm. She and her husband were married, and happy to find out they were pregnant. A partner at her law firm told her she should have an abortion because it was too early in her career for her to have a baby. In my opinion, there is nothing, absolutely nothing pro-woman about that.
I firmly believe that no woman should ever feel so alone or so without options that she feels like abortion is her only choice. Maybe it’s time for us as women to come alongside other women and love them, support them, and empower them – not to end the life within them, but to create a world that has room for them both.
Maybe it’s time to re-define what it means to be “pro-woman”.
(It’s important for you to know that if you have had an abortion, I recognize that I don’t know or understand the particular circumstances you were facing at that time. But I’m willing to listen and I would love to hear your story. There is no judgment here. Please feel free to email me – I’d love to learn more about you.)