I’ve had an abortion.

I’m not sure what I’ll be doing next in the blogosphere and I’ve been running some old posts that were particularly meaningful for me. In light of the news that Kansas has essentially managed to eliminate all abortion rights within its borders as of this Friday, I decided to slightly edit and re-up the following.

Over at Ta-Nehisi Coates’ place at the Atlantic, there is a lively discussion surrounding one simple statistic:

35 percent of all women of reproductive age will have had an abortion by the time they’re 45.

Now, one can argue with the efficacy of statistics that are dependent on the use of the future perfect tense (“…at current rates, more than one-third [35%] will have had…”), but it’s not like we’re looking at a possible reversal of the trend. If the folks behind the statistic, the highly regarded Guttmacher Institute, are off, they’re off by a matter of percentage points. So I feel entirely comfortable with the phrase “roughly one-third.”

Entirely comfortable, and entirely unsurprised. Abortion is one of the greatest open secrets in American society. We all know that it happens a lot — we just don’t talk about it. God forbid! We need to feel ashamed, horrified, and deeply guilty! Or, if those of us who have had abortions don’t feel that way, we at least know better than to raise the fact publicly. We know how thoroughly we’re judged before anyone even opens their mouth. (Aside from anything else, we’re admitting that we’ve had sex. Shhhh!)

But if we don’t start talking about it, if the roughly one-third of us who terminate a pregnancy in the course of our reproductive lives don’t get more honest and more bold, the GOP (and some anti-choice Democrats) will continue to do all they can to take away our right to this entirely legal surgical procedure. As Jeffrey Toobin wrote some time ago in the New Yorker:

…as Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg observed not long ago, abortion rights “center on a woman’s autonomy to determine her life’s course, and thus to enjoy equal citizenship stature.” Every diminishment of that right diminishes women.

Every diminishment of that right diminishes women. This matters. It really, really matters — the right to choice matters as much as health care reform, because it is health care.

We have to fight against the Scott Roeders of the world (who, by frightening doctors away from late-term abortion practices, are the very definition of “the terrorists are winning”), and we have to fight against the powerful tendency among politicians to behave as if women’s health is somehow negotiable. As if we are an interest group of some sort — and not half the country, a third of whom will need access to an important reproductive health option in the course of their lives.

Please read up all the GOP-led anti-choice efforts that have been made in recent months, please support Planned Parenthood, and while you’re at it, you might also look into Medical Students for Choice. You can also call or write to your Representative, Senators, and President and tell them how wrong-headed all of this anti-choice activity is, and why. I frankly think that this is the more important of the activism options, because our elected representatives have to understand that freedom of choice matters deeply to the people they serve, and they will hear that better in personal notes and calls than in any petition delivered by anyone.

Write to them. Tell them your story. We do not need to be ashamed. We need to have our rights defended.

***********************

In 2006, I ran the first of several pieces that I wrote for daily newspapers about the secrecy surrounding abortion. Each opened with the line “I’ve had an abortion. Have you?” Here’s the one that ran in the Chicago Tribune:

Maybe 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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3 Comments

  1. dmf

     /  July 1, 2011

    As soon as I sat down
    the seven year old girl
    offered me gum
    and showed me a postcard
    of the airplane we were in.
    She was writing her mother
    whom she had just left at the gate,
    smearing her love
    in blue magic marker.
    Then she pulled out a drawing
    she had made of the wind
    and one of a cloud
    and a man who had ladders
    for legs and eight arms
    extending eight hands.
    After the heavy body of the plane
    lifted off the ground,
    she held my hand and talked
    about her flute teacher’s birds
    and the eels she had bought
    in a bait store and let loose
    on the beach, each one
    slithering into the dark
    of the green waves,
    returning to what she said
    she could not imagine.

    “On the 747” by Malena Mörling

  2. PK

     /  July 4, 2011

    I agree that this should be a personal decision. In my professional world (child protection), I have worked with many women who have had abortions. They wanted to focus on the children that they do have, that felt that they couldn’t handle any more. I also have a co-worker whose teenage daughter just had an abortion. My co-worker took her daughter to the appointment and was sad, but relieved. On the other hand, my brother still has sadness for the baby that never was born. Such personal decisions.

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