Don’t Be Afraid to Talk About Abortion
The article “Abortion: Not Easy, Not Sorry,” in ELLE, is stunning; its writer, Laurie Abraham, re-examines her personal history with her abortions, using Katha Politt, author of Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights, as a lens with which Abraham can embrace her past. Between the two of them, the golden nuggets, the things that made me shake my head and underline passages and say, “Yes, THANK YOU.” are plentiful. Try:
I’m tired of the rhetoric, even from pro-choice advocates, who in their understandable defensive posture seem to restrict themselves to discussing the most “sympathetic” abortions: those performed because of rape or incest, because the life or health of the mother is in danger, or when the fetus has some devastating disease like Tay-Sachs. All those taken together account for less than a tenth of the more than one million pregnancies terminated in this country each year, Pollitt tells us in Pro: “So sorry, fifteen-year-old girls who got drunk at a party, single mothers with all the kids they can handle and no money, mothers preoccupied with taking care of disabled children, students with just one more year to a degree, battered women, women who have lost their job or finally just landed a decent one, and forty-five-year-olds who have already raised their kids to adulthood, to say nothing of women who just don’t feel ready to be a mother, or maybe even don’t ever want to be a mother.”
…because there seems to be this cultural fantasy that, as Pollitt puts it, “ill-timed pregnancy” is a bump easily absorbed, a hurdle easily surmounted. It’s as if, she writes, “bearing and raising children is something [women] should be ready to do at any moment.” If childbirth is compulsory, women’s sexuality is what “defines them,” she continues, “not their brains and gifts and individuality and character, and certainly not their wishes or their ambitions or their will.” Put another way, gender equality is a hollow concept if a woman can’t control her fertility except by refraining from sex.
It’s Pollitt who offers perhaps the most forgiving perspective on my abortion history, and who says something that seemed to resonate with a number of my friends and colleagues. “Women have to control their fertility for 30 years,” she tells me, echoing a line from Pro. “Thirty years is a long time not to make mistakes.”
I had one unplanned pregnancy in each decade of my reproductive life, which isn’t something to be proud of, but I’m not sure it’s anything to be ashamed of, either.
Or pretty much anything else.