You know, women are uniquely qualified to debate the abortion issue. We are, after all, the only ones with uteri. This is not to say that men aren’t intricately involved in the conception process, but the debate is not only about life and when it begins and whether or not the embryo/fetus has intrinsic value, but what the mother of that embryo/fetus chooses to do with it: carry it to term or abort. We all know this.
But let me speak to you as a pro-choice woman who has gone through years of infertility and pregnancy loss; a unique combination in the eyes of many.
My husband and I decided to have children, as many married couples do. I was thirty when I got married and thirty-two when we felt ready to try to start a family. While I knew I wasn’t in my child-bearing prime, I certainly didn’t feel as if it wouldn’t happen when I wanted it to.
I became pregnant my first month off the Pill. We were shocked it happened so quickly, and felt lucky to be sure. Things went along well. The first ultrasound at six weeks showed a fetus with a beating heart. It was awe-inspiring and surreal. Such awe came from knowing that this was our child – with all the promise that holds. Four weeks later I just knew something wasn’t “right”. My gut was correct, and at the ten week ultrasound there was the fetus, but its heart had stopped beating. Words cannot describe the grief over a baby, a child who you will now never know.
I tried to prepare for the inevitable miscarriage, but the ultrasound determined that this fetus had stopped growing almost four weeks prior and that if my body had not expelled it by now – infection would likely ensue. It was recommended that I have a D&C to avoid this situation and not compromise any future fertility. Mentally it came as a relief to know that it would be over quickly and I could begin to heal and hopefully try again.
I was very scared of the procedure, the D&C – which is a dilation and curettage. Technically, an abortion of the products of conception. In fact, all natural losses of pregnancy at that early stage are called abortions. The death of my fetus was called a “missed abortion” because my body did not expel it naturally.
I was admitted to the hospital that afternoon and was prepped for the procedure. I was in tears, not wanting my first pregnancy to be over but desperately wanting what was not alive out of my body. I was laid on the table and assumed the position in the stirrups, and as I’m wont to do, started asking many questions of the doctors. Would it hurt? Would I feel anything? Would I be able to see what they removed? They answered me in polite, short sentences before administering the twilight which would make me remember very little. What I do remember was hearing machines whirring and people moving…and a nurse moving a plastic container from the bottom end of the table out of the room. I knew that what was once inside of me, was now in there.
I came-to in the recovery area feeling remarkably well. A bit crampy, but fine. Groggy, but fine. Some scant bleeding – but I was fine. That pregnancy was now completely over. The doctor came to see me and my first question was, “When can we try again”? In a couple of months, she said.
And we did. Over the next six years I went on to have a total of eight miscarriages. Eight. Three of them were missed abortions which required D&Cs, the rest miscarried naturally. Several of those pregnancies were conceived through IVF and other infertility treatments, and several of the pregnancies which were far enough along were tested to see if the cause of failure could be determined. And it was. In each of the tested pregnancies, all were determined to be chromosomally abnormal. Trisomies, to be exact; a third chromosome when there should only be two. The best known of the trisomies is 21…otherwise known as Down’s Syndrome. The trisomies discovered in my fetuses were far more rare than 21….they were 9, 3, 11…and these trisomies are mercifully incompatible with life. There are however, trisomies which ARE compatible with life – meaning a child can be brought to term and born; such as Trisomy 21, Trisomy 16 and Trisomy 18.
It was becoming very clear that our efforts to have a family would most likely not be realized, ever. The grief and mourning that follows this realization is difficult in that you are mourning someone whom you have never known, never touched, never held, never watched play baseball or dance in a recital. It is a mourning felt in your soul…of memories destined to be unborn.
It was some time during this period in my life that a question was asked of me by a friend, a “pro-life” friend. It is well-known that I am a staunch pro-choice supporter, but many people in my circle are just as staunchly pro-life. The question was put to me rather smugly and with an air of condescension, “After all that you have been through, after all of the babies you have lost, after going through an abortion procedure several times, you can’t possibly still be pro-choice, can you? How can you have looked at the beating heart of a six-week old fetus in your womb and tell me that you are still pro-choice?”
The feeling in my gut was visceral. It was strong. It was pure.
I looked at this person and said very firmly, “I believe in a woman’s right to choose what happens to her unborn child now, more than ever.” The look of incredulity on this person’s face was stark. And here is why I believe what I do with even more conviction than I did before I’d ever been pregnant:
This is my body and it is mine to govern, it is mine to move through space and time, and it always will be. What grows in it is governed by my choices – which are garnered through the experiences, morals and opinions formed throughout a lifetime of determining what is important to me. Had any of my pregnancies resulted in a child with Down’s Syndrome which my body did not naturally reject – I would not have had an abortion to terminate the pregnancy. Down’s Syndrome, while debilitating in many ways both mentally and physically for the child, does not automatically preclude a full and rich life. But if the result was any other of the rare trisomies that we knew my pregnancies were prone to – and the pregnancy had not ended on its own – I would have made the determination to end that pregnancy – to have an abortion. That decision would not have been made out of a fear of what my life would become with a severely handicapped and disabled child, but of a mother’s love in not wanting her child to be born to a life filled with agony and illness that could not be undone.
Would this child have intrinsic value? Yes, to me. Would this child have brought joy to the world? Yes, to me. Would this child have given something to the world? Yes, to me. But would this child have suffered significantly? Yes. Would this child have to live through unimaginable obstacles and unending, severe limits to its quality of life? Yes.
As a mother, its mother, I would have asked myself: Would my child be better off not being born to…suffer? Yes. To me, as the mother of this most wanted child I had made the decision that no child of mine would ever suffer so greatly from the moment of its birth if I could help it. I would deal with any consequences of that decision in the hereafter. It would be my decision made solely out of profound love.
I realize most abortions are not made based upon the knowledge of a chromosomal abnormality or the knowledge that the child’s life will be so severely compromised. I know that. But as the woman, the mother carrying the embryo – the fetus – the baby, I am the guardian of that life regardless of the stage of its development or the status of its health, or my health. And it is up to the me, that mother, to determine the course each of our lives will take while I am pregnant – based on my own life experiences, beliefs and unique knowledge regarding the circumstances of my pregnancy.
How, in God’s name, is that a decision that should be made by anyone else – but me? How, in God’s name, can anyone else impose their morality on my decision as the courier of that life? How, in God’s name, can the government decree that a woman should be forced to bear a child – forced to – against her will? How can anyone else be so arrogant as to assume that their judgment and life experiences are fit enough to determine what course my life, and the life of my unborn child, will or will not take?
How, in God’s name, can anyone use their God’s name to reach that decision for me?
With “choice” there is no mandate. There is only a woman, her unborn child, and the countless agonizing scenarios – mine just being one example – in which that mother must decide what is right for herself and for her baby. The only deciding factors for that mother are between her and her God, between her and her morals and between her and what she values. There is no one better fit to make that decision than her – regardless of age, income, color or religion. No one.
If a staunchly conservative majority sits at the bench of the Supreme Court it is very likely they will overturn Roe v Wade – and will single-handedly take away my right, or the right of someone you know and love – to make a…choice.
How in God’s name can you get any bigger, more intrusive government than that?