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A Womb of One's Own

A Womb of One’s Own: Pregnant and Pro-Choice

Pregnancy has made me think about a lot of things: my life, the life I’m working to create, the life I hope to give my kid.  But, being a pro-choice woman in this political climate, it has made me even more aware of a very simple fact: adoption is not substitute for abortions.  Not even a little bit.

When my friends and family have chosen to have abortions, their choices were made for a variety of reasons, but they all added up to two facts: these women were not ready to be parents, and these women were not ready to be pregnant.  While the act of adoption may allow a woman to cede the role of parent to someone who yearns for it, it still leaves her with the unavoidable state of pregnancy.  And speaking as someone who’s been immersed in the state of pregnancy for almost 30 weeks, I can speak with authority: it is completely, absolutely, unavoidably there at all times of my life.

My pregnancy laughs at jokes with me, and then sends me running to the bathroom to pee before I pee myself.  My pregnancy doesn’t let me take my dog to the dog park by myself, because I can’t lift the dog into the car.  My pregnancy makes my personal menu decisions.  When I go to dinner, my pregnancy orders the glass of water with my well-done steak, instead of the glass of zinfandel with the medium-rare.  My pregnancy chooses my clothing, packing away my favorite dresses and instead offering me some elastic-waist khakis.  My pregnancy reminds me of what my depression feels like, and then points out that I probably can’t start antidepressants until this is all over with.  My pregnancy finds all the many fragilities in the way my body is made, and then forces me to deal with them every day and every hour for 280 days of my life, with no breaks and no vacations.

I have heard politicians and pundits speak about the role of motherhood as sacred, a joyful state, one that all women should crave and cherish.  This, they say, is one of the reasons abortion should be limited, or unreachable, or illegal.  I can’t speak with any sort of authority on what being a parent is like.  But I wonder if every person speaking against my rights has been through this state, these months of submitting your body to the needs of another, the (it seems) never-ending subversion of my desires to the best interests of this thing inside of me.  I chose this place in my life willingly and joyfully, in a carefully thought-out fashion, and there are still regularly minutes and hours and days where I wish I’d never gotten pregnant.  How can anyone say they’re acting in the best interests of the woman who doesn’t wish to be a parent when they try to force her into the same state I’m in?  Adoption is not a substitute for abortion; it still requires a woman to undergo a process which can be the most grueling physical trial they may face, and may possibly kill them.

I believe that women have a right to sovereignty over their own bodies, every moment of every day of their lives.  I believe that by respecting this right, we will produce happier, stronger women, who may make the informed decisions at a point they choose to become parents and go on to become happy, strong, and healthy parents to happy, strong, and healthy children.  By respecting this right, I believe that we are truly creating a “culture of life”: not quantity of lives, but one that cherishes the quality of every life, and one that recognizes the need to make each life a wanted one.

By Jessica Werner

Free-range librarian in Seattle. A sucker for happy endings, teen angst, and books that make me want to sell my possessions and travel the world. Incurable homebody and type A. Send love letters and readers advisory requests to jessica.werner@gmail.com

25 replies on “A Womb of One’s Own: Pregnant and Pro-Choice”

I realize I’m reigniting an old post, but for the record, I’m pro-life (or anti-choice, as has often been lobbed my way) and I’ve never understood the argument that abortion should be illegal because motherhood is sacred and should be met with joy. Oh, I hear it plenty, but I think it’s nonsense. So kudos to anyone who knocks the idiot from whose mouth that comes.

It is to my undying discomfort that so many pro-lifers happen to be less than friendly to the cause of women, and also crazy; but likewise, so many pro-choicers refuse to see when a pro-lifer is approaching them on intellectually honest grounds.

The moment at which a human life receives or should receive human dignity is a gray area–I think we can all agree there. And THAT is the point at which I disagree with pro-choicers. The rights of women don’t even enter the picture for me. The offense isn’t that a woman made the choice to end a life, but that ANYONE made the choice to end a life.

And I’ve debated this issue, I’ve tried to research and put my mind at ease so that I could be on what I see as the easier side of this issue (my fellow feminists don’t act too kindly toward pro-lifers). But my conscience and my reason always land me on this side of the matter. I understand that others don’t see it my way and won’t. I *get* that.

But if we encounter the heart of the debate with intellectual honesty, then we can all acknowledge that the matter is open to debate among rational, reasonable people who may come to rational, reasonable, and conflicting conclusions.

Sometimes I feel like fellow feminists won’t approach me on this ground–and given how so many pro-lifers act, I can’t entirely blame them. Maybe it’s much easier to throw rotten eggs at me and say I hate women than acknowledge that yes, the point at which life has value is debatable.

But why don’t we often hear pro-lifers and pro-choicers approach each other rationally on this intellectually honest ground? That’s the mystery to me. It’s like both sides set out to misunderstand one another.

If I understand you correctly – and I may not, so do let me know – when when ‘life’ begins is an open question and a grey area (which it is), you prefer to err on the side of caution i.e.: assume it is and protect it accordingly. I’m pro-choice because I err on the side of the person in the equation who is most definitely alive and in whose body some other life may exist or be about to. Also because when there is a grey area in these situations, I’d prefer not to legislate against each individual’s conscience.

Many anti-choicers, and probably most of the most vocal ones, are dreadful, dreadful misogynists (read Clinic Escort’s blog, or others, for the shit they get). I don’t think being anti-abortion for yourself makes you a ‘bad feminist’ – I have respect for those few agencies out there who are anti-abortion but make an effort to support women’s other pregnancy choices in every way possible. But when so many anti-choicers are also anti-contraception, anti-divorce, anti-science, and plain anti-women, it makes it difficult to have a dispassionate intellectual discussion about the issue.

“But when so many anti-choicers are also anti-contraception, anti-divorce, anti-science, and plain anti-women, it makes it difficult to have a dispassionate intellectual discussion about the issue.”

I absolutely agree. For that reason, I don’t often engage in any meaningful discussion with other pro-lifers/anti-choicers, either! I’m more inclined to focus on preventing unwanted or dangerous pregnancies in the first place by providing support to women, young and old, rich and poor, through resources like Planned Parenthood. This inclination alone is usually enough to put an end to any conversation between another pro-lifer and me, which just BAFFLES me.

It’s hard to fathom a universe in which educating people about sex, providing health assistance and consultation services to those who otherwise can’t afford it, and education programs for men about what constitutes rape are all negatives to a cause set on preventing abortions, or you know, basic social justice.

Adoption is not a substitute for abortion, but let me tell you, some women use abortion as birth control. I just want to say that.

I’m pro-choice, but I am not going to pretend that there are some women whose sense of self and self esteem are so low, they are in no position to make good choices for themselves or an unborn child. Some of these women have multiple abortions, allowing themselves to become pregnant again and again. Some of these women *shudder* give birth and attempt to raise the child.

I think if we’re being honest, we can acknowledge that abortion is sometimes used as a substitute for being responsible. I think if we can be honest, we can look at all the remarkable human beings who have been born, these unique, precious souls and realize that every person who is born has the chance to impact the world, and none of us can predict in what way — it could be positively or negatively. We cannot know.

When I look at my own children I think, wow, what would I have done if I had aborted them?

I think it is a valid question to ask of humanity, do we have the right to deny life a chance to exist?

I think its a question individually each woman must ask of herself. Sometimes the right thing to do is not the easy thing to do.

Ipo, you are amazing. I love this – thank you for writing it! I felt the same way when I was pregnant. I threw up for nine months straight with Kins. But I wanted her! I can’t imagine having to deal with that if I wasn’t beyond excited about that baby.

Being pregnant changed my thinking about being pro-choice. I still am pro-choice and I always will be–it’s the only ethical option, IMO–but having a baby did make me decide that the absolute worst approach to the whole issue is arguing about when “life” starts. Come on–if a baby is alive, it’s always alive. There’s no point at which is isn’t alive one day and is alive the next, and technology seems to be pushing the “viable outside the womb” marker back farther and farther.

I know that raises all sorts of complicated questions, which I admit I’m not sure how to answer. But the main thing is that having a baby made me decide that the “not yet a human life” thing is not the right approach. The argument has to be about the mother, not the baby.

I haven’t seen anyone on the pro-choice side talking about “alive” for a long time. Of course it’s “alive.” And of course it’s human, because the cells that are alive are human cells with human DNA.

The “personhood” question is the relevant one. Because the woman is an actual, fully-realized person. The fetus is not.

The anti-choice people want to confuse those two points. They postulate that alive+human=person, and that’s where we’re not on the same page anymore.

I’m a person. Anything that must consume my nutrients, up to and including deteriorating my teeth and bones, and that has to rearrange my organs and separate my pelvis in order to live? That’s a creature using me as a host. And if I want to host it? Great! Fantastic, I’m all for it. But if I don’t? It’s horribly invasive.

Hm, ok, good point. But isn’t the “personhood” part potentially really dangerous? If you start arguing about when a human life is a person, then you can start suggesting that some human lives aren’t people.

I don’t mean this to be a slippery slope argument. But–also from the perspective of having a child–personhood is something that develops. My 9-month old is a person. She has a personality, needs, wants, desires, all that, even though she still can’t fend for herself. But as a 1-month old? She wasn’t really a person, still just potential.

reading this has only made me more sad for my friend’s 16 year old sister who just found out she’s pregnant. she was on the pill, but didn’t know that her antibiotics would interfere with its effectiveness. she is firmly anti-abortion, and even if she weren’t, her small town in oregon would never let her get an abortion. she does not want to put her baby up for adoption but her sister and i can’t help but feel like she’s throwing her life away.

any advice?

i want to talk to her but i don’t want to sound preachy and like i think i know what’s best for her. i’ve never been pregnant and i can’t pretend to understand how she feels, i’m just sad that this bright young woman is going to have such a hard time now. she says she’s still going to go to college, but her sister is working multiple jobs and on a lot of financial aid and still has thousands of dollars of student loans and i can’t imagine how her little sister is going to make college work and take care of her baby.

As a single mother, she will have access to federal and state programs to help with her impending parenthood. They’re not perfect, but they are there. As a single parent, she may qualify for college aid that she otherwise might not have. Honestly, her situation was my greatest fear when I was in high school– I had so many classmates who got pregnant and dropped out. Our school taught abstinence-only sex ed and we had an on-campus day care. If your friend’s sister has access to a community college, many of them have free/reduced cost child care for students (with appropriate paperwork), which will give her two years of a more affordable college education which may also be more flexible time-wise than a schedule offered by a traditional four-year school. Talk to her about the CC option– it may not be as traditionally prestigious as going to a four year college, but plenty of people (myself included) got our AA before transferring to a university to finish our BA.

While you may see it as her “throwing her life away”, remember that it is her life and she needs to have complete agency within it as much as she is able. She’s probably getting well-meaning “advice” from all sides right now, what she needs is a supportive voice that says “this is your life, and your choices, and no matter what, we will still love you and respect you.” A lot of those voices (especially if small-town Oregon is like small-town Washington) may be very quick to treat her as now simply a vessel for THE BABBY, but remember that she is the one you know best, and she’s the one you’ve cared about longer, and she’s the one who needs your respect and support.

and don’t forget that plenty of 4-year universities have extensive parental support programs, including subsidized or free childcare for students who qualify.

Nobody should be forced to have or keep a child, but we should ALSO support the young women who DO choose to keep them (not that any of you have suggested otherwise). Pro-choice goes both ways.

“How can anyone say they’re acting in the best interests of the woman who doesn’t wish to be a parent when they try to force her into the same state I’m in? Adoption is not a substitute for abortion; it still requires a woman to undergo a process which can be the most grueling physical trial they may face, and may possibly kill them.”

THIS. It presumes a lot of financial and emotional support, access to healthcare and strength to demand that every woman who gets pregnant be forced to carry a child to term. Many women don’t have those privileges or level of security. And it seems like the worst kind of violation to force a woman to have a pregnancy they don’t want. Very reminiscent of A Handmaid’s Tale and reducing women to nothing but their reproductive capacity. No, thank you.

There is a lovely piece by Ta-Nehisi Coates on this subject. http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/02/labor/70976/
It would be amazing if people as thoughtful as he or you were the ones making policy, not closed-minded, sanctimonious right-wingers who choose dogma over the well-being of their fellow women.

Wonderful post. I’ve told this story before, but my mother had me when she was almost 45. She had her amniotic fluid checked, and has told me that if anything had been wrong with me, I would’ve probably been aborted.

Guess what? Knowing this didn’t make me feel any less loved. It made me understand that my mother didn’t feel prepared to raise a child that would need special care, particularly because, given her age, it would’ve probably been left alone all too soon. She recognized the responsibility that carrying and having a child entails. Having me was her choice, and the fact that she had it and chose to keep me actually makes me feel even more loved than if the decision had been forced on her.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you. A million times, thank you. I cannot imagine being pregnant right now and could not endure it. When faced with the possibility of having a child, my fears are not about caring for the child, which would be made easier by a support system, but carrying the child, which I would have to endure alone. This is such a great point and one that so many people miss.

Thank you!

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