I’ve heard that whenever a woman is denied agency over her body, it’s a tragedy. Usually, it’s in the context of abortion—the lack of an ability to choose what happens in her own body is tragic. I’ve always understood that point, but for another reason. Three years ago, I was pregnant and lost it. The only way to classify that loss is tragic. My choice would have been to have that baby and love it, but I was denied the option.
I have always been pro-choice, but for a while after my miscarriage, the idea of an abortion felt like an affront. How could women choose to willfully give up what I had lost? I still supported abortion intellectually, partially because I understand that banning abortion doesn’t stop the practice, it only makes it less safe, and partially because it’s never felt like the government’s place to intervene in a medical decision. Despite that support, on an emotionally level, it bothered me.
Lately, abortion has been in the national spotlight. Several states have passed restrictive laws as an attempt to challenge the landmark Supreme Court decision, Roe V. Wade. In the current political climate, I’m not sure what will happen. The right to have an abortion that has seemed immutable for my entire lifetime may go away.
I’m currently pregnant with my second son. It’s strange to be pregnant in the middle of this massive debate. I feel my baby-to-be kick and move. He dances on my bladder and makes sleeping difficult, yet I love him beyond reason. The thought of losing him now makes my body clench and heart rate soar. Even so, if there was a choice now between my unborn son and my living toddler, it wouldn’t be a question. My toddler is here, alive, breathing, walking and talking. He is more a person to me than the wriggling mass and constant companion growing in my belly.
Still, even as I recognize a difference between my unborn son and toddler boy, I couldn’t imagine not wanting this second boy to the point of purposely ending my pregnancy. I know though, that this is my worldview, shaped by my own life and losses and frankly by the privilege I experience daily as a white married woman in a household with two stable incomes. I have good health insurance and will get partial pay during my guaranteed maternity leave. Not everyone is as lucky as I am.
I also come from a place of knowing that my boys are healthy. My toddler runs and babbles. He says, “moo” when we ask what cows say. He mimics my movements. In every way, he exudes vitality. My unborn son has already undergone extensive screenings to rule out the possibility of Down syndrome or physical abnormalities. So far, everything has been blissfully normal.
What if that weren’t the case? What if either of them had birth defects that were incompatible with life and I was able to find that out while still pregnant? Should I continue my pregnancy and give birth to a child who might only live a few painful hours, or terminate the pregnancy before it got to that point? Surely it would be a mercy to save it from a short, miserable existence, right?
And what if the baby didn’t have some deadly disorder, but instead had a developmental disorder such as Down syndrome? I’d like to think I’d be strong enough to say it didn’t matter and I’d love it no matter what, but I’ve never been in that situation.
All of these questions are null if I don’t have a choice. I can’t imagine a world where it’s considered fair to force a woman to carry a non-viable pregnancy to term just to have the baby die at birth. I also can’t imagine it would be fair to force a woman who had already been raped to then suffer another injustice by requiring her to carry the resulting pregnancy. There have to be exceptions where abortion, even late into pregnancy, is legal.
Once I start down the road of instances where abortion should be legal, it’s impossible to pick and choose when it is and isn’t ok. It’s a slippery slope. You can’t weigh the various moralities to say which is more just than another. And I still believe that eliminating legal abortions won’t stop the practice, it will only make it less safe.
The more I think about it, the angrier I get at the groundswell of anti-abortion support in the country, and the relative lack of support for social services that would make motherhood more viable for some women. Where is the support for universal healthcare so that women have access to prenatal care? Where is the support for paid maternity leave so that women don’t need to worry about losing their jobs or income in order to have children? Where is the call for non-abstinence-only sex ed?
Moreover, as the anti-abortion movement has taken the moniker “pro-life,” where is the call to end the death penalty? Where is the support for migrant families who were separated at our border while fleeing danger in their homes? Why aren’t there more calls to ease international tensions to reduce or avoid conflict? It doesn’t actually make sense.
When you think about sympathetic groups, unborn children are about as sympathetic as they come. They’re a blank slate that we can project all of our hopes on. They aren’t yet individuals with autonomy and voices. But I guess that’s kind of the point. As long as they have no autonomy or ability to live, it doesn’t make sense for their needs to supersede those of living, breathing women who may not be able to host them. I have to put my energy and efforts to support the people who have a voice and are asking for help now.