Abortion Means Never Having To Say You’re Sorry

March 25, 2009

“She only saw him once.

Once, from behind the window of the nursery. He was wrapped in a blue blanket, and he was oh so small. They asked her if she wanted to hold him, and she said no. Just as she had in the delivery room, right after he was born, when she had squeezed her eyes shut so that she wouldn’t see him, her heart, the heart that she was giving away. She said no.

No.

It would have killed me, she said. It would have killed me. I couldn’t have gone on. I loved him.

So she said no. She refused to hold her son.”

I was holding my own son – then just two and a half months old – on my lap when my mother told me this story. I would be stating the obvious if I said that I clutched him a little tighter as I listened to her words and watched the tears brim in her eyes, but I’ll state it anyways: I held him, tightly, and my heart ached to think of not holding him. My heart ached to bursting at the thought of not holding him, of giving away any opportunity to hold him. And then my heart ached some more, because I had, once upon time, done something that, in some respects, amounts to the same thing.

When an anonymous poster made a plea, last week, for everyone to pause and consider the emotional fallout from adoption – this within the context of debates concerning the emotional consequences of abortion – I immediately thought of my mother and the gut-wrenching turmoil she experienced as a result of giving up a child for adoption. And then I thought of myself, and of the secret inner dialogue that I conducted with myself while she and I sat discussing that boy, that child that she had given up for adoption years before I was born. The secret inner dialogue that went something like this:

Me: Oh, my god, my god, how terrible, how heartbreaking, how did her heart survive it?

Myself: How did YOUR heart survive it?

Me: Survive what?

Myself: Abortion.

Me: That’s so different.

Myself: It’s not.

Me: The heartbreak of giving up a child…

Myself: Isn’t abortion a kind of ‘giving up’? Except, you know, MORE FINAL?

Me: Yeah, but…

Myself: But what?

Me: She’s mourning a child that she lost, a child who is still out there somewhere.

Myself: Exactly.

I clutched Jasper to my chest and squeezed and thought about the child who is not out there somewhere. A little part of my heart collapsed in on itself.

My mother’s heartbreak was almost unbearable to absorb. Her guilt, her worry, her desire to both know and not know whether he’d been given a happy life, whether she’d done right by him to give him up. She insisted that there was no regret – she’d done what she had to do, she had no choice, it was the best thing to do, the only thing to do, at the time – but regret is complicated. She didn’t regret making the choice that seemed best for him, but she still hurt over that choice. She hurt over that choice because it represented a loss, for her. Because it represented the loss of an unknown and unknowable future. Because it was a choice that changed someone else’s life, someone else’s future. Because some part of her felt that she needed to explain that choice, perhaps apologize for that choice. Make it clear that the choice was made out of love.

The choice that caused her so much pain was not the same kind of choice that I made. There is no one to whom to explain my choice. There is no one to whom to apologize. No claim can be made that my choice was made out of love. There is no one to whom I might make that claim. Because that’s how abortion differs from adoption: it means that the only person you need ever – can ever – explain your choice to is yourself. It doesn’t matter whether you’re sorry or not. Abortion means never having to say you’re sorry. It means never even having to consider the question.

Which is not to say, of course, that we don’t consider the question. I’ve been considering the question – of whether or not I’m sorry, of whether or not I should be sorry, of whether or not sorry matters – since I first set foot in that abortion clinic. I have agonized over this. As I’ve explained in these virtual pages before, I can’t say that I regret having had an abortion, but I also can’t say that I don’t. It’s complicated. Its complicatedness sometimes hurts my heart. Which is precisely why people talk about the emotional consquences of abortion. Because many women find, like I did, that their hearts hurt. Because many women struggle to figure out how to reconcile the complicated tension between regret and not-regret and find that they’re unable, and because many women do so while bearing their children, their wanted children, in arms.

But that struggle – that is, my personal experience of that struggle – is one that can, most of the time, be compartmentalized, tucked away on some back shelf of the psyche and forgotten until some event – pregnancy, say, or miscarriage, or one’s own mother’s admission of having given one’s brother up for adoption – prompts one to go rummaging around on the shelves of Buried Hurts and Ambivalent Regrets and Things That I’d Rather Not Think About Unless My Sanity And/Or Moral Stability Depends Upon It. My mother’s struggle with her longstanding conflicting emotions around having given up a child for adoption is not – has never been – something that she can just tuck away on a shelf and forget about. She has never passed a day, she told me, without thinking about her lost boy – without looking at the faces of strangers who seem about his age and wondering is it him, without reading in the newspaper or hearing on the news something about any male person of his vintage and wondering is it him, without casting back to that baby in the blue blankie and wondering what became of him what became of him what became of him?

And that is so hard for her. I have seen the heartbreak on her face. Some 45 years or so after the fact, and the heartbreak is still there. I see the heartbreak on her face and I tell myself, there but for grace went I. And, thank gods for that grace, that I did not go.

But it is not so simple. It is not nearly so simple. For I know that the primary reason I am able to compartmentalize my own, quiet struggle is because it is entirely my own, and it is entirely my own because of the nature of the choice that I made. My child does not wander this earth, living another life. My child – and it is such a mental and emotional wank to even use these terms – was never born. My child never became my child. He/she/it was embryo, barely fetus, not a child. I did not have a child; I had a pregnancy. And then I didn’t.

(And yet. Even as I say that – “I did not have a child; I had a pregnancy” – I want to take it back. I’m a mother. I’ve had a very early term miscarriage. I very nearly lost Emilia to miscarriage. I know the terror of losing or fearing to lose that embryo, that not-quite-fetus, that not-child who is loved none the less for his or her unformedness. I would never have said – could never have said – of the embryo-that-became-Emilia, this is just a pregnancy, there is no child here. For even though she was not yet child, she was the cellular embodiment of my wish that she become a child, that she become my child. In the absence of that wish… is it just cells that remain? I don’t know. I do not know. I have not yet sorted this out. It is painful, trying to sort this out, this which might be, simply, unsortable. All I know is that these experiences are different, despite their similarities, and that I remain firmly committed to the rightness of having the ability – the choice – to distinguish between them. Ah, me.)

What remains: my inconstant, ambivalent hurt, and my mother’s endless heartache. Neither of these would I wish on anyone, but neither would I hold them up as justifications for tampering with our rights to choose those hurts, those aches, over others. We both chose our heartaches, out of desire to avoid greater heartache for ourselves or for others. In my mother’s case – in any birth mother’s case, I think – a more difficult choice was made, because it was a choice that opened up another future for another life, a future that she would never be able to see but would always, always feel. I, on the other hand… I chose the road that denied other lived futures, and that has made all the difference.

The right difference, the wrong difference, I don’t know. It is, ever and always and only and nevertheless, the one that I chose.

I live with that.

*Because you’re asking: yes, we are – I am – still looking for that boy, the lost boy, my brother. There has been some very limited progress recently, and I’m hoping that it yields something, but I don’t want to jinx things by speculating. Thank you all for caring so much.

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    { 180 comments }

    Eva Robertson March 25, 2009 at 10:28 pm

    “In the absence of that wish . . . is it just cells that remain?” So many people have quoted that line, and I, too, find it the most powerful in your post. I wonder why, though? The very thought of something growing within me, however unformed, almost seemed to birth a maternal longing in me — a wish to be the mother of whatever tiny aspiration to life was multiplying itself within me. That is what made it hard for me to abort.

    witchypoo March 25, 2009 at 10:29 pm

    I truly hope that this post will help some adopted children understand that they were not thrown away. I hope it will give them some understanding of what their birth mothers did.

    paperfairies March 25, 2009 at 10:43 pm

    You know witchypoo, I absolutely agree, I BOW DOWN to birth mothers because giving up a baby you *loved* too much to abort but couldn’t offer a good life to, is (conversely to abortion) one of the most selfless things a woman can do.

    Kate March 25, 2009 at 10:54 pm

    Great post. As always you have such a great way of putting into words such complicated things. I lived for many years with regret over the choice I made to have an abortion. But more for the fact that I didn’t have the balls to accept what was happening and take ownership. At the time I was more consumed with hurting my mother, reeling with the recent death of my father as timing would have it, rather than really considering the embryo as a child. It was more of an inconvenience; at the time I didn’t even consider adoption. And I regret so much for thinking of it that way. It sounds so horrifically callous on my part.

    Anonymous March 25, 2009 at 11:14 pm

    I have struggled for years trying to put into concise thoughts how I feel about the abortion I had over 15 years ago. You have finally given me those words.

    “…I can’t say that I regret having had an abortion, but I also can’t say that I don’t. It’s complicated. Its complicatedness sometimes hurts my heart. “

    This is my heart. Thank you for giving it words.

    As I sit here now, the mother of 3, the only thing that has changed is my point of view. But point of view is everything sometimes.

    I have been reading your blog for so long, but until tonight I’ve never commented. Thank you so much, Catherine.

    Julie

    Monkey Girl March 25, 2009 at 11:16 pm

    I was given up for adoption and am very pro-choice.

    Your quote about the emotional fallout includes not only the mother. I lived in foster care until I was 6 and that was 35 years ago.

    I appreciate my birth mother’s gift to give me a better home, however she also gave me a heaviness in my heart/soul. Not knowing, not having any baby pictures, not having what most people have…a childhood. I’ve since been ‘found’ by my birth father and the emotional wreckage it’s caused in my family has been tremendous.

    Years of therapy.

    I imagine many years of therapy for my birth mother too. Whoever she may be.

    Your mother was very brave, indeed.

    Marla March 25, 2009 at 11:19 pm

    First off, thanks for being so brave and posting your thoughts on this topic.

    I’m not going to act like I understand the pain that comes with giving up a child, but I have to point out one fact: it may have been easier on you to have an abortion, but what about the baby that could have had a wonderful future? Abortions are final, life-ending operations.

    Adoption on the other hand, provides a couple with the happiness of having a child. That child can have the opportunity to grow up with a family that truly loves it.

    I’m not saying it’s easy, but I know what decision I would make.

    I’m sorry for you and your mother’s pain.

    Heather March 25, 2009 at 11:27 pm

    You are just such a good writer.

    Her Bad Mother March 25, 2009 at 11:29 pm

    marla – that was kind of my point. what I did is hard to live with precisely because it was selfish, final. I’m owning that, totally.

    It keeps me awake at night, sometimes.

    Karen MEG March 25, 2009 at 11:47 pm

    Catherine, just thank you for this. You go places with your words that few of us can even dream of going.

    The Grown Up Teenager March 25, 2009 at 11:55 pm

    As someone who hasn’t (yet) been pregnant, let alone had an abortion, I can’t even begin to comprehend the thought process that goes on when a pregnancy is unplanned, and I do my best not to judge others choices.

    That said, I am very pro-life, and will never agree that abortion means you don’t have to say you’re sorry. Its still a decision you have to own up to…to the child’s father, parents, friends, a possible spouse, you will likely have to discuss it with your children one day, etc. And that’s leaving out any morality aspects entirely (cause thats a sticky subject and I don’t wanna get dirty).

    My last boyfriend had experienced that guilt, as his ex had had an abortion and it was his baby. It ate at him that someone had ended the life of his child and he could do nothing about it. It wasn’t just the mother that suffered.

    In my opinion, a baby isn’t a baby because of a wish, and you can’t wish one away. But I also respect your opinion and hope my comment was written respectfully.

    Amy March 26, 2009 at 12:17 am

    This was so very, very brave.

    Hugs to you, and peace.

    Mandy March 26, 2009 at 12:58 am

    I am wordless, except to say that your post touched me deeply.

    Rebecca March 26, 2009 at 12:59 am

    I heard somewhere once, (Was it on T.V.? Probably.) that whichever choice you make will be the right one. I think that’s just about perfect. My first child was an unplanned pregnancy (albeit one in my late twenties and within the confines of a happy marriage)and it was right. But it would have been right if I’d become a mom earlier in life, or later. Your choice will shape your life and it will be right.

    Lady M March 26, 2009 at 1:05 am

    Neither your choice nor your mother’s was easy, and that so often gets left out of the arguments. “Just give him up for adoption!” is simply not that simple.

    I am pro-choice. I called my son “my baby” while he was still an embryo. Some would say that’s inconsistent, but it’s an imperfect world.

    Wishing you both some peace, Catherine. As always, you write so beautifully.

    Baby Claire March 26, 2009 at 1:06 am

    i was adopted. and because of that i would never have an abortion. frankly because i’m actually here and living my life because someone chose not to abort, and it would be a slap in the face to life itself to turn around and chose the opposite.

    that said, i would never give a child up for adoption. because i’ve lived it. being adopted myself is hard enough to deal with emotionally – i couldnt be on both sides of that spectrum. dumpee and dumper.

    so when i got pregnant accidentally by the man who i was divorcing, when i’d decided that i didnt want children ever – i did the only thing i could. i kept her. not because i wanted to, but because it was the lesser of 3 evils.

    and since the day she was born – i’ve been happier than i ever have in my life. my unwanted pregnancy turned into the most wanted child in the world.

    i think adoption and abortion are equally difficult. for entirely different reasons.

    i also think pro-lifers should concentrate more on proving scientifically, not religiously when “life” begins so that it would then make SENSE for the law to deny the right to kill an unborn child… rather than wasting time trying to change the minds of those whose minds clearly arent going to change. and i think pro-choicers should stop being proud of the right to choose. stop acting entitled to this right. because its a horrible, horrible thing to have to choose.

    great blog, great read. very thought provoking to see it from both sides like that.

    -katie… claire’s mom

    The Girl March 26, 2009 at 1:44 am

    You are so very eloquent. You hit it right on the head again, of course.

    Thank you for sharing with us.

    Laski March 26, 2009 at 2:18 am

    You know . . . as I read this I wondered what the comments would be. How would people respond? What type of fire would come your way?

    I don’t see it . . . maybe it is there and I’m not getting it. I think your honesty in telling your story, sharing how it impacted and still impacts you today is a powerful testament to who you are and who you have become.

    Would you still be the same person if you had not gone through with it? Probably not.

    You made a choice. You accept the consequences. You don’t self-righteously defend it–you tell it exactly like it is.

    No agenda. Just you. Your story. Your inner struggles . . .

    Thank you for that.

    I hope it makes sense, but you write with grace, grace and understanding.

    Jaywalker March 26, 2009 at 3:37 am

    I spent a few weeks of my unplanned pregnancy trying to tell myself that I was big enough and brave enough and had enough space in my heart to have this third child. But eventually I realised that I didn’t. That there was no way I could care for that third child and care for the two others and care for myself at an impossibly difficult time in my life.

    Yes, it was selfish. But it was also right, and I don’t have regrets. Having to readjust my image of myself – less selfless, less giving, more flawed – as a result was painful but I think gave me important self-knowledge.

    I blogged about it

    here

    Mrs C March 26, 2009 at 5:36 am

    Abortion selfish? Really? Is it selfish to ensure that a child is wanted?

    Am currently reading Irving’s Cider House Rules which is about adoption and abortion. Here is an interesting quote read just this morning:

    page 582 (paperback version):

    “[Dr Larch] had heard [Nurse Caroline] say, so many times, that a society that approved of making abortion illegal was a society that approved of violence against women; that making abortion illegal was simply a sanctimonious, self-righteous form of violence against women – it was just a way of legalizing violence against women…”

    Mind you, the book was written in the 80s and the quote is from a part of the story that occurs in Maine in the 50s sometime, but am curious to know people’s thoughts.

    I don’t think abortion is selfish myself. It is what it is and it ensures that the babies that are born are wanted. That babies are born belonging somewhere and to someone.

    Ami March 26, 2009 at 8:23 am

    This is hard for me. I do not want to hurt or shame women who have made choices to terminate a life inside them. Nothing can be gained by calling someone selfish here. But, there may be someone reading this trying to decide to have an abortion or not, so for that I needed to respond.
    I believe strongly, so very very strongly that even though one might not call this life a “baby,” it is a LIFE. And abortion kills this LIFE. This life does not have a choice to grow into a person, to develop a personality, to love and laugh, once it has been terminated. Having an abortion, may be the “best choice” for the woman but it is not the best choice for the LIFE that is terminated.
    And for every baby that is adopted here in the U.S., over 160 couples are still waiting for and wanting a baby, any baby. A healthy baby, a sick baby, a white baby, a black baby, ANY baby. Plus there are many, many, many other couples that want specific types of babies (boy, girl, healthy, white, etc.) All babies are wanted by someone.

    Amy March 26, 2009 at 9:08 am

    Mrs C,

    If I can presume to speak for those of us who are pro-life, it is because abortion is violence against a human being. A human being who happens to be at the earliest stages of its development, but a human being nonetheless.

    As for the notion of making sure every child is wanted – some children ARE wanted, but for very selfish and damaging reasons. Other children aren’t wanted until they arrive outside the womb. Some children aren’t wanted and they do have a miserable childhood, only to rise from the ashes to a wonderful adulthood. I understand what people are getting at when they argue that an unwanted child will only suffer – but we ALL suffer, and unless you have a crystal ball that tells you for certain what will happen throughout that person’s life, it could be that the baby’s life in question could be very worthwhile indeed. I know that is a lot of hypotheticals, and not exactly a unassailable argument against abortion (I have arguments against abortion from philosophy, biology and religion) but I do think it is an important thing to realize. Being wanted is just not what makes a person a person, and it is dangerous to think that we can decide what makes someone else’s life worthwhile.

    I don’t want to be the instigator of a firestorm in what has thus far been a very respectful dialogue. I just wanted to answer Mrs. C’s question from a pro-life prospective. xo

    Erica March 26, 2009 at 9:15 am

    What a brave post. Thank you.

    Her Bad Mother March 26, 2009 at 9:15 am

    The Grown Up Teenager – my title wasn’t to suggest that there’s no space for sorry. There’s an edge to that title – I meant to convey that although that seems an advantage of abortion as a choice in certain situations, it’s also the dark thing that causes *me* guilt.

    Thank you so much expressing your view so respectfully.

    (Thank you to everybody who is doing so. Really. THANK YOU.)

    red pen mama March 26, 2009 at 9:17 am

    (have not read all the comments.)

    I had an abortion nearly 18 years ago. I was being selfish and defiant and exercising my right to choose. I perfectly recognize all of that. I have apologized, in my heart and in my head and in a confessional. I have been forgiven.

    Given the choice again, I wouldn’t do it. At least, given the choice knowing what I know now. It was the worst experience — barring the stillborn death of my son 13 years later.

    Make of that what you will.

    You are a brave and lovely woman, Catherine, and I am so glad you write openly and honestly about this (and so many other things). My parents do not know about my abortion, and I never address it on my own blog, as much as I want to. I am scared that they will not be able to forgive me. I am scared that people will think I deserved to lose my son because of the choice I made when I was 20 years old. I cannot face that. (For the record, I do not think that God chose to punish me for defying Him/Her — I don’t think It/He/She works that way.)

    I’m going to read some of the comments now, although I am afraid to. I will never be as brave as you, Mama!

    ciao,
    rpm

    Elizabeth March 26, 2009 at 9:19 am

    This is the second post of yours in two days that has led me to start writing such a long comment that I had to stop because it was turning into a post. Your writing here is, as always, breathtaking.

    paperfairies March 26, 2009 at 9:19 am

    Although I am pro choice (ironically I used to be a member of a Catholic pro-life group) I agree with The Grown Up Teenager when she says that wishing for a life doesn’t make it a life because if that were true, you could wish it away.

    I think thought and intention have a powerful effect on all things but not wanting a baby won’t make it disappear just as wanting it won’t make it spring forth. Both these moments of creation or destruction require the exertion of strong action, as in sex or termination of pregnancy, wherein *wishing* takes a back seat.

    This is why Mrs. C, abortion is selfish. Hard? Well, possibly the hardest thing a woman could ever do (me and my superlatives) but supremely selfish. Because a woman does it not to ensure a child is wanted, but because she’s not ready or doesn’t want to or can’t handle being a mother. The choice is NOT about the baby, it is about the woman.

    karla March 26, 2009 at 9:20 am

    I, um…wow, am in awe at your insight and reflections. As a mother who actually chose to remove her daughter from life support and then hold her while she died in my arms, I can 100% relate to everything you have said, and how eloquent and therapeutic your words are.

    Her Bad Mother March 26, 2009 at 9:22 am

    Amy – thanks for weighing in. I still don’t know where I stand on when life – understood as human – begins. I agree that the wishing/wanting isn’t what imbues a life-force – but I’m also not sure that I can say – and believe – that the moment of conception is the moment that a person springs into being. And I say this as a former philosophy lecturer who has thought about this A LOT.

    So because I *don’t* know – because it is still very much in the realm of belief for me – I believe that it is important that every woman have the freedom to determine her own belief on this matter and make her own decisions based on her belief. And then live with that decision.

    Sometimes living with the decision is the hardest part.

    Tricia March 26, 2009 at 9:23 am

    I have always been pro-life. In my early 20′s rabidly so and part of demonstrations in front of abortion clinics. Then I worked at a crisis pregnancy center and I talked to the women who found themselves pregnant and in a real bind. We counseled these women and educated them on all choices, we did talk about abortion and the various methods and what each would entail for her and the fetus. I realize for the majority of women it is not a choice made lightly. I never demonstrated again but I would still counsel any woman that abortion is a hard choice and one with consequences they may not be able to imagine now.

    Personally I would much rather be in your monther’s position knowing that the child I chose to give up is out there somewhere living a life and hope for his happiness and fulfillment.

    No judgment only sadness. :(

    Sarcomical March 26, 2009 at 9:27 am

    exactly.

    i don’t really have anything else to say, as i’ve explained almost the exact same thing in great detail on my blog in the past. i got continued response about the topic even years after writing about it, and was always surprised in some way by the kindness and even empathy, especially since i so long couldn’t imagine i deserved it.

    i understand with you. and respect you for talking about it. thanks for sharing so deeply.

    Her Bad Mother March 26, 2009 at 9:28 am

    paperfairies: I’ve said a few times here, in comments, that I agree that abortion is the selfish choice. And I think that I made it clear in the post that that choice is one fraught with guilt for me BECAUSE I’m NOT convinced that the wish/the want is what makes the fetus a child.

    I appreciate that you’re being civil, but it’s starting to feel a bit like finger-wagging, that you’re repeating and cheering a point that I’ve addressed – conceded, from a personal perspective – a few times already.

    David March 26, 2009 at 9:30 am

    I think it’s discussions like this that demonstrate how it’s just not appropriate to boil these issues down to simple labels or catch-phrases you see on a bumper sticker.

    An exceptionally well-written, profoundly personal, and very brave post.

    paperfairies March 26, 2009 at 9:41 am

    Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry, no finger wagging at all. I have been there and absolutely understand guilt, sadness, possible regret, or not. or maybe guilt at not feeling regret, I don’t know either. I guess I was just going through a thought process commenced by your post and stirred by the comments, I just wrote it, it helps getting it out of my head. Thanks for helping me do that.

    Mrs C March 26, 2009 at 9:50 am

    Despite what people are saying to me personally, I still don’t think it is necessarily a selfish act. Every woman’s story or reasons are her own. For some women it may be selfish, in others, not so much. Like whether to have an abortion or not, it’s up to the woman to decide if it’s a selfish act. Her body, but also her mind.

    Nuff said.

    I’m more interested in people’s opinions on the Irving text that I posted (and am rather surprised that nobody has decided to evaluate that text!).

    I’m intrigued by the idea that a society that takes away choice from a woman regarding her body, approves of violence towards women.

    Doesn’t this interest anyone else?

    Baby in the City March 26, 2009 at 10:07 am

    It is great to see such passionate and thoughtful comments that are also respectful.

    This is such an important post – made better with the exceptional comments – because these issues are so complicated. Most us know, intellectually, that decisions like choosing to have an abortion or give a child up for adoption, are not simple decisions, yet so often we are asked – expected, even – to just pick our side, our slogan. Pro-choice, pro-life. Pick a side. And while that might be necessary when declaring a view on a law, it doesn’t quite fit for emotional choices.

    Great post.

    And personally? I think it is OK to be selfish. We all do the best we can do. It is all we can do.

    Sarcastica March 26, 2009 at 10:08 am

    Beautifully written and heartbreaking post. I don’t even have words in response…I could never imagine that kind of hurt. I shy away from it. I’m not strong or brave enough to face that kind of hurt. I don’t think my heart would take it :(

    Her Bad Mother March 26, 2009 at 10:25 am

    paperfairies – that’s okay, and thanks. I’m just sensitive about the ‘selfish’ thing because it’s the most difficult thing to wrap my head and heart around when trying to sort out my feelings on this. so, am touchy is all ;)

    aqua March 26, 2009 at 10:26 am

    Re: Jane’s comment and the follow-up comments. I’m not sure selfish is the right concept here. Having children is not selfish — you think? I was told by my single friends on more than one occasion that I’m selfish to desire and have a baby, especially in a world where putting more stress on our fragile environment is not a good idea, and a world that has more than its fair share of orphans and kids who need homes. And it’s true, because the desire comes from a deeply personal, non-rational part of me — just as it’s selfish, in a different way, to not have a baby because “I want to enjoy my life and go out drinking every weekend.” Do you think it isn’t selfish to have the baby when you’re not ready to parent, when you know the baby won’t have a father, etc, simply because it offends your deep beliefs that having an abortion is wrong? The argument could be made that it’s very selfish to not sacrifice your high ideals in light of your mistake (i.e. accidentally getting pregnant) in order to give your child a potentially miserable life in foster care, etc. In other words, my point is simply that one can rationalize a decision as not selfish, or selfish quite easily, in multiple ways. And the reason why this is so is simply because there are no real absolutes when it comes to these issues. We humans simply wrestle and rationalize and overthink and struggle with language (as I’m doing now, for I haven’t had any coffee since I’m breastfeeding!). Which is also the reason why we must be kind to each other, even when we hold such irreconcilable points of view.

    I am firmly pro-choice, and I find this post very touching precisely because it illustrates the complexities inherent in making a choice. Which is why slapping the label “selfish” is simply too simple and meaningless in this context.

    Amy March 26, 2009 at 10:31 am

    I sure hope I don’t outwear my welcome! It is SO refreshing to talk about this issue that I feel so strongly about with people able to talk about it respectfully and with grace.

    Catherine – I am sure you have given this a lot of thought, and I am pretty sure I understand your perspective. I guess it is just that IF that little being really is a person, then given women freedom to make that choice is making them free to do something very horrible and morally wrong against another human being (the baby). I recognize that many who are pro-choice would agree with me and stand by that ability to choose anyway – I gather that is exactly your position. I hope you and others can at least understand why the consciences of those who are pro-life are not ok with that.

    Mrs. C – addressing the quote: I guess I just don’t see making abortion illegal as violence to women. It frankly disturbs me to characterized pregnancy as violence. We are not free to make all sorts of choices – we are not free to steal, to rape, to murder – and the denial of those freedoms is not a violence against men or women. I understand that pregnancy is unique in the way that it affects the body and psyche of a woman – but I see it as an incredible, beautiful, truly awesome example of human interdependence. And it seems to me that the violence comes in when that relationship is intentionally ended with death.

    Unless someone directly asks me a question, this will be my final comment. I have no desire to dominate this great conversation, and I think most of us have heard all these points before. Peace and grace~

    Goldfish March 26, 2009 at 10:32 am

    It’s such a rabid political argument. But you remind us, eloquently and tenderly, that it’s not political. It’s about the complicated women who find themselves overwhelming and heart-breaking situations. Once again, thank you.

    aqua March 26, 2009 at 10:48 am

    Just a comment to those who worry that abortion is tantamount to murder. Abortion is ethical — even if we believe (as I actually do not) that the fetus and the embryo constitute a baby. I think the ethical dimension of abortion was proved beyond the shadow of a doubt by philosopher Judith Jarvis Thompson in the 1970s. Rather than explain at length her argument, here is a link to the wikipedia entry:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judith_Jarvis_Thomson

    (but, shush, don’t tell my students I just referred y’all to wikipedia :)

    Amy March 26, 2009 at 10:53 am

    Ahhh, I lied! Here I am commenting again!

    Aqua – even the Wikipedia article states that her argument does not prove beyond a doubt that abortion is ethically permissible. First of all, pregnancy is hardly the equivalent of abduction and imprisonment. Except in the case of rape, pregnancy is the result of a willing choice. Secondly, passively removing yourself from a situation is different from actively destroying the body of another. Her hypothetical is not a perfect equivalent, and so not an unassailable argument.

    Bobita~ March 26, 2009 at 10:56 am

    My husband and I, arms mingled, our brand new baby boy filling our senses, met eyes. And wept. It was a sadness that could not be put into words because, after all, it was a Choice that we made together. Twice.

    It is a grief that seems impossible to describe. A penance of sorts. But grief nonetheless.

    messyfunmommylife March 26, 2009 at 10:58 am

    I want to say you feel compelled to call the miscarriage a baby because it was produced in love. It was a baby you created with someone you loved and that bond can never be broken. However, that would be saying that I don’t have that bond with my son. (who was not created in a loving relationship) It is a difficult line to figure out. We all do what we gotta do I suppose. And sometimes you have to listen to red rag top 20 times to figure it out:) very insightful very honest. thank you.

    Ami March 26, 2009 at 11:06 am

    I just wanted to respond to Mrs. C about her quote. How is being pregnant, creating life, violent? Women can become pregnant, men cannot. Why do we immediately assume because men don’t become pregnant that women get a bum deal out of biology? That because men can walk away from sex being untouched, THAT is the desirable state? Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Shouldn’t men be picketing the inequality that THEY have been dealt? Unable to feel life inside of them?
    True, being pregnant is hard work, hard, very hard, super hard work. But it is also MIRACULOUS. Yet because we are not exactly the same, that means we are victims? Of violence?
    And one last thing, simply because you have a baby does NOT mean you have to raise that baby, spend the rest of your life with that child. No woman haa to be responsible for the baby that is created unless she choses. That should be the choice. Adoption rules.

    MilkMama March 26, 2009 at 11:08 am

    Wonderful post. Thank you for sharing.

    aqua March 26, 2009 at 11:11 am

    Amy — yes, those objections have been raised by other philosophers. I simply don’t buy them. No analogy is perfect — i.e. the two things between which you draw a parallel are not identical, obviously, that’s the whole point of an analogy — but in this case, for me, the analogy works perfectly.

    Amy March 26, 2009 at 11:15 am

    aqua – if it convinces you, that is fine for you. But it does not convince me, nor is it a watertight argument. Really, there are no perfectly unassailable arguments from philosophy; you can always attack the premises. That is the strength and weakness of philosophy.

    I am done for real this time. xo

    aqua March 26, 2009 at 11:15 am

    Oh, sorry, one more thing, Amy, accidental pregnancy is not the result of a willing choice — unless you equate sex with procreation, which, well, I can’t see how one could do that.

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