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Happy Birthday Roe v. Wade

Just when I thought there was nothing new to be said about abortion, along comes the lunatic fringe with yet another demented scheme to rob women of choice. Their latest strategy–and they baldly own it as “strategy”–is to develop a theory of “post-abortion syndrome,” and posit it as the defining factor when women’s lives go wrong.

To mark Roe v. Wade’s 34th anniversary, the New York Times ran a story in the Sunday magazine about anti-choice counselors who run around the country ministering in prisons, health clinics, and wherever else they can find women who’ve had abortions, and convince them that all their troubles stem from a singular cause: they murdered their babies. Rhonda Arias, the main player in the story, got her instructions from God to take her crusade on the road. Although her personal history includes sexual abuse, rape, loss of her father in a freak accident, drug abuse, attempted suicide and four abortions, Arias blames all her problems on her first abortion, performed when she was 19. She’s fond of illogical leaps of logic such as, “In America we have a big drug problem, and we don’t realize it’s because of abortion.” Should there be any further doubt as to this woman’s sanity, consider this: when her daughters were six and nine years old, she told them about her abortions.

The anti-abortion movement has always stood on the shoulders of zealots who use their personal traumas to prove the rightness of their cause. I remember when I was in my early twenties, with the debate still fresh, reading about one of the anti-abortion movement’s founders. The woman had miscarried at three months, and when she looked in the toilet she clearly saw a baby. Understandably traumatized, she then and there became a crusader. At the time I thought to myself, well, of course she’s freaked out! She wanted a baby, she didn’t want to lose it, and then she sees it in the toilet, and sure, at three months a fetus can look enough like a baby to break your heart. I felt sorry for the poor woman–but I didn’t get how her trauma translated to state-enforced childbirth.

It’s the same with this latest group. They simply ignore the research, which has proven, over and over again, that the psychological risks posed by abortion are no greater than those of carrying an unwanted pregnancy to term. Women who do experience lasting grief or depression are usually emotionally fragile to begin with, or they’re bummed out by the circumstances surrounding the abortion (a failed romance, precarious finances, a non-supportive partner). So how do “post-abortion syndrome” wackos get away with this drivel? One reason is that the pro-choice movement, from its inception and to a lesser extent still, was adamant in its view of abortion as a trivial matter of tissue removal. In the beginning, this denial was understandable–I doubt we could’ve gotten Roe v. Wade passed by crying about how lousy we felt about our abortions. If we’d had the freedom, though, we would have told a different story–but it wouldn’t be the high drama that Arias and her cohorts make it out to be.

I had an abortion at 28. I was divorced, and my two children were temporarily living with their father. I’d gotten married at 18, so this was the first time I’d ever been on my own, living in an apartment in New York, working secretarial gigs and performing street theater with a group of feminists. I got pregnant from a guy who told me he’d had a vasectomy (the honest truth–and the folks at Planned Parenthood said they’d heard it before). Mr. Virility went back to his Colorado teepee after our brief affair; it would have been madness for me to have that baby. I didn’t debate it for one second. Abortion was legal, performed by doctors in health clinics; I went right down and scheduled one. On the day of, I was given valium and a local anesthetic. During the procedure, I felt no physical pain–but, to my astonishment, I was filled with an overpowering sense that Life writ large was being sucked from my body. I cried. The nurse asked if it hurt, and I said no. Still, I cried throughout the procedure. I vowed to myself that I would never let this happen to me again–and it didn’t.

A girlfriend took me home in a taxi and I went to bed. For two days I slept and watched television and ate ice cream. Then I went back to work. I didn’t “grieve” for a lost child. I didn’t feel I’d done anything wrong. I held onto my determination not to get pregnant again unless by choice, but I hardly ever thought about the abortion. It was a minor blip in my life–much less important than the two children I had and the challenges I faced with them. Over the years I faced all kinds of psychological issues–my generation of women is nothing if not therapized–but not once did I trace a problem back to the abortion.

Granted, maybe some women, given similar circumstances, have a harder time than I did. Some, I know, have it even easier–not everyone feels as sad as I did during the procedure. It’s just too bad the abortion clinic didn’t provide some kind of short-term counseling. In our zeal to keep abortion safe and legal, we couldn’t admit complex or contradictory feelings. But by ignoring them we left a void for the anti-abortion folks to jump into with this “post abortion syndrome” crap. Moments or even days of sadness do not a syndrome make. Feelings of sorrow don’t necessarily lead to trauma. Most important, fleeting emotions should not provide a basis for creating public policy.

So happy birthday Roe v. Wade. I’m glad abortion was legal when I needed one. I hope it remains legal for any woman who wants one now and in the future. I also hope women can eventually let down their guard and honestly say how they feel about their abortions without fear of losing the right to have one. As for Rhonda Arias, I hope she finds a cracker-jack therapist real soon, and leaves the rest of us alone.


One response »

  1. My husband and I went to a realtors open house the other day, and the realtor stopped talking to another couple just to ask me when the baby was coming.

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