A Personal Story

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I’ve been a feminist since 1971 when I joined a consciousness-raising group after I had my abortion. I didn’t think that I would ever tell anyone about the abortion, but as we all began to share our stories, I felt safe enough to share mine. Instead of shock or disapproval, I was met with understanding and support. I had had a decision to make and I made the one that I thought was best for me at the time.

The boyfriend who got me pregnant would never have allowed me to give the baby up for adoption, but he was okay about an abortion. I didn’t tell my parents because I felt like I should be adult enough to handle it myself. And, okay, I admit that I was afraid of their reaction, but that wasn’t the main reason I had the abortion. I was 19 and in my first year of college and I knew if I had the baby I would have wanted to keep it. It’s hard to believe now, but in 1971 it was still considered shameful to have a baby out of wedlock. All of the girls I knew in high school who had gotten pregnant (and not had abortions) went ahead and got married. I realized when I got pregnant that I didn’t want to marry the father and I didn’t want to raise a child with him. He could be cruel at times and I didn’t think he would be a good father.

Turns out I was right. For various reasons, I did end up marrying him after my first husband and I got a divorce (possibly partly out of guilt for having aborted his baby). And he abused the children I had from my first marriage. Not sexually, but verbally and physically. We divorced after three and a half years, which was three  years and five months too late. My children still have scars from the way he treated them. I’m not proud of what I allowed to happen to my children. But it was a kind of vindication that I had been right to not have a child with him in the first place, and I thank God that I didn’t have one with him when we did get married.

When my four daughters were old enough, I told them about my abortion. “Just don’t ever put yourself in that position where you have to make that decision,” I told them. When my oldest daughter became pregnant when she was 25 and unmarried, she told the father that she would never consider an abortion and I was really proud of her for that. Thankful, too, because her son is the only grandchild I have today. And I can’t imagine his not being in the world.

Sometimes I think about the child I didn’t have. He or she would have been 42 this year. I like to think that if I had to do it over again, I wouldn’t have terminated his or her life, but I don’t know that for sure. If I’d had the baby, I probably wouldn’t have the children I do have, because my life would have gone an entirely different way.

I understand where people who are anti-abortion are coming from. I don’t think abortion is ever a good thing. But I’m uncomfortable with making it impossible for any woman to have one legally and safely. Legal abortion doesn’t make women get pregnant because they think, “Oh, if I get pregnant I can always have an abortion.” All making abortion illegal would accomplish is that women who find themselves in tough situations would have illegal abortions or try to abort themselves. And then they might die, sometimes leaving their other children motherless. That’s not a solution.

Most people who are against abortion are against it on religious grounds. But they don’t take into account that not all people believe in God or have strong religious convictions. Here I stand on a principle of democracy: it’s wrong to force all members of society to abide by the convictions of a subgroup. Forcing women to have babies they’re not ready to have isn’t going to convert them. Only God can do that, just as only God is the final judge of all that we do. All we can do is try to live according to our own consciences.

Two years ago my oldest daughter had a miscarriage. But before the fetus died, she was told that it had both Down and Turner Syndromes. The doctor who informed her made it clear that he disapproved of abortion. My daughter was made to feel guilty at a time when she was in deep anguish about what she should do. The eventual miscarriage took the decision out of her hands, but she hasn’t forgotten how she felt when her doctor tried to force his beliefs on her. He wasn’t the one who would have to raise the child, if it lived. She, not he, was the best judge of what she could handle.

Those who try to dictate what a woman should do with her body are trying to play God. The irony is: not even God forces women to have babies. As I understand Him, He gave us free will for a reason. Other people don’t have the right to take that away.

 

Why Fight the War on Women?

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There’s been a lot in the news lately about the War on Women. What most people don’t realize is that this “war” isn’t only about abortion. It’s a series of battles over a woman’s right to live her life purposefully. This doesn’t just mean her right to birth control or abortion. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Women are still having to fight for these things and more:

  • access to education
  • jobs, promotions
  • health benefits
  • reasonable rates for life and health insurance
  • maternity leave and other accommodations for child-rearing
  • effective prosecution of rape, sexual abuse and domestic violence
  • elected office and other positions of power

Many people think that the War on Women was fought in the ’60s and ’70s and that women won it. They point to female CEOs and other professionals, to the number of women obtaining higher education, to greater attention being paid to women’s health issues and  to greater protections in general under the law. But these advantages are not being given equally to all women.

As long as there is one woman who is treated wrongfully and unequally because of her gender, the war has not been won. And the fact is, there are still millions of women who need things that many of us, privileged as we are, take for granted. Not only that, but women who feel that they have never suffered gender or sexual discrimination are either unusually fortunate or delusional.

One of the most insidious ways to keep women down is socialization. It’s hard to point a finger to the culprit here when the entire society participates in the practices that keep women from fulfilling their full potential. Even women themselves cooperate in their own socialization and often seem proud of it. The woman who drops out of college to get married, the professional who stops working to have children, the mother who praises her daughter for being pretty, but not for her participation in sports—all of these women are shortsightedly dooming themselves and their children to discrimination in the future.

These women protest that they have the right to choose to work part-time or not at all (except for in the home of course), to have as many children as they want and to raise them however they see fit. I’m not saying that they don’t have the right to choose whatever they want to do with their lives. I’m just asking them to think about the long-term effects of their choices.

The War on Women can’t be fought only by the people who already have the advantages some women only dream of. It has to be fought by all women. Each woman has to think purposefully about her life and do whatever it takes to achieve her goals. She has to stop thinking about what everyone else wants her to do and start thinking about what she wants.

Some say that the feminist movement has done nothing but create a society of self-centered and selfish women who think nothing of abandoning husbands and children and who could care less about their families’ fates. There will always be those who think only of themselves (female and male), but the feminist movement didn’t cause that. And that is certainly not its goal.

All that feminism asks is that women think and act responsibly with an eye to the future, both their future and that of their children. Do they really want their daughters (and sons) to be saddled with children they didn’t want and can’t care for? Do they want their daughters to continue to have to bear the brunt of housework and child-raising? Do they want their sons to take women for granted, even to the point of abusing them?

Maybe the War on Women will never be over. Patriarchal attitudes are ingrained in nearly every society. Add to that the resistance people have to change. But humankind’s progress doesn’t depend on staying in the present or even going back to the past. Progress means to go forward. What was “usual and customary” for our ancestors has to be re-examined and reworked in order to serve our future.

 

 

Rethinking Abortion

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A friend of mine recently told me that she used to be strongly pro-choice but now, because of experiences she’s had in her own life and seeing what other women have gone through, she’s decided that she’s pro-life. She said she’s concerned about the psychological damage to women who have abortions. She also feels many women have abortions for selfish reasons and there are very few good reasons for having one.

To tell the truth, I was surprised at how much I agreed with her. I’ve never felt comfortable about women having abortions just because they don’t want to be inconvenienced or stressed out. I’ve even wondered if there’s ever a good reason to abort a baby other than rape, incest, severe birth defects or the health of the mother. I have four children myself and two grandchildren (with one more on the way) and I know how precious a new life is.

The problem is, the abortion debate forces you to pick sides. You’re made to feel that you have to be pro-life OR pro-choice. You can’t be both. But as I listened to my friend, I realized that I am both.

I believe that abortion should be a last resort. No woman should use abortion just because she was too lazy or irresponsible to use birth control. (However, this belief doesn’t address the issue of what to do when a mistake has been made.)

I also believe that once a fetus is viable (i.e., it can live outside the womb without heroic efforts to keep it alive), it should not be aborted. If you’ve gone eight months with a baby inside you, what’s another month? That child has a right to live; even if you don’t want to be its mother, there is almost always someone who does. Let’s face it: newborn babies are in demand. It’s the older child who is harder to place. So if you don’t think you want to be a mother, don’t “give it a try” for a few years. Make the responsible choice while the baby still has a chance to grow up from birth in a loving home.

When I had my abortion at the age of 19, I was a freshman in college, I didn’t want to marry the father and I was afraid to tell my parents. I was also pretty sure that I couldn’t give the baby up for adoption and I knew my life would be changed irrevocably if I kept him or her. I thought I’d have to drop out of college and depend on my parents even more than I already did (and which I hated). And I didn’t want to have to deal with custody and visitation issues with a man I didn’t want to be with.

Also, this was 1971 and unmarried mothers were not as accepted as they are now.

None of these reasons justified my “killing” my baby, but they added up to a compelling argument at the time. And since the man who’d gotten me pregnant was completely supportive of my getting an abortion, I have to believe that he had similar reasons.

So how did I feel after having the abortion? Was I overwhelmed with guilt and grief? No. I can honestly say that all I felt was relief, especially since I pulled it off without having to tell my parents.

But now that I’m almost 60 and can look back on a long life of mistakes and regrets, I realize that just because something feels right doesn’t mean that it is right. I was a moderately religious person, but I didn’t have a well-developed sense of morals or ethics. I didn’t approach the problem from that perspective at all. I didn’t go to a counselor or a trusted adult. I felt like I got myself into this mess, it was up to me to get myself out.

I have had feelings of guilt and grief over the years, but they’ve never been overwhelming. My main feeling was that the abortion was regrettable, but the right thing for me at the time. But I had some bad moments during each of my subsequent pregnancies, especially once the babies were born. I couldn’t help but think that I would have had another child three years older than my oldest daughter if I hadn’t been so selfish. Who knows what that baby might have been like? Was it the boy I never managed to have later on? He or she would have been forty years old this year. Would I have had other grandchildren? How would he or she have turned out?

Having an abortion puts you in a tricky situation. You can ask God for forgiveness, but you can’t ask your aborted baby to forgive you. Some people get around this by not believing that the fetus was a baby. Technically and medically, the fetus isn’t a baby (that is, it can’t live outside the womb). But is it a life?

One debate surrounding abortion is over whether life begins at fertilization or implantation. Medical science has always favored the latter. You’re not pregnant until implantation occurs and you can’t be carrying a new life until you’re actually pregnant.

People who hold the former view have arbitrarily decided that life begins at fertilization.  Some pro-life advocates are against birth control because they think that the contraception itself causes abortions. But what happens when a fertilized egg passes out of the uterus naturally? Is that an abortion? Carry that a step further: does that mean that even God “murders” babies?

Strong words, I know. But the point I’m trying to make is: Is it ever right to make decisions that only God used to make? If the answer is no, you might as well do away with medical science and research. No more transplants, no more medicines, no more fertility treatments, no more heroic measures. Who are we to decide whether someone should live or die?

The Bible says that God gave man dominion over the earth. You could argue that this doesn’t just mean that he is supposed to tend plants and animals. It could also mean that God gave us jurisdiction over questions of life and death. He gave us the intellect to develop those things that help to extend life. But the flip side is that we’re also allowed to decide when things can or should be prevented from achieving viability, or life.

There are many good reasons for not allowing an embryo to develop into a fetus, or a fetus into a baby. What about when the number of children a family has prevents those children from having a good quality of life? What if the resources and support systems don’t exist to ensure that a child will be raised in a loving environment?

And that’s not even taking into account the health of the pregnant woman. What if she has other children she needs to be there for? Is it right to allow a woman to die just to allow the birth of another motherless child?

There is no consensus about these issues. That means is there is no one position that is more popular than the others. And for that reason, I believe it is against everything this country stands for to allow one group’s opinion to prevail.

Being pro-choice doesn’t mean that women will be forced to have unwanted abortions. But being anti-choice does mean that some women will be forced to have unwanted babies.

Which is right: force or freedom?

For a doctor’s views of when life begins and the abortion debate, go here at “The Moderate Voice.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Road to Feminism

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Very few people set out to become feminists. It’s not a philosophy that they just happen to pick out one day as if it was a dish in a smorgasbord. Becoming a feminist is usually a process. Things happen that shake us up and make us question everything we thought we believed. In my case, I became a feminist after having an abortion. It’s not that I was looking for absolution. It was more that I was trying to make sense of this happening to me. What were the implications of being a woman who had aborted her child? How had other women handled it? Why didn’t anyone talk about it?

I felt so alone. I didn’t think I could ever tell anyone my “secret.” And then I enrolled in a women’s studies course. This was back when there were no women’s studies departments or degrees. The course wasn’t part of the regular curriculum; it was more or less an experiment. The teachers were sort of making it up as they went along. We read seminal works like The Feminine Mystique and Sexual Politics. But most importantly, we talked. About what it meant to be a woman in our society. And about what being women meant to us personally.

Before I took that women’s studies course, I had never questioned why women made less money than men, or why mothers were more likely to stay home with the kids and did most of the housework. I hadn’t thought about the fact that there were so few women doctors or lawyers or engineers. I know that sounds incredible, but this was 1971. The Women’s Liberation Movement (as it was called then) had just started to pick up steam.

This was also around the time when “The Pill” became widely available. Before The Pill, women had to rely on their partners to use condoms or on birth control methods that weren’t that effective. Suddenly women were able to take charge of their own contraception and to be reasonably sure that they wouldn’t become pregnant. It’s hard to imagine now, but that was a monumental break-through for women. For the first time a woman could take charge of her own life. She was no longer a slave to her biology.

I got pregnant when I was 18 largely because I hadn’t thought about contraception. After my abortion, I went on The Pill. It made it possible for me to control whether or not (or when) I would become a mother. It also made me rethink what it meant to be responsible. Before the abortion, I had more or less gone along with what society (and my boyfriends) said I should be. Having the abortion and going on The Pill taught me that there were decisions that only I could make and that I damn well better make them if I wanted to be my own person.

The women’s studies course gave me the courage to make my own decisions. To step up to the plate, so to speak. I learned that the way a woman lives her life had a profound effect on everything and everyone else in our society. I began to see myself as part of a larger world.

One of the things I like about feminism is that it makes me think. It’s important to question why we do what we do and how we might do things differently. But it’s also important to analyze the influences that come from outside of ourselves. It’s one thing to say, “I’m not a decisive person.” It’s another thing altogether to get to the point where you can say, “The reason I have trouble making decisions is because I was always taught that a woman should defer to the men in her life. She is not supposed to push her own agenda. She is there to accommodate herself to the needs of others.”

Feminism doesn’t advocate selfishness, but self-awareness. Being a feminist means that you are always seeking ways to be better and more effective, not only as a woman, but as a person. It means that you can’t lean on others for everything. You are allowed to have your own opinions. And you are capable of standing up for yourself.

I didn’t become a feminist overnight. My whole life has been one long process of learning to stand up for myself and take responsibility for my own actions. Sometimes I’ve been successful. Usually I struggle. But I can never return to the person I was before I discovered feminism.

 

 

Three Anti-Choice Bills in Ohio

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This is an email I received yesterday from Planned Parenthood Affiliates of Ohio:

Today is a sad day for women in Ohio.

This afternoon, the Ohio House passed three bills that drastically restrict a woman’s access to vital health care options:

House Bill 125, the “Heartbeat Bill,” would ban all abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detectable via ultrasound. This is before most women even know they are pregnant.  There are no exceptions in the bill for rape, incest, fetal abnormalities, or even the health of the mother.  This would be the strictest abortion law in the country.

House Bill 78 would ban abortion after a pregnancy is viable. There are no exceptions in the bill for rape, incest, mental health complications, or fetal abnormalities.

House Bill 79 would exclude abortion coverage under the new health care reform act. Women would not even be able to use their own money to purchase abortion coverage for themselves.

As if this wasn’t enough, we learned late today that Sen. Kris Jordan will soon introduce a bill to completely defund Planned Parenthood in Ohio.  This attack on women’s preventive health care has already been tried in Indiana and Wisconsin.  Low-income Ohio women will now face losing access to basic health care from Planned Parenthood.

What I totally resent about these bills is that the people who voted for them are not representing my position on abortion, nor the position of a large number of their constituents. But what bothers me even more is that the anti-choice position is ultimately an ideology. It is not a sound medical stance. Women sometimes do need abortions and they should not be penalized for or prevented from obtaining them just because some holier-than-thou, heads-in-the-clouds politicians feel more comfortable with a world that is all black or white. To them, abortion is always wrong and carrying a child to term is always right. No ifs, ands or buts.

Anti-choice activists love to recount anecdotes about women who cavalierly use abortion instead of birth control, who feel nothing but relief when they get one, or who could care less about “killing” a baby. This reminds me of when Ronald Reagan spread the story of a mythical welfare queen who drove a Cadillac and lived high on the hog by taking advantage of the system. Funny, no one could actually find that lucky welfare queen.

I’m not saying that there aren’t selfish reasons for having an abortion. But what do we accomplish when we take away the right of millions of women to have a necessary or recommended abortion just to prevent the few who don’t feel bad about it from having one?

Anti-abortionists are trying to make the whole world see the issue the way that they do. But life doesn’t work like that. And neither does democracy. I should have the right to do anything I choose as long as it doesn’t infringe on another’s right to do what she wants to do. Pro-choicers are not trying to force everyone to have abortions. Anti-choicers should not be trying to force everyone to have babies.

Frozen Reproductive “Products”: Who Has the Right to Use Them?

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A couple of years ago I wrote a post on “Reproductive Options,” in which I discussed the increased options women have today for getting pregnant and having babies. In a science fiction future, we may even be able to “grow” babies in artificial wombs. But for now, the weirdest thing I’ve heard about is the possibility of having posthumous offspring. That’s right: having children after you’re dead.

Israel has been in the news lately because of a case—two cases, actually—where the parents of deceased sons have petitioned the courts to allow them to use their sons’ preserved sperm at some point in the future to create their own grandchildren. In a 2009 case, the deceased was a 15-year-old cancer patient who had had his sperm collected and frozen before he underwent cancer treatment. Against the advice of Israel’s Attorney General, the court ruled that the sperm could be turned over to the boy’s parents as part of his estate and that they could then use the sperm as they wished.

In a more recent case, the parents of a 27-year-old man had his sperm extracted when he was in a coma. Their son subsequently died and his parents are awaiting the verdict of the Attorney General as to whether or not they can use his sperm to impregnate a willing female.

Israel leads the world in reproductive technological innovations.

It has the world’s highest IVF rate: According to a 2006 paper prepared for the Knesset, 1,800 treatment cycles are performed each year per million people, compared to 240 in the United States. Its specialists are among the best on earth, and health insurance there covers unlimited IVF [in-vitro fertilization] attempts up to the birth of two live children. Israel was the first country in the world to legalize surrogate-mother agreements.

I’ve read about cases dating back to the 1990s where courts have had to decide what to do with a couple’s frozen embryos in the event of divorce or death. [See guidelines for addressing this issue in your will.] I can also remember the brouhaha when the first test-tube baby was born in 1978. But even then I’m not sure that all the implications were considered. I certainly don’t remember anyone talking about posthumous grandchildren!

One twist to these stories is the position of pro-lifers about what should be done with “left-over” embryos. Although their concern about disposing of unused fertilized eggs is understandable, what’s their solution? Advertise for surrogate mothers to carry all these embryos to term? How would that even be possible when the embryos “belong” to the couple who created them? (There is one other option: adoption of embryos by third parties. See article about this here.)

Would pro-lifers deny a couple the opportunity to use IVF simply because there might be embryos that will be discarded? Or do they propose that a couple be forced to use all the embryos, even in the case of only one pregnancy? Do we really want more Octomoms?

Then there is the issue of abortion, or in the case of multiples, selective reduction. If a couple decides to have the extra embryos destroyed, are they “committing” abortion? And similarly, if a couple has the right to dispose of extra embryos when they’re undergoing IVF, then why isn’t it all right to have an abortion?

It all comes down to the issue of ownership. If you “own” the products you created, then don’t you have the right to do what you want with them?

If pro-lifers are going to be consistent they also have to be against any procedure that results in embryos that aren’t eventually used. But since it would be impossible to enforce that all embryos be used, their only tenable position is to be against all such technology. And somehow I can’t see them being able to stop people from developing or wanting to take advantage of new ways to solve infertility problems.