Last week was the 37th anniversary of the Roe v Wade decision.
It's a time in our history when the emotional support of a woman's right to choose is still uneasy and unsettled, and insurance coverage for abortion is an active battle fraught with contention.
In many ways politics have removed us from women's personal experience.
In the Abortion Questionnaire of my Women's Realities Study women are making clear the individualized seriousness with which they contemplated their decision to end a pregnancy. They also reveal how personal a decision it is to live with. The choice can be heartbreaking, but if we lived in a society without the ability to make that choice, imagine how much more heartbreak there would be. Here is a representative sample of the range of responses to the question:
What do you want others to understand about your experience of abortion?
- That women do not have abortions out of carelessness or because we enjoy them. We have them to get out of the trap that our own body sometimes sets us. If society valued women and children more, we might not feel as if motherhood would back us into a corner.
- That it was OK. I don't regret it and it doesn't haunt me. It helped me make some hard choices which have ultimately improved my life tremendously.
- It's a horrible, degrading, stupid thing to do.
- I want others to realize that many women have had an abortion. I want people to realize that just because I support abortion, that just because I had an abortion, does not mean that I am proud of my decision. I want people to realize that they should not talk about abortion indiscriminately, because they don't know who is in the room. Several times since then it has come up in conversation with people who do not know that I have had an abortion, and each time, I want to ask them, "How do you know I haven't had one?" I don't, of course...
- Birth control failures can happen, even to well-educated and well-off individuals. When they occur, pregnancy is a natural consequence. Ending a pregnancy is a very personal decision. Reasons for doing so are not something that can be fully understood by anyone but the woman involved. It is MY body and therefore I should decide what to do with it. I decided to have sex before marriage, and I decided how to deal with the consequences. Better to have two less babies in the world than to have three miserable people now. Being a mother is not all about raising children - it is about the emotional and physical bond that forms during pregnancy. I didn't want that bond.
To that end, I am ashamed at myself when I think about the shame I felt going through the procedure. I should have held my head up high. It's just so hard when you feel like everyone around you is judging you.
- That not everyone who has an abortion is an unwed teenager. That one out of every couple hundred pregnancies involves a chromosome abnormality and that no one takes lightly the decision to end a pregnancy.
- It is not something that any women I know take lightly or use as a form of birth control. It is a major tragic decision that no one wants to make, but some of us are forced to. I never thought I would be someone who had three abortions. I did not have sex until I was 18, I used birth control always except one weekend (yes it is true), I did not want to watch my child live in pain only to ultimately die a painful death from a severe heart defect, I also did not want my older daughter to watch her sister die, I did not want to bring a sick child into this world that would be in chronic pain and fight an illness for the rest of his life, I did not want my other children to loose their mother because I was off caring for a sick child all of the time. I made these choices out of careful thought and love. I do not regret my choices.
- It sucks! You never fully heal. It is so much better to go through the hassle of safe sex than to live with the feelings.
I went to confession about 25 years later and the priest, who was a very good man, asked me if I had ever thought of a name for the baby. And I said yes, I thought I would have named him Michael. He said that was the name he was thinking at that moment as well. This brought me some level of peace.
- Even if it is a choice we can make, it is an extremely difficult one. Seek the support you need.
- I am a bright, college-educated woman and found myself pregnant. It was an agonizing choice, but a choice that my mother helped me make.
And to remind us that this isn't a always a decision women make alone, in my entire study of over 1,200 questions, the only question to receive 100% unanimity was this:
Q: If married or in a committed relationship, was your partner supportive of the abortion?
Living in a culture in which women can carry shame or feel vilified for having an abortion, it would serve us well to remember this is very often a decision made in concert with men. The silent partners of abortion.