Monday, October 12, 2015

The abortion thing.

Dyed-in-the-wool, old-school feminists aren't supposed to be ambivalent about abortion. But, you see, I am, so I've never taken a position on this important issue.

Now it's time.

You may as well know, I had an abortion when I was nineteen. My fiancee and I were about to go to college, me on a prestigious scholarship.

We were very much in love. I got birth control, but I wasn't very careful, and that's how it happened. Now I had to make an impossible choice.

And oh, boy, everyone had an opinion. My fiancee pressured me to have an abortion. My dad also insisted on an abortion. My stepfather said just the opposite. Funny how all the strong opinions came from men. Funny how this has only just occurred to me.

There was only one person who asked what I wanted, and that was my mother. She told me she would support whatever decision I made. I'm forever grateful to her for that. It was a breath of fresh air -- one last, deep breath before I suffocated.

In the end I had the abortion because my fiancee wanted me to, and I didn't want to lose him. At the clinic, the women were kind and conscientious. When they asked if I was really sure, I told them I was. How could they know I was lying? I cried before, and I cried after. The next day we moved ourselves to college, lugging boxes up the dormitory stairs.

How I longed for my fiancee to say "Let's have a baby! Let's make a family!" Instead he said, "We have to erase this mistake." I remember calling abortion clinics. Asking my dad for money. Making sure I converted to Judaism before the abortion, because the child follows the mother's religion. It makes no sense now, but it seemed important at the time.

Did it turn out all right? It did, in the long run, but it came at a high price: many years of guilt, grief, and dread that I might never get pregnant again. It wasn't until we finally had our daughter that I could even consider forgiving myself. The fact is, I made the best decision I knew how to make at the time, and finally, after many years, I have no regrets.

Let me be very clear: The lesson here isn't that abortion is wrong. The lesson is that it was wrong for me.

I wanted something good to come out of the darkness. So that first semester, in speech class, I gave a speech about birth control. I described each type, complete with props. I explained the pros and cons of each kind, and how to use them. And I explained why I was giving this speech. Not easy for a shy introvert.

Among my visual aids were condoms I got from the student health center, and I was mortified when they turned out to be hot pink. On the day of my speech, I gulped, tore open a condom in front of the class, and proceeded to demonstrate the proper way to put one on. I went well over my time limit, forfeiting a better grade because, goddamn it, this was really important. Who knows if it helped anybody. I'm not even sure it helped me.

This isn't the story you're supposed to tell if you're pro-choice, but it's the only one I've got.  Inherent in the concept of choice is the freedom to make the wrong one.

I can imagine only one thing that would be worse than the choice I made, and that's being forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term.

I want every young woman to have the right to choose her best path. And so, despite my experience, I am pro-choice.

I am ambivalent about abortion because I believe that a fetus becomes sentient before birth. It's not a person, but it is sentient, and at some point is capable of feeling pain. A fetus may not be person, but it's not just a blob of jelly either. It deserves some level of respect and compassion.

But never, ever more respect and compassion than we give the mother when the time comes for her to make that terrible choice.

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