I mean to write about this every time a new abortion law gets pushed through somewhere, but I always end up chickening out for whatever reason (well. No. It’s not for whatever reason, it’s because I’m tired of discussing it with people who are coming from a position where their sky is a different color than my sky, so we can’t really talk about the conversation on even ground), but I’m tired and I’m headachey because of ragweed and Texas is being terrible, so let’s dive in tonight. This is the story of how I became pro-choice.
Because, you see, I wasn’t always pro-choice. I grew up in a moderately conservative Christian church (i.e., they didn’t make all the girls wear long skirts and prevent women from preaching, but they were Bible literalists and whenever I bring up things about my churched upbringing to people who didn’t share it as if they’re normal, I always get raised eyebrows) in the Nearest Moderately Sized City. Since it was the 90s, there weren’t a lot of major political issues for churches to get up in arms about besides abortion and who Bill Clinton was doing, and the former was easier to protest than the latter. Some subset of people from our church and other area churches would go stand outside the City’s Planned Parenthood and hold signs like “Abortion Stops a Beating Heart” and “God Forgives” and things like that. Never anything distasteful like “Abortion is Murder” because they didn’t want to be Like That, and they had to stand a not insignificant distance from the entrance because of the way things were set up, but the protests happened with some regularity.
I never attended one myself. My mom went a few times, I think, but I don’t really remember. I just remember that they happened, and I remember my earliest understanding of abortion was that it was killing babies (my understanding, not necessarily reality), and to my eight- or nine-year-old brain, that was ghoulish at best, and that understanding persisted well into my teenage years.
In high school, I was happy to play the Conservative Christian Girl role wherever I happened to be, though my views most frequently ended up challenged in history/government classes and English class. I went to See You At the Pole and prayed with people before drama club performances and had my purity necklace on and didn’t go on dates until I was 16 and didn’t listen to secular music or read Seventeen magazine, and I was against abortion. I had a little pin on my purse about it, a pair of tiny feet that were supposedly the size of a fetus’s feet at something like 8 or 9 weeks’ gestation. I liked it a lot because it gave me a chance to be like “I believe a thing” without being alienating; if someone asked me about the feet, I could explain it, but it wasn’t the same as having a huge red button on my purse that was like “I AM AGAINST ABORTION IN CASE YOU WERE WONDERING.”
College was really where things started to change, though probably not for the reasons a lot of more conservative people would expect (especially in a lot of churches–and other people from super conservative circles can back me up on this–the fear tends to be that higher education will brainwash a person to become a liberal. In reality, you’re just suddenly exposed to viewpoints and backgrounds that differ from your own while simultaneously, your prefrontal cortex stops being underdeveloped and catches up to your amygdala… eventually). I went to a small Christian college, so I wasn’t really confronted with a whole lot of people who were pro-choice there; if anything, most of us existed happily in our little anti-abortion bubble.
Instead, I was confronted with people who were even MORE conservative than I was, telling me things that I knew weren’t true. I remember one time, a friend spotted my birth control pills (which I’d been on since I was 16 to control severe menstrual cramping, something I didn’t realize at the time was caused by my PCOS) and was appalled that I had medication in my possession that could cause an abortion. I responded that (a) you kind of need to have sex to get pregnant and you kind of need to get pregnant to have anything aborted; and (b) what. Birth control pills, I explained to her (as had been explained to me by my mom, by my doctor, by everyone ever, because it’s how they work), prevent ovulation, and if there’s no egg, there’s nothing to get fertilized and aborted. To which she responded that yes, they usually do that, but sometimes, an egg gets through and SOMETIMES that egg gets fertilized and then it gets aborted.
(please remember this because I’ll come back to it later)
And it’s weird, because I’d been debating religion and politics online and with friends in person for 2-3 years at that point and had been confronted with all sorts of ideologies more liberal than my own, and those had never come close to swaying me. On the other hand, having someone more conservative than I was come along and say something blatantly false about an issue I’d studied in depth made me feel… well, more than a little confused. I can’t say why now, any more than I could then. It just made the whole movement ring a little less true for me, like if they’re lying about this, are they lying about anything else?
Senior year of college, we all had to take a course on ethics that was… well, I’m not sure what it was designed to do in other years, but during my senior year, it was supposed to teach us to form our own ethical opinions outside of what the people around us believed and taught (which, honestly? Pretty good for a small Christian college to teach their students to think for themselves). The final project was to be a ~15 page term paper discussing both sides of one of the ethical issues we’d discussed over the semester and coming to our own conclusion about it. And, like roughly half of the class, I chose to do my paper on abortion (the other half did gay marriage, which had been legalized in Massachusetts the year prior).
The trouble was that while the school said they wanted us to think for ourselves, they didn’t allow us access to resources that would give arguments for opinions outside the Christian status quo. I don’t know what people doing their papers on gay marriage found, but whenever I tried to search the internet for accurate information on abortions (which should’ve been easy, even in those Wild Wild West internet days), I was blocked from accessing those sites. The school library was no better–they had exactly three books talking about abortion, and all three were checked out well before I even got there. And, yeah, I probably could’ve half-assed a paper about abortion without doing any real research for the pro-choice position, but I wanted to be honest about the other side (I said to myself, remembering the birth control incident), and I couldn’t do that if I couldn’t even access real information about abortion.
Around the same time, I read an article in one of my parents’ Christian magazines about a young woman who’d gone to a Planned Parenthood and apologized to its workers on behalf of Christians and realized in doing so that, hey, Planned Parenthood wasn’t some awful place where babies were being torn limb from limb and then devoured by a demon in the back room (which, like… that seems like a duh thing now, but when you’re in the thick of it, they tell a LOT of lies about what happens at Planned Parenthood, and demon buffets seemed about as likely as anything else) (also Jemila Monroe, if you ever Google your name again and find this, hi! Hope you’re doing well!). And that basically gave me the skeleton for my own term paper: I would go to Planned Parenthood, get information straight from the source, and come to my own conclusions.
And, well. I didn’t come away from the term paper fully pro-choice, but suddenly, the anti-abortion side of things seemed a little less… right. None of the horrors I’d expected from a Planned Parenthood had actually been there (and I know my experiences aren’t universal, but other than the necessary metal detector, it was one of the nicer medical facilities I’ve visited). They had information on adoption, abortion, parenting, all the options someone could choose. The girls at the front desk were friendly and sympathetic (though I’m sure also skeptical when the friend who went with me and I remarked that no, neither of us were pregnant, we just wanted to get information on abortions for a term paper, and no, we couldn’t just find it online because our school blocked every website that gave accurate information on it). They seemed to have resources there for people no matter what they chose, while the anti-abortion side didn’t seem to have many resources at all and also seemed to be teeming with people who were against social supports and sex education and birth control and all the things that would prevent anyone from ever having to consider an abortion in the first place.
It made me think a lot.
The true clincher, though, was my own struggle with infertility and both of my pregnancies.
When Kyle and I first decided to try and start a family, I had what’s called a chemical pregnancy. It’s basically when an egg is fertilized but doesn’t implant for whatever reason. It’s absurdly common, and the only reason I knew it happened was because we were trying to get pregnant and I happened to take a pregnancy test super early (factoid for you: the most sensitive pregnancy tests can detect the pregnancy hormone, HCG, at about eight to nine days past ovulation, which translates to a little over three weeks pregnant; but that said, nobody is peeing on those tests if they’re not obsessively trying to get pregnant). If we hadn’t been trying to get pregnant, I would’ve assumed my period was just a week late, whoops.
After that, months went by, and I still didn’t get pregnant, and I consoled myself during this period by latching onto conception, pregnancy, and delivery as an autistic special interest. Anyone who knew me at all during that time period knows that I was up to my eyeballs in literature and websites and videos and, hey, did you know that Richard Armitage narrated a documentary about getting pregnant, and hey, did you know that humans form butthole first, and hey, did you know that the natural birth movement really took off in response to the twilight births of the mid-20th century and hey hey hey
Understanding fetal development did a lot of cement my pro-choice position, which I’d casually started to adopt in the preceding years. Since most abortions take place within the first trimester (and, really, within the first twelve weeks, which isn’t even the full trimester), it was kind of hard to argue for personhood when I knew that scientifically, a fetus isn’t all that developed at that point. Up until eight weeks, it’s technically not even a fetus–it’s an embryo–and organ systems aren’t even fully developed until around 12 weeks. The brain itself takes a long time to develop, which makes sense when you consider how big and complex the human brain is; the neural pathways that distinguish pain aren’t even developed until around 26 weeks, so previous arguments I’d heard about fetuses screaming in pain as they were aborted clearly couldn’t be true.
(never mind that you have to breathe to scream… which you can’t really do when your lungs aren’t developed, which doesn’t happen until ~23-24 weeks anyway!)
Being pregnant myself cemented things even further. I didn’t even have a terribly rough pregnancy with Sam–ICP and elevated blood pressure towards the very end, but I was overall healthy. But BOY was I miserable. I can say confidently that my body is very good at building babies–but that it absolutely cannot multitask while doing so. A lot of the things I’d heard about pregnancy being the healthiest time of a woman’s life also seemed untrue, or at least like things my body hadn’t been informed of (like why was the alleged energy surge of the second trimester more of an “oh, I can stay awake past 9:00 again, but I still want to be asleep by 10, neat” instead of the “ALRIGHT IT’S TIME TO CLEAN YEAH” I was promised?).
And I thought: could I really force this on someone who didn’t want it? Because the usual response to “look, some people don’t want to parent” is to say, “well adoption, duh” (never mind that adoption is not as simple as that, but we’re not going into that right now), but that doesn’t consider that while some people have really great pregnancies where they feel fantastic all nine months, others among us have absolutely miserable times, where this gestational period is nothing but a means to an end that we’d fast forward through if we could.
(and yeah, cool moments like feeling your kid kick for the first time are cool, but they do not in any way make up for the inability to sleep from about 25 weeks on, the heartburn, the nausea, the aches and pains that are sometimes downright debilitating, the restless legs, and alllllll the complications out there)
AND THEN came my attempts to get pregnant with our second child, attempts that would eventually result in the twins, and I got to experience an abortion procedure firsthand.
See, the first IVF cycle we had was technically a success, but I had a miscarriage, and rather than suffer through the pain of miscarrying naturally, I elected to have a dilation and curettage.
And admittedly, in my procedure, there wasn’t much of a fetus to remove because I was only about nine weeks along when the miscarriage was confirmed (really, it probably happened closer to seven weeks), but again: most abortions happen around that time as well. There’s not much in there to take out, and in the case of an abortion, medication stops the fetal heartbeat before any procedure takes place, so the whole argument of them tearing a squirming fetus limb from limb doesn’t even work because it’s already dead by the time the lamina are inserted into the cervix for dilation.
(and like. You can’t really sell fetal organs on the black market because they just aren’t developed enough for it? Like cool, you’ve given me this glob of tissue that may have someday developed into a liver, what am I supposed to do with this)
When we had the fetal tissue tested, we found out that it had a chromosomal abnormality called trisomy 16, which some fetuses can have and continue to develop up to a point, but it’s absolutely not compatible with life. What were we to do with that information, if that fetus had continued to develop and we’d only discovered much later on that it would be born horribly malformed and not survive even a minute outside of me? I don’t think my emotions could’ve handled going through with an entire pregnancy and delivering a still baby. I don’t know how the people who do suffer that kind of unimaginable loss survive it.
We also had to confront the idea of abortion when it came to the thought of how many embryos we would end up with as a result of IVF. It’s all well and good to sing a song of let’s keep all six sprillion embryos that have ended up implanting (and we were fortunate enough to have very ethical doctors who had a strict policy against transferring more than two embryos at a time… good thing, too, when it came to the cycle where we eventually succeeded because yikes), but doing that runs a very real risk of losing all of them… or losing your own life.
I’ll be honest: even if I were in a position where I’d have to terminate a pregnancy to save my own life, I would have a really hard time with it. As exhausted as it leaves me sometimes, as stressful as it can be, benign a mom and raising my kids is one of the greatest joys in my life, and if I could do it healthily, I’d gladly have whatever children Kyle and I conceived accidentally or otherwise.
But my life isn’t another person’s life. Kyle and I are in a fortunate and comfortable position (more on that next week) with a lot of support if we ever need it. Not everyone is so fortunate. And just like I don’t want anyone to force something physically, emotionally, and financially difficult on me when I don’t want it, I can’t abide by forcing people to go through with pregnancies when they don’t want them; nor can I see a good, objective, scientific argument for doing so.
Personhood is not something that can be scientifically proven, and even if it were, it would be difficult to argue that personhood objectively existed in a first or even second trimester fetus, as their brains just aren’t well-developed enough; therefore, you can’t argue that a fetus is a person with rights because that simply cannot be proven and, if it could, would likely be something proven for a time well past what most anti-abortion groups find acceptable. Physically speaking, pregnancy is essentially giving up one (well. All, really) of your organs for 40 weeks, something that’s great to do willingly but not something anyone wants forced on them. It’s kind of like donating a kidney, even if you could get it back after a few months: a lot of people are perfectly willing and even eager to donate an organ for someone else to use, but nobody’s very happy to wake up in a tub full of ice with a huge scar on their side.
I don’t like abortion. I don’t think it’s a position anyone should find themself in, but we know from history that criminalizing abortion doesn’t result in fewer abortions but rather in the same number of abortions, this time performed in unsafe illegal conditions that kill people. Other countries with lower abortion rates aren’t the ones where abortion is illegal but rather the ones with strong social safety nets, universal healthcare, comprehensive sex education, and a general societal value placed on people rather than on control.
So that’s how I came to be where I am today: I started to realize that a lot of what I’d thought about abortion was simply untrue, came to understand both fetal development and abortion procedures through personal experience, and had rough enough pregnancies that I wouldn’t want anyone who didn’t want to be pregnant to go through what I did. And at the end of the day, nobody has to agree with me or any of this; I just hope some of what I’ve written makes you stop and think for a moment.
Until next time…