A Personal Story

Flattr this!

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.

 

My Road to Feminism

Flattr this!

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.

 

 

Plans for Planned Parenthood

Flattr this!

In a news story this morning about the possible government shut-down, it was reported that:

There were hints of Republican flexibility on a ban they were seeking to deny federal funds to Planned Parenthood. Officials said that in talks at the White House that stretched on after midnight on Wednesday, Republicans had suggested giving state officials discretion in deciding how to distribute family planning funds that now go directly from the federal government to organizations such as Planned Parenthood.

That would presumably leave a decision on funding to governors, many of whom oppose abortion, and sever the financial link between the federal government and an organization that Republicans assail as the country’s biggest provider of abortions.

If this is what happens, that would send a very clear message to Americans: Your federal government does not stand behind reproductive health care for women. Instead, it is willing to leave millions of women at the mercy of their state legislatures, some of which have already demonstrated that they are anti-abortion (and not very friendly toward birth control either).

This, in turn, would weaken Roe v. Wade. After all it is the U.S. Supreme Court that ruled on Roe v. Wade. If the federal government gives in on funding for Planned Parenthood, that might influence the Court the abortion issue ever comes before it again.

What are the chances that will happen? It would take a perfect storm of just the right conditions, according to Tony Lauinger, chairman of Oklahomans for Life:

“Ultimately it will require a pro-life president to nominate a pro-life Supreme Court justice who will be confirmed by a pro-life U.S. Senate to provide the fifth pro-life vote on the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade,” Lauinger said. “That has been a long-time goal.” Should Roe v. Wade be overturned, Lauinger said the most likely result would be that each state would determine whether abortions would be legal or not. The Supreme Court would return the matter to its status prior to 1973.

For the life of me, I can’t figure out why this nation would want to go back to conditions before 1973.  When I had my abortion in 1971, New York was the only state that had legalized abortion. I was fortunate because I live relatively close to New York. But what about women, who are going to have an abortion anyway, who don’t have the means to travel to a state where abortion is legal. Will they seek out illegal abortion providers and run the risk of being criminalized for doing so? Will we return to the days when women would try to abort themselves, often dying or making themselves sterile in the process?

 

Ohio’s “Heartbeat” Abortion Bill

Flattr this!

Boy, do I love being from Ohio! Not only does my state rank 45th in Gallup’s well-being index, but the legislature is barging ahead with legislation that completely ignores the needs and desires of its constituents. Not only is the governor, John Kasich, trying to eliminate bargaining rights for public employees, but now an Ohio legislative committee has (narrowly) voted to send Bill 125, otherwise known as the “Heartbeat” abortion bill, on to the House. If it passes, it would be the most restrictive abortion law in the nation.

The bill would make it illegal to have an abortion if a heartbeat is detected, except for medical emergencies. If you’re raped or the victim of incest, tough. You have to have the baby.

Now, a heartbeat is detectable as early as six to seven weeks into a pregnancy. Often a woman doesn’t even know she’s pregnant at that point. So by the time she has her pregnancy confirmed she would already be too far along to have an abortion. Never mind that most chromosomal abnormalities are discovered no earlier than ten weeks. By that time, pregnant women would be locked into continuing a pregnancy that may not even be viable. Or having a baby with severe birth defects. (See my post “A True Story About Loss and Making Hard Decisions.”)

Abortion opponents seem to think that most abortions are performed merely for the sake of convenience. But with abortion laws like the one Ohio is proposing, a woman wouldn’t even have a chance to have her say as to why she wants an abortion. One “Right to Life” website says that 64% of women who have abortions were pressured to have one. (The statistics do not support this claim.)

Apparently it’s okay to pressure a woman to have a baby that she doesn’t feel capable of raising for a variety of reasons, such as economic, psychological, physiological (mother or baby), and family responsibilities she already has. [Source.] What ticks me off about this attitude is that no one seems to care what happens to the mother or the baby after the delivery. She can’t afford the baby? Too bad. She’s not going to get any help from the government. Having a baby would make it hard to finish her education? Good luck trying to find affordable child care, let alone financial aid for school and living expenses.

I think it’s commendable to want to protect the life of a fetus. But will someone please explain to me why the fetus is more important than the mother? After all, she’s already here, maybe trying to support a family already, maybe without a partner, maybe in ill health herself.

Ohio has already made it illegal to have an abortion after 22 weeks. That seems like a good compromise. But after six weeks? That creates an undue hardship for the potential mother. And in fact, it gives her no choice at all.

The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Roe in 1973 on the basis of a woman’s right to privacy. How many children you have and when you have them seems to me to be the most private decision a woman can make. I vehemently reject the pro-lifers’ stance that they have the right to make that decision for me.

 

 

Protecting the Rapist

Flattr this!

Representative Bobby Franklin (R-Marietta, GA) apparently has a soft spot for rapists. He doesn’t want them to be traumatized any more than is necessary when they’ve been accused of rape. He’s introduced a bill that would change the language of state criminal codes so that those who file charges for rape, stalking, and domestic violence will be called accusers, not victims, until there has been a conviction.

For some reason it’s still okay to say that people who have been burglarized, assaulted (other than sexually) or defrauded are victims as soon as they (or the police) file charges. But Carolyn Fiddler, communications director for the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, points out that ” … if you have the misfortune to suffer a rape, or if you are beaten by a domestic partner, or if you are stalked, Rep. Franklin doesn’t think you have been victimized.”

Either that, or he thinks you’re lying.

Why is it that some men are so insensitive about the suffering of rape victims? And so protective of the men who have been accused of rape? They wouldn’t protect someone who stole their car or their wallet. But when it comes to a sexually-motivated conflict between men and women, they’re awfully quick to blame or discount the woman. Because we all know that the man can’t be at fault; the woman is the one who brought the action upon herself. 

A woman who accuses a man of sexual violence is basically saying that men don’t have the right to do anything they want to women. And men don’t like being told that. There are still plenty of patriarchal Neanderthals out there who think they have been ordained by God to keep women in their place, by whatever means necessary.

They also think that women should be punished, for being too sexual (slutty), independent (uppity) or disrespectful (bitch). So if a woman dares to stand up for herself and accuses a man of sexually assaulting or abusing her, Representative Franklin wants the law to warn her that she better have an airtight case—enough for a conviction—or no one is going to believe her.

The law enforcement system is reluctant to prosecute cases of violence against women because it’s a woman’s word against a man’s. Also, it’s harder to prove rape than it is the theft of a car, for example. The reason why there was so much outrage over the wording in H.R. 3 was because the bill’s originators were basically saying that rape is not punishable unless it’s clear that it was “forcible.” Unless there’s undeniable proof that a woman was raped (by bruising or tearing, etc.), she is simply not going to be believed when she says she was raped. If the wording had gone through as planned, it would have been the same as saying that it’s the federal government that doesn’t believe her.

Why wasn’t I surprised that it was a man who introduced this bill (Rep. Chris Smith [R-NJ], who is also the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus Co-Chair), and that House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) supported him? Thank God they had enough sense to back down when they saw how pissed off people were about the wording.

[To clarify: HR 3, which purports to prohibit taxpayer funding of abortions and ensure that the healthcare reform law does not cover the cost of abortions, had provided for an exception only when the woman’s life is endangered, in cases of “forcible” rape, or in cases of incest if the woman was a minor. The exemption in the bill will now cover all forms of rape.]

Media Resources: CNN 2/7/11; Huffington Post 2/8/11; Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee Website 2/8/11; Feminist Daily Newswire 2/4/11; RH Reality Check 2/4/11.

Straight Talk About Abortion

Flattr this!

People who are against abortion try to enlist people to their cause by spreading misinformation about abortion.

Ms. Magazine Blog published two articles in 2010 listing the most common myths about abortion. The myths are below. If you believe that any of these statements are true, please go here and here for the facts that refute them.

Myth 1: Even if the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, abortion would still be legal.

Myth 2: American women are able to have legal abortion on demand at any stage of pregnancy in all 50 states.

Myth 3: Women who have abortions are selfish and self-centered.

Myth 4: Abortions cause pain for the fetus.

Myth 5: Abortions are readily available across the country.

Myth 6: Abortion is a very dangerous procedure.

Myth 7: Abortion providers are in it to make a lot of money.

Myth 8: If a woman doesn’t want to have a child, she should use contraception or abstain.

Myth 9: Women have multiple abortions rather than using birth control.

Myth 10: Many women who have had abortions are traumatized and suffer from “post-abortion stress syndrome.”

Myth 11: Making abortion illegal will stop abortion.

Myth 12: Abortion causes breast cancer.

Myth 13: Pregnancy as a result of either rape or incest is extremely rare.

Myth 14: Emergency contraception causes abortions.

Myth 15: Having an abortion can cause infertility.

Myth 16. Pro-choice activists promote abortion.

Myth 17. Adoption is an alternative to abortion.

Myth 18. More contraception leads to more unintended pregnancies and more abortion.

Myth 19: It is impossible to be personally opposed to abortion and be pro-choice.

Myth 20: All religions believe abortion is a sin.

My personal take on the issue is that there are some valid reasons for having an abortion. Because of that, I don’t believe that women should have the right to decide whether or not to have an abortion taken away from them. Whether men like it or not, having a baby is a woman’s issue and should be her decision. If she doesn’t feel that she can handle having that particular baby, whether it’s because it’s the result of incest or rape, it suffers from a condition that will kill or severely handicap it or it will cause undue hardship for the woman, then she should not be forced to go through with the pregnancy.

We need to realize that if abortion is made illegal (again) in this country, women will have no choice but to bear children they don’t want or don’t feel equipped to handle. That’s a pretty heavy issue that the anti-abortion contingent isn’t willing to address. Why do they think that they have the right to tell a woman that she has to go through the trauma of giving birth to a baby that is their own half-brother or sister, or who will be the child of her rapist, or who is not going to survive long after it’s born?

Many people who are against abortion think that it’s always better to give birth even if the baby will be unwanted, uncared-for or abandoned. They always imagine a rosy future for the child. But too often that’s not the reality. We can’t force unfit or unprepared mothers to give their babies up for adoption, nor is that always a sure thing. (Who is going to adopt a child with severe handicaps, for instance?)

Terminating a pregnancy is not something that a woman takes lightly. The average woman will avoid abortion at all costs. Women who do have abortions are not monsters. Nor are the people who help them through the procedure. No one celebrates when an abortion is performed.

It’s obviously much better if every baby is wanted and raised in a positive environment. But all we have to do is look at the statistic on child abuse to know that that doesn’t always happen.

For a more personal look at abortion (my own), read “A Personal Story.”