What Being “Pro-Woman” Means to Me

[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.)

18 Comments

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18 Responses to What Being “Pro-Woman” Means to Me

  1. Dana

    I think a good way to end the “need” for abortions is to make all forms of birth control more readily available to all ages, races, and socio-economic levels and to work on taking the stigma away from using birth control. Education on how to properly use it and having better access to it really give women power over their own reproductive choices.

    • I agree – prevention is definitely an important piece of the puzzle. But as someone who got pregnant on birth control with a close friend who got pregnant with an IUD (yes, really), I know that it’s only part of the conversation. Thanks for the comment!

  2. Though I definitely don’t agree with all of your conclusions here – although I do agree that making sure women are aware of, and have, all the choices possible! you seem to be disregarding the possibility of women who simply don’t want to be a mother.

    I’m sure there are women who feel they have no other choice but to have an abortion, or SOs or workplaces that pressure them to feel like that’s the best option – but that’s not all of them! I feel fortunately that I’ve never heard anyone have those kinds of influences, but perhaps if you work for a pregnancy resource center, your sample is also skewed to the other extreme?

    If I had gotten pregnant at say 24 or 25, I was in a good job and had a good support system in place, it wouldn’t have been easy to unexpectedly be a parent, but I could have done it. But at that point, I had absolutely NO desire to EVER be a parent. I probably would have had an abortion – even though all these factors you mention wouldn’t have been trying to discourage me from raising a child, *I* wouldn’t have wanted to.

    I simply have no internal desire to have children. When with a partner, such as my fiance, I can see how wonderful it would be to have and raise children with that partner (and I felt this with an ex, as well), and we do plan on having children eventually. But if we broke up, and I approached the “now or never” age where some women decide to deliberately be a single parent. I would have no reason to do so.

    I think being pro-women must include being very deliberate about making sure women don’t feel like their only purpose or option in life is about having children (especially considering how much of human history women have felt like that was their only value).

    • I think you make some very valid points. Just for the record – none of the stories included in this post came from within a pregnancy center. Once I started talking about this issue, friends began sharing their stories – more stories than I ever realized were so close to me. But you’re right, our life experiences inevitably frame our point of reference. Certainly not all women are pressured to abort – but more are than I ever realized. I agree with your point that no woman should feel like their only purpose in life is to be a mother – even if they are a mother! But we also must be careful to not devalue the amazing importance of that role. Thanks for your comment!

  3. Amanda Kellogg

    Great article, Callie.

  4. Nikki

    Thank you for writing this. Too often “pro-woman” means be more like a man, not letting anything hold you back from your dreams especially children. When you get pregnant your body is doing what it is made to do, pro means for there why then is “pro woman” often against what a woman’s body is made to do.

  5. L

    I think that pro-woman has to be about having choices to be whatever you want, regardless of the path you need to take to get there. To understand your options in life and to have not only access to, but the ability to ask for information. Many woman don’t have people they can talk to or are worried about the stigma they’ll get if they discuss certain topics. One thing I think that’s very important though, is never removing choice.
    I wonder about the therapist’s comments to you. I am guessing that someone who has those sort of “regrets” would not be open to sharing them. Just my thought.

  6. You bring up some awesome points! Just to add my two cents to the conversation.. the only way to prevent pregnancy with 100% effectiveness is to not have sex. Every single method of birth control will fail at some point for some one. No sex, no baby. That being said, this is not just a woman problem. I think part of the problem is that our culture promotes a lack of love. People have been taught that men and women, especially those you aren’t married to, can be reduced to mere instruments for your own pleasure. People try to separate the action of sex and reproduction, and it just doesn’t work. Abortion is a complicated, messy, controversial topic, so thank you for being brave enough to post this!

  7. Lindsay

    Great post Callie! I appreciate your having written it. I’m proud of you for stepping into the fear and posting it in the first place, and then stepping into it again, when you republished it!

  8. Love this post! I definitely agree with your idea behind being pro-woman. It is just so dis-heartening that there seem to be so many different pieces to the puzzle. Not just birth control, but also money to care for the child. As you said there are resources and hopefully more and more women are learning that…but I imagine there are the middle class women who have 3 or 4 kids and they just simply can’t afford one more so she aborts.

    But I agree that one of the main issues is spreading the word about resources. It seems to be the hardest part.

  9. I agree and love that your job is doing such a service in your community. Since having a baby 14 months ago, I have realized how passionate I am about protecting unborn and newborn babies, and plan to get involved once we move into our new house. Thanks for sharing, even when it was hard!

  10. Great post, Callie.

    I believe PRO WOMAN means being able to 100 percent make that choice on your own based on her own knowledge, life experiences and goals in mind – and as many of your readers have commented, that’s beyond the actual pregnancy – but through the many pre and post stages, as well.

    We, as a society, need to be able to support the CHOICES of women, and be there as advocates and TRUE listeners, so each woman that finds herself in such a situation can confidently seek out the answers she needs. There is no RIGHT or COOKIE CUTTER answer for everyone.

  11. Incredible perspective, I was nodding the whole time. I’ve felt this way for a long time about abortion but never could put it into words the way you did. Thanks for this!

  12. conni

    having a daughter heading off to college, I hope a abortion is never something she must consider doing. But lately I feel the public schools are not doing our girls any favor, by making pregnancy easy. When I graduated from Venice High 30+ years ago, there were 2 girls in our class of 300 that got pregnant (that we know of). Today North Port High, not only has a daycare, the school buses have baby seats on them. How can this be good? Its seems the schools are promoting teen pregnancy. I know they want the girls to finish school, but its become a badge of honor to walk thru school with your baby.

  13. Marci

    I had a d&c just two months ago when my pregnancy revealed a terminal neural tube defect at 12 weeks. Because the baby still had a good heartbeat, I had to find a doctor who performed that procedure. It was an abortion. It’s not what you’re referring to, but it was unexpected, a loss, and really sucks. My own doctor wouldn’t do it (most don’t). I had to sign the state paperwork, view the ultrasound one last time, etc. It is terrible. And now I sympathize with people who go through it for any reason.

  14. Great post, Callie. I like the way you framed it saying you don’t want any woman to feel like abortion is her only option. That’s so true! I’m pro-life and though I don’t discuss this issue on my blog, you may have seen me tweeting about it. What organization do you work for? My passion for the issue is what fueled me to be so supportive and passionate about adoption and foster care as well. It all goes hand in hand.

  15. I am childfree by choice and proud of any abortion decision. We should celebrate that abortion is legal, safe, and *relatively* available. Abortion and other forms of birth control protect my quality of life. While a baby may be viewed as a blessing to some, and that’s fantastic – to me it would be a burden and impede my goals and quality of life. I also hate that women often continue to be burdened with being children’s primary caregiver and motherhood is equated with a greater burden and responsibility. My career and other passions are more important to me than any child. I don’t see motherhood as an accomplishment.

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