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Perspectives On Abortion

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I just posted the following comment to NPR’s Perspective Page in response to one they aired this morning:

There was no doubt in my mind that I would have an abortion when I got pregnant by a man who told me he’d had a vasectomy. Planned Parenthood, that wonderful organization, said they’d heard the story before.

I was living in New York at the time, working as a legal secretary, trying to recover from the past decade, during which I had gotten married and pregnant at 19; gave birth to a son with hydrocephalus (a disorder of the central nervous system requiring several surgeries); had a baby girl two years later, got divorced, and, after two years as a single mother, let them go live with their father and his new wife while I figured things out. It was 1974 and abortion had only recently been legalized.

I am now 66. My children are grown; my daughter has two of her own. My son lives independently, despite ongoing physical and mental problems, a few miles from me. From this vantage point, my third pregnancy and subsequent abortion are minor blips in a difficult, complicated life. I rarely even think about it, except when women like Ms. Gresset tell their painful experience and extend it to everyone else by concluding nobody should have an abortion. There are as many experiences of abortion as there are women who have them. In my case, at the moment it was performed I did have intense feelings—but they lasted only for those few moments. I felt like life—not a baby, but the life force, life energy—was being sucked out of my body, which it literally was, and I cried. My first thought, however, was not of regret, but of determination. I said to myself, “This is never going to happen to me again.” And it hasn’t.

What if I’d had that baby? I would have had to care for him/her by myself. My two children, who’d already suffered through more difficulties than some people endure in a lifetime, would have felt confused and rejected that they were not living with me, yet I had another child. It would’ve taken me ten times longer to feel confident and competent enough to take them back, as I did after four years. If I’d had that baby, I have no doubt he or she would have a lot of problems as an adult.

Given the controversy surrounding this issue, I think it’s irresponsible to air an anti-abortion statement—which Ms. Gresset’s is—without giving equal time to the other side. Ms. Gresset doesn’t just tell her own experience, she goes on to proclaim that everyone should learn from it and never have an abortion. Wouldn’t it be absurd if I told everyone they should have abortions based on my story? It is just as wrong for Ms. Gresset to do it. I’m not even going to venture into that territory, but just say that I’m enormously glad I had the freedom to choose not to have a child when having one would have been, not “inconvenient,” but devastating.

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Abortion Restriction = Invasion of Privacy

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Woman at the first month of pregnancy.

Image via Wikipedia

Several states are considering restrictions on abortion at this time, and several others already have them. These typically involve an enforced 72-hour “waiting period,” which strikes me as ironic, considering that the later the procedure the more hysterical the anti-abortionists become. It seems like their strategy is to make her wait, throwing obstacles in her way,  hoping to stall her until it’s too late for a simple procedure.

And what is the woman supposed to be doing during those 72 hours? First she must have an ultrasound, during which the technician describes in minute detail every tiny aspect of the creature swimming in her uterus – every aspect, that is, they can find. It may take hours to pick up a heartbeat, but by god, they’ll find one or die doing it!

To fill in the rest of the waiting period she must undergo “counseling.” The “method” of counseling used by anti-abortionists is to bombard the pregnant woman with “information” about her “unborn child.” This strikes me as akin to torture, or, at the very least, brainwashing. I wonder how many women under these circumstances succumb, and alter their lives forever by giving birth?

I had an abortion when I was 27. I’d gotten pregnant by a man who told me he’d had a vasectomy. (I know, I know – how could I have been so naive? But the doctor at Planned Parenthood, that brave much-needed organization that’s now under vicious fire from anti-abortionists, told me they’d heard that story before.) It was a time of fast and furious romantic adventure, at least in my life, and the guy was a friend of my boss, a Colorado cowboy who breezed through New York buying and selling Native American jewelry. He courted me in my boss’s penthouse suite overlooking the Hudson River.

At the time I had two children, aged six and eight, living with their father on Long Island. They were there because after my divorce I’d become overwhelmed by single motherhood, and, just as important, I really wanted those adventures, having had children far too young to get that need out of my system. One secret about divorce is that when Daddy takes the kids for those long weekends, Mommy gets a taste of freedom, perhaps for the first time in her life – and that taste whets her appetite for more. So there I was, living where I’d always wanted to, in New York City; not as the Greenwich Village artist I’d fantasized, maybe, but as a secretary. (Fantasy seldom takes into account economic necessity.) It was good enough. I was having my adventures, and not just the sexual kind.

The trouble was, I missed my kids. Every day I woke up physically aching. I didn’t like how their father was raising them, to put it mildly. They were growing more and more distant from me. Besides a genuine desire to be with them, I was weighed down by enormous guilt. I didn’t know how much of my suffering came from female conditioning and how much was real, and couldn’t begin to separate one from the other. Every day was a struggle to shove my feelings aside and live without depression and guilt riding my back. I started a Mothers-without-Custody support group, which met weekly for two years.  Four years after I’d left the kids I took them back.

How, under these circumstances, could I possibly have another child? What would it have done to my abandoned children?  To my guilty conscience? This baby didn’t even come with a few pennies from Daddy: how could I support a child when I was barely supporting myself? I absolutely positively did not want another child; and PS, my oldest had been born with a chronic medical condition that took a hundred times more mothering energy than the usual. I knew better than others all the things that can go wrong. Fortunately, abortion was legal and performed without drama.

But what if I’d had to wait 72 hours? If I’d been forced to look at a sonogram and listen to a lecture? If I’d been dragged through the thick sentimental anti-abortion muck? I know myself well, and I can tell you what would have happened: I would have borne that baby. Between my guilt over my kids  and the hormones of pregnancy running through my body, I bet I would have caved in. I would have staked my future, and my kids’ future, on a fleeting emotion.

Fortunately, I was not subjected to brainwashing, to an invasion of privacy, to what I want to call torture. To be totally honest, during the abortion I felt the life being sucked out of me, and I cried. There is sadness here, yes – but again, you don’t, or shouldn’t, base major life decisions on fleeting emotions. Even in my sorrow I did not regret my decision. I did promise myself inwardly,  This will never happen to me again. It never did.

I am grateful my abortion wasn’t prevented by law or brainwashing. It worries me that girls and women do not have the same freedom today. Even before the anti-abortionists get their nasty claws up close and personal  enough to strangle the fight out of them, most women have already been pumped full of dreck from our culture and its post-sixties backlash, where every birth is a triumph and every abortion a tragedy.

The tragedy is unwanted babies, unhappy women, and ruined lives.

Health Care and Abortion Rights

Congress threw women under the bus again yesterday. The following statement from NARAL – National Abortion Rights Action League – explains it all.

As you’ve probably heard, the Senate is moving forward on health reform.
Unfortunately, the revised bill has some bad news for pro-choice Americans.
The Senate bill does not include the egregious Stupak-Pitts provision that you helped us defeat less than two weeks ago, but we are not in the clear.

A new provision demanded by anti-choice Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson is unacceptable. In short, the Nelson proposal would impose great administrative burdens on women who purchase abortion coverage in the new system and plans that offer it. So, where does that leave us?

Our standard has been consistent and clear: Women should not lose ground in the new health-care system.

We all recognize that the Senate bill includes other provisions that will improve women’s access to reproductive-health services significantly. However, the language regarding abortion coverage comes at too high a price for reproductive health. Thus, we must oppose this new Nelson provision.

On balance, that means NARAL Pro-Choice America will withhold support from the overall health-reform legislation until we see the final bill that both the House and Senate will vote on.

As this process moves forward, we will keep in touch with actions you can take to protect choice in health reform. Rest assured, Congress will continue to hear from America’s pro-choice majority.

This situation is  an unfortunate reminder that, despite our significant pro-choice gains in the last two election cycles, anti-choice lawmakers still outnumber our allies. We must work together to change these numbers, starting with the 2010 elections.

Nancy Keenan
President, NARAL Pro-Choice America

Update December 21st: More dismal news: Another feature of the Senate version of the health care reform bill is that it includes an amendment concerning sex education in the schools. Introduced by the Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, it would revive a separate $50 million grant-making program for abstinence-only programs run by states. This despite the fact that abstinence-only sex ed has been proven time and again to be useless, or worse.

True Madness

From Judith Warner’s excellent op-ed in the New York Times today:

“Stupak-Pitts passed not just because a group of Catholic bishops bore down on Democratic lawmakers. It passed because it could. Maybe because our cultural memory is short; because our fantasyland nostalgia for a world of stay-at-home moms and gray flannel dads is too great, because when push comes to shove, in tough times, there’s still a willingness to throw women under the bus.”