I had an abortion.

Catching up on all the coverage of the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, and my good lord, if it isn’t depressing. And here I thought this body belonged to me. Just like a real human.

I am, as always, struck by a powerful sense that those of us who have had abortions must not give in to the shaming that we face every day, and on the contrary — we have got to stand up and be heard. So once again, here’s a piece I wrote sometime ago, versions of which appeared in several newspapers around the country. 

reproductive-choice-button-0580Maybe You Just Don’t Know

By Emily L. Hauser
Chicago Tribune
March 16, 2006

I’ve had an abortion. Have you?

The recent decision to ban virtually all abortions in South Dakota has generated a great deal of raucous arguing; many abortion opponents hope the new legislation will be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court and lead to the reversal of Roe vs. Wade. As usual, the argument suggests the existence of clear-cut opinion, the “supporting” or “opposing” of the act itself.

What is not discussed, of course, are people’s hearts.

Women readers, of course, know their own answer to my question; many of their men would be surprised by it.

Many men don’t know that their wives, sisters or mothers have, in fact, terminated a pregnancy. They don’t know because the women they love fear their response. Will he see me differently? Will he — figuratively or literally — kill me?

So, as a nation and as individuals, we largely don’t talk about it. And when we do, we’re often not honest. The shadow of perceived opinion is very long. We speak publicly as if there were two clear positions — but in private, most of us know this isn’t the truth.

My abortion is a thing of which I’m neither ashamed nor proud. I wish that I hadn’t had to do it, but I did.

The average reader will want to know why — because most of us have a sliding scale of morality.

Even some staunch opponents will agree in cases of rape; others where there is genetic defect; a larger number, if the abortion takes place early in the first trimester; many, of course, think it’s always a woman’s choice.

I believe there is a vast middle ground made up of most Americans, those who feel abortion is neither irredeemably evil, nor free of moral implication. Witness polls conducted recently by the Pew Research Center: 65 percent of respondents don’t want to see Roe vs. Wade overturned; 59 percent feel it would be better if fewer abortions were performed in this country.

At least some of our ambivalence may be cultural. Japanese society maintains a standard ritual, mizuko kuyo, to memorialize aborted or miscarried fetuses and stillborn babies. In a paper discussing the rite, Dr. Dennis Klass, a Webster University psychology of religion professor and a grief expert, writes: “The abortion experience is seen as a necessary sorrow tinged with grief, regret and fear which forces parents to apologize to the fetus and, thus, connect the fetus to the family.”

This describes my own experience well — but I’m an American. I carry a different culture, and I fear that in apologizing, I accept some notion of personhood that somehow “makes” the entire thing — murder. So, I hesitate.

I ask myself: When I aborted my first pregnancy, did I kill a baby? I honestly don’t think so. But did I stop the potential for life? Absolutely. Insofar as life itself is simultaneously the most mundane and most divine fact on our planet, this means something.

But I’m willing to say that I don’t know what that something is. I can only function in the cold reality of my own world — and as such, I alone can judge whether my abortion was a moral choice. It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t happy, but it was the least-bad of two bad choices. It was moral.

I don’t know anyone for whom abortion is easy; I don’t know anyone (any woman, at least) who sees abortion as birth control. These choices are stunningly complex. When we deny that, when we talk as if we are all 100 percent clear on this issue, we deny our humanity. And we deny our grief.

And why, in the end, did I have my abortion? I’m not going to record that here. You and I don’t know each other, and my reasons are personal. I don’t need to defend them, and neither does your neighbor, the stranger at work — nor, perhaps, your girlfriend.

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11 Comments

  1. Hugs.

    • Thanks – it’s ok. It was a long while ago, and it really was the best choice for me. I worry about all those women for whom the choice is already badly limited at this point, and don’t have the kind of support I did.

  2. SiubhanDuinne

     /  January 22, 2013

    I remember reading this column a few years ago, Emily. It’s every bit as moving and powerful this time around.

    Did you happen to hear Terry Gross’s NPR “Fresh Air” interview today with a writer for a Texas paper who underwent an abortion last January right after the new law kicked in? Mandatory ultrasound, mandatory politician-contrived statements from the physician. Distressing and humiliating all around. The piece is well worth a listen.

    • I haven’t been able to bring myself to listen to it! I think I’ll read the transcript….

      (And isn’t it distressing how often it seems to make sense to run this piece? Did you think we’d be past all this by the 21st century? I certainly did).

  3. Emily, thank you for sharing this. Brave and strong thing for you to do, and no one has the right to take this choice away from women. None of us enter that choice lightly.

    • No right at all. Are these our bodies, or not? Are we fully human, or not? To me, that’s the question.

      • Good question, but the ones who roll over the rights of others, including women, do not grant those they oppress full humanity. Isn’t that the first rule of effective oppression–deny the humanity of a group of individuals and define them as “less” or “other” to justify rolling over their own self-determinism?

  4. That you would share such an intimate detail, not once, but many times, is both an act of bravery and a untoward “necessity”, given our society’s propensity for deeming intimate details “off limits” to public discourse. Those who scream about liberty and freedom at one time, scream about banning abortion the next, preferring to view reaching into the very depths of the intimate parts of a uterus-bearing person as no different than opening a refrigerator, even though they would balk at the idea of government stepping into their home or doctor’s office.

    The modern screed against abortion is only a step removed from witch trials, women of the town being accused of perverting themselves and violating “God’s law,” even as the accusers bear false witness in their ignorance. Any of us would like to think we are beyond this. Our nation went to the Moon and yet we are steeped in a foul ichor of ignorance that seeks to drag us back to a darker age. How long before the chanting crowds outside the clinics begin to hurl stones? Though perhaps, as of recent, they will simply arm themselves with semi-automatic weapons.

    Thank you, Emily, for this. One hopes you will not have to repeat this too often in years to come.

    • You know, it’s funny, the first time I ran this (I think the first version was in the Des Moines Register), I was really nervous about backlash, and got almost none. In the meantime, I’ve been called a baby killer a couple of times, but mostly I’ve heard from women who were grateful to hear someone talking about these issues openly. I was very lucky – I had all the support I could have possibly needed, and no one in my circles, near or far, has judged me ill for having an abortion. I wish I could give that kind of security to other women.

      (And on another note: Wow, I love that word “ichor.” I had to look it up, but I love it now!)

  5. Lisa

     /  January 23, 2013

    I appreciate the qualification of “any woman, at least” regarding seeing abortion as birth control. I’ve definitely known men who think of it that way. “Why are you worried about birth control failing? You can always just get an abortion if it does.” It’s such a weird attitude to me, though, even though I don’t consider a fetus, especially not first-trimester, to be in any meaningful sense alive or distinct from the woman’s body – and I think some of that weirdness comes from my own femininity and sense of my body. Don’t go treating a surgical procedure you can never undergo like it’s some casual thing.

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