I have never had a medically induced abortion. I have, however, had a spontaneous abortion, otherwise known as a miscarriage. It is estimated that one in three pregnancies will spontaneously abort, which makes God--or nature--take your pick, the busiest abortion provider on the planet. June 7th will mark the 13th anniversary of that loss. At odd moments, I grieve it still.
Why, you may be asking yourself, is such an ardent feminist, a staunch defender of a woman's right to choose grieving the loss of a 14-week fetus? I had no intention of talking about this again. I've written about my experience, have published a short story about my experience, and talked in front of groups about it before.
What has bothered me, nay, pained me, ever since the terrorist assassination of Dr. Tiller, has been the persistent use of terms such as "thrown away" or "waived away" or "irresponsible" or "selfish" when it comes to discussing the fetuses or the pregnant women who, for whatever reason--which is none of your business, by the way--who have aborted those fetuses.
My first pregnancy was planned. That baby will be 18 this month, but that pregnancy involved 10 weeks of bed rest, and a labor that began at 4 pm on a Sunday afternoon and ended at 10 pm Monday night, after 3.5 hours of pushing. That's 30 hours of labor, 26 of which were endured without pain medication.
My second pregnancy was wanted, but lost.
And my third pregnancy resulted in a little girl who is now 12, but who, when she was born was "blue and floppy," and who for several minutes, we weren't sure was going to draw her first breath.
Why am I telling you this? Maybe to re-emphasize that pregnancy is not easy. Even if you have access to the most modern of medical care, and you have insurance, pregnancies can result in fetal injury, fetal death, and maternal injury and death. (And if you want, I can pull out all of the blog posts I've done on rates of maternal mortality. But for now, take my word for it: pregnancy kills.)
Anyone who thinks that pregnancy is a risk-free stroll in the park during which time the angels sing you lullabies at night and everything is beautiful and you are enveloped by peace, love, and understanding has never been pregnant.
After the birth of my first child, I was asked by those who knew I was pro-choice if now that I was a mother, I had changed my position. "Yes," I replied. "I am even more convinced that the decision to carry a pregnancy to term has to be a choice." No woman should go through a pregnancy who does not want to be pregnant. And no, it's not because she'll gain weight or risk varicose veins; in countries without access to medical care, she risks fistula, sepsis, and death. In the United States maternal mortality rates are shockingly high. And, much to our national shame, if she has no insurance, she risks financial disaster. 18 years ago, my first pregnancy cost $15,o00. I don't know what a pregnancy costs these days.
"Well, she shouldn't be so irresponsible as to get pregnant then," some might argue. Okay. Let's talk about that. Can we talk about the past eight years and the government's attempts to limit access to birth control? Do we need to talk about right-wing groups' attempts to not only outlaw the Morning After Pill, (which they wrongly claim is an abortifacient), but also RU-486 and the IUD. RU-486 is a chemical abortifacient. The IUD, they claim, because it prevents implantation and not conception, is another abortifacient. Abortifacients are bad, according to their argument, because the washing out of a zygote is just as bad as a second or third-trimester abortion.
They have fought long and hard to prevent the teaching of birth control for teenagers, instead emphasizing a disastrous policy of abstinence only. (For information on how abstinence only has failed, Google the Waxman report.)
Many insurance companies refuse to pay for contraceptives. In New York state, for example, the government has mandated that insurance companies do have to pay for birth control, but currently, the monthly co-pay for The Pill is $25. (That's higher than for many other medicines.)
The Morning After Pill, which is finally available over the counter, is only available without a doctor's prescription if you are 17 or older.
I don't mean to drone on about this, but I assume you get the point I'm making: it's damn hard to take responsibility for your sexual activity when it's been made difficult to get your hands on birth control.
Now, to this idea that women, who despite all of their efforts, do find themselves pregnant and don't want to be simply throw away their pregnancies. Yeah. Maybe there is a tiny percentage of unfeeling female jerks out there who don't care. (Just as there are unfeeling male jerks out there who never think about birth control in the first place.)
But abortion is not a pleasant procedure. It is not done with general anesthetic: it is done with a local. When I had my D&C after my miscarriage, I was fully aware of what was happening. I didn't just simply "wake up" and it was all over. I know very few women who would deliberately subject themselves to that kind of unpleasantness without a great deal of thought. For some women, the decision to terminate a pregnancy is made because she simply cannot afford to be pregnant. Maybe she doesn't have medical insurance, or a job, or any kind of financial support. Maybe she has just started college, or a new job. Maybe she has one of those many jobs in America that does not allow time for maternity leave. Maybe she cannot afford to pay for childcare (our childcare bill was $1000 per month). Maybe she's a teenager, and she knows that she is not ready to be a mother. Maybe she loves her partner so much and she knows that he is not ready to be a father, so perhaps she makes the decision on his behalf, even though it's her choice.
One last thing. Maybe she doesn't want to have children. I know women who have tried to be permanently sterilized and who have had doctors refuse to do the procedure because "you'll change your mind." But even if she knows she doesn't want to have children, finding yourself pregnant still requires a careful consideration of your options.
And yeah. Maybe she thinks about it for two seconds and thinks, "fuck it. I'll get rid of it." But if you think that's what the vast majority of women who have abortions are thinking, I would suggest that perhaps you don't like nor trust women much.
So, the next time you want to talk about a woman throwing away a pregnancy as if it were a piece of trash, I'd like you to ask yourself how much you really know about pregnancy. And then I'd like you to ask yourself, really ask yourself, what you think about women. Because if you think that most of us really think that way, then maybe (if you're a woman) you don't like yourself very much, and (if you're a man) you should make damn sure you never have sex with a woman.
After all, if you can't trust her, why on earth would you want to put your penis inside of her?