How I became pro-choice

women-grieving

cw: pregnancy loss

Seven years ago, I was pregnant with my third child.  I was uneasy about this pregnancy – it wasn’t planned (thanks for nothing, mini-pill), but both my husband and I had been to the temple and had received separate promptings that we should have another child.  In fact, my husband felt specifically that we were going to have a girl, and that she was meant to have a specific name.  As a mother to two boys and budding feminist, the thought of having a girl felt daunting and overwhelming, but I also felt a renewed sense of purpose and commitment to this child.  Just a couple of weeks after those experiences in the temple, I discovered that I was already (unexpectedly) expecting.

I was 16 weeks pregnant and had started pulling out the maternity clothes.  I posted some pictures of my starting-to-pop belly on my personal blog for friends and family to see.  I was trying my best to embrace the pregnancy and bond with this baby, because it felt so purposeful, like God had sent us this specific child for a reason.  We were in the last year of grad school, looking for jobs in the midst of a global economic recession, and so incredibly stressed about our future.  I remember eating enchiladas for dinner, hopping into bed, and feeling the tiny tickles inside my belly.  I had just barely started feeling the baby move over the past day or two.  It was an exciting time.

Just a few hours later, I was awoken with a pop and a gush of water.  I waddled into my dark and quiet bathroom in my tiny apartment, and delivered a still baby girl into the palm of my hand.

My husband drove me to the hospital, as I sat shocked and confused while awkwardly cupping this tiny human close to my body.  I remember looking at her – she was tiny, and not fully formed, but she was human.  She had a name and God sent her to me.  How could this have happened?!

We drove up to the hospital and were greeted by a team of nurses, having called ahead to notify them of what had happened.  They laid their hands on my shoulders as I wept while they wheeled me into a room at the far end of the labor & delivery unit.  They placed a leaf on my door to notify staff that this wasn’t a normal room, and that there was a grieving family inside.  They attended to me lovingly, asking a few questions with concern in their eyes.  They offered to take pictures, to take footprints, and to collect whatever keepsakes they could keep.  They saw me as a bereft mother, and treated me with so much love and kindness through my entire stay.

A few weeks later, I was talking to a friend who lived in another country where abortion is illegal.  She asked me how I had been treated during the whole thing, and whether anybody asked me whether I had intentionally ended my pregnancy.  Nobody had – nobody had even come close to that line of questioning.  She mentioned that, where she lived, women who miscarry or have stillborn babies are subject to intense interrogation to make sure that a crime wasn’t committed when the pregnancy ended.  Did the woman hurt herself?  Did she eat something that could have ended her pregnancy?  Did she smoke or drink?  Was there any physical evidence of the woman trying to induce an abortion?  Can we be sure that this woman actually delivered this baby, and that it wasn’t another woman’s baby (who was pregnant outside of wedlock, also a crime)?  Invasive vaginal exams would be standard protocol, accusations could be made, and women would be held in suspicion until they could prove that the pregnancy ended by natural means.

The picture she painted was such a stark contrast from my experience that I was really blown away.  I had received my care at a Catholic hospital, and nobody had even hinted at having suspicion that I could have intentionally ended my pregnancy.  When the blood tests came back, they were inconclusive about why the pregnancy ended, as both the fetus and placenta looked healthy.  “Could have been a blood clot, but we’ll never know for sure” the OB said, mentioning a minor clotting issue discovered in their tests.  If I had delivered in this other country, would I have been held criminally responsible for my pregnancy ending?  Was the chicken in my enchiladas undercooked?  Was there a spice in the sauce that has been linked to miscarriage?  Would they have questioned my family members and friends, who knew about my anxiety relating to the pregnancy, and use that against me?  To think about how I could have been questioned, detained, and possibly even imprisoned for the loss of my daughter makes me physically ill.

I still don’t love abortion (and I don’t personally know anybody who does, whether they self-identify as pro-life or pro-choice).  I believe that the best way to minimize abortions is to make sure that every pregnancy is wanted, that women are able to choose when they do and don’t conceive with reliable and safe birth control, and that nobody is being coerced into sexual relationships where they don’t have consent or control over the precautions being taken.  Comprehensive sex education and access to contraception are important issues for me.  I would also argue, along with TopHat, that the LDS church actually takes a pro-choice stance on abortion.  It’s my view that, if it’s permissible to abort a pregnancy resulting from rape but not permissible to murder a 2 year-old that was conceived as a result of rape, the oft-stated claim that “abortion is murder” is an irresponsible false equivalency.  And when it comes right down to it, I cannot imagine every woman who loses a pregnancy being viewed with suspicion were abortion to be criminalized.  Considering that between 10-25% of recognized pregnancies end in miscarriage or stillbirth, I cannot imagine compounding the grief and loss of millions of women with accusations and possible criminal charges.  There has to be a better way to minimize unplanned pregnancies and abortions than throwing women under the bus. I am pro-choice, not because I hate babies, but because I love both babies and the women that carry them.  We cannot disentangle one from the other.

I realize that my reasons for being pro-choice aren’t the only reasons for being pro-choice, nor does my experience immediately discount all of the reasons that people have for being pro-life.  But it’s a perspective that I don’t often hear in the battles that continually wage over abortion, and one that many women can empathize with, given the high rates of miscarriage.  The line between a pregnancy ending “naturally” and a pregnancy ending from “neglect” is pretty thin, and not easily discernible.  There would be several consequences to making abortion illegal, including increased scrutiny of miscarriages and stillbirths (not to mention that abortions would still happen, but would be less regulated and less safe).  We need to take the experiences of all women into account when we’re forming opinions and policies on issues involving women’s reproduction.

Liz

Liz is a reader, writer, wife, mother, gardener, social worker, story collector, cookie-maker, and hug-giver.

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27 Responses

  1. Diane says:

    Thank you for this excellent article. I, too, am pro-choice. It’s unfortunate that so many people thing that pro-choice means pro-abortion. I do not favor abortion as a means of birth control. There are many options that come before that for regular circumstances (abstinence, condoms, birth control pills -yes they don’t always work- they failed me, too, IUDs, and last but not least, Plan B). For irregular circumstances, such as rape, incest, and the mother’s life being in danger, there must be the option of abortion. One thing that so-called pro-life people fail to take into consideration is the psychological damage of having to deliver a baby which is the product of rape or incest. It’s tantamount to a second rape/incest. And then the mother’s life issue: if the woman in question has other children that will be left motherless… One size does not fit all. And finally, people have to understand that they cannot force their beliefs on people who believe otherwise. For instance, consider China, where until 2015 women were only allowed to bear one child. Suppose a woman or a couple wanted more than one? They were forced to abort! Things sure are different when the shoe is on the other foot. In one case they want to force you to bear; in the other they want to force you to abort.
    Nobody, not males in general, not government, not church, is entitled to make the decision to bear or not to bear a child, except the woman who is in that situation. Period.

  2. Caroline says:

    Thanks for sharing this tender story, Liz. It has opened my eyes up to a seriously negative ramification of making all abortions illegal. It seems cruel to rake over the coals a woman who has just suffered a miscarriage — I had never even considered that possibility before.

    Like you, I don’t love abortions. I think they are tragic and sad. I’d love to find ways of reducing them, and I think you’re right that comprehensive sex ed and easy access to birth control is key. For me it boils down to this: because no one can see the devastation and desperation inside the heart of another woman, I choose to politically take a pro-choice stance. Your experience, Liz, of finding out what it’s like for women who simply even miscarry in countries where abortion is illegal is another chilling factor that tips the scales, for me, towards a pro-choice political position.

  3. Melissa says:

    I’m so sorry for your loss, Liz. I lost a pregnancy at twelve weeks, and it was unimaginably painful. I’m so glad you had a such caring people to help you! I am with you, the thought of a mother who has experienced a loss needing to prove herself innocent is just horrific.

    I am also with you on need for better education. I am actually in the midst of developing a community class based on educating people on the nuances of both female and male reproductive systems. I can’t tell you how many women I’ve worked with who, as adults, didn’t know that that they aren’t at risk of becoming pregnant every time they have intercourse. This is such a crime! How can we expect people to be responsible if they don’t even know the in’s and out’s of how their bodies work? Education that really teaches about our anatomy, and our hormonal cycles could prevent *so* many unwanted pregnancies, in my opinion. These classes should also not be co-ed, as young people often don’t feel comfortable asking questions about their body or sexual response in the presence of the opposite sex. Part of the problem, though, is that having these discussions will unearth some unpleasant truths about how we are currently doing things (I’ve considered submitting a guest post in this actually). Hormonal birth control, while being mostly effective, has some widely undiscussed negative side effects (I am not against hormonal brith control, I just feel we should have all of the information so that we can decide whether that option it is the prudent choice for our health and our family). We also would need to discuss libido — that a property functioning body will have a healthy one and that the absence of such is an indication that something isn’t functioning properly. That discussion is problematic in certain areas for some reason, though…

  4. Thank you for sharing such a difficult experience. During the past few days abortion has been in the news and I have learned a lot more about the negative side effects of abortion bans. Here is another Mormon woman’s experience that taught me more about this: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/mormon-mom-abortion-donald-trump_us_580a565ce4b000d0b1566cf0

    • Liz says:

      This story is so sad, but also so important. I think that hearing the stories of women’s abortions might finally humanize this issue for people, which I think is badly needed.

  5. Rob Osborn says:

    The problem with labeling oneself as pro-choice is that places one directly into the same camp as fully encouraging and supporting abortion in every phase of pregnancy up until immefiade live birth. The policy of the church is pro-life. It has always been pro-life. Members who encourage abortion by encouraging pro-choice advocates may be disciplined. Here-

    “Human life is a sacred gift from God. Elective abortion for personal or social convenience is contrary to the will and the commandments of God. Church members who submit to, perform, encourage, pay for, or arrange for such abortions may lose their membership in the Church.” https://www.lds.org/topics/abortion?lang=eng

    • Liz says:

      Right, and I’m saying that my experience has placed me squarely in the pro-choice camp. I honestly don’t believe that abortion is a simple enough topic to be completely black & white like people seem to believe when they argue about being pro-life & pro-choice, and I would argue (as TopHat did, in her post) that the church is pro-choice for that very reason. I think there’s more grey area in abortion than we like to think, and criminalizing abortion is something I’m not willing to do because of my experience. I don’t think that being pro-choice is the same as encouraging abortion.

    • Rachel says:

      I didn’t read the OP as Liz “fully encouraging and supporting abortion.” Suggesting it needs to be legal and outright encouraging and supporting doesn’t seem the same thing. As alluded to, the Church thinks that abortion is appropriate in very specific cases (rape, incest, health of mother and/or baby). For it to be legal in those specific cases, it needs to be legal. But the church is not “fully encouraging and supporting abortion.”

    • Gretta says:

      This article, written by an OB-GYN, explains that there are virtually no ninth month abortions for personal or social convenience.

      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/donald-trump-confuses-birth-with-abortion-and-no-there-are-no-ninth-month-abortions_us_5808dfa2e4b0dd54ce389b61

  6. Rob Osborn says:

    The battle is over defining at what point life becomes sacred. Pro-choice advocates argue that until the actual live birth, whatever inside isnt sacred enough to be called “life”.

    • Liz says:

      This is actually what I mean when I say that the church is pro-choice: there hasn’t been any revelation or doctrine to declare at which point there is no turning back during a pregnancy.

    • nrc42 says:

      The battle isn’t over defining at what point life becomes sacred. The battle is over whether the government gets to decide that.

  7. Emily U says:

    I’m so glad you wrote this, Liz. I’d never thought of how criminalizing abortion could affect women who miscarry before, either. I agree with Caroline that this is a chilling thought.

    I like how Hillary Clinton put it in the last debate – two extreme and tragic examples in the world were China with forced abortions and Romania with forced live births. She said she doesn’t think decisions about abortion should reside with the state. For a whole lot of reasons, including the ones mentioned here, I agree.

  8. Rachel says:

    This is really important, and definitely a different perspective than is often offered in such discussions. Thank you. (And with others, I’m grateful that you were treated with tenderness and care after suffering your deep loss. May all women be granted that same tenderness.)

  9. OregonMum says:

    I too had never considered scrutiny of miscarriages as a result of criminalizing abortion. Thank you for bringing up this perspective and I am so sorry for your loss.

  10. Quimby says:

    I was never as stringently pro-choice as when I was pregnant with my children, who I love and always loved and wanted so very, very much. I can’t imagine forcing any woman to go through with a pregnancy she does not want; and because it is very much about her body, it should be her choice – the fetus cannot survive without her; it is not a fully functioning person, but a collection of cells that is entirely dependent on a host for its continued existence. And if you think for one minute that that bundle of cells, completely dependent on me, should have the same rights that I have, I don’t even want to talk to you. Because that, right there, tells me just how little you value human life – particularly female human life.

    And isn’t it ironic that it is conservatives – they who decry big government and proudly declare that small government is better – who want the government to control our lives and our bodies in this most intimate of ways?

  11. Desi Parker says:

    I had a very similar experience that lead me to also be Pro-Choice, strongly so.

    My water broke as I walked into the Catholic hospital at 20 weeks. The nurse didn’t believe that it was my water, so I sat, and sat, in waiting room. Then in the delivery room, things had progressed far enough that there was no saving the pregnancy or small little life. I was discreetly questioned by the doctor before she was allowed (by the Catholic hospital rules) to help me deliver because if I had tried to have a home abortion, that particular hospital would not have let the doctors help me “finish” the abortion. That baby was a long awaited first child for us, and by no means had I any desire to do any harm to him.

    The shame that I felt as a woman about to go through a traumatic labor experience with many doctors and without my husband there with me, was so great that I can’t imagine what women who are faced with a dangerous home abortion must feel. The danger enough is real, and the likelihood that something could go wrong without medical care is high. I would never wish another layer of pain be added to those women.

    God has a plan. Who are any of us to tell another person what God’s plan is for them? He knows all of those little lives. My son got his body. Maybe he didn’t need anything else.

  12. Chelsea says:

    Thanks for sharing your story, Liz. One thing that has bothered me and even scared me in terms of women’s rights in the United States is the law that Indiana (where I live) passed regarding disposing of fetuses that were either miscarried or aborted. I can’t believe that women can be criminalized for having a miscarriage and not disposing of the fetus by either having it buried or cremated, even if the miscarriage happened at home, no matter how far along the pregnancy is. That is a law that has gone too far. There are many articles about it, but here’s one that I found. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism/2016/04/what-everyone-is-missing-about-the-indiana-abortion-law.html

  13. Christine Balderas says:

    The LDS Church does not say that abortion is muder, but “like until it”. I have know women who have had church sanctioned abortions because the fetus was incompatible with life.

  14. Violadiva says:

    When I had a 9 month old baby, I found myself surprisingly pregnant again. I was aghast! I went to the doctor for an ultrasound and found that I was already 14 weeks along! I was MORE aghast! It took a few weeks to wrap my head around the idea. The baby moved a lot and I felt the “quickening.” Then one day, it stopped. A few days later a checkup with the midwife revealed no heartbeat. Then a second checkup and ultrasound with the OB to confirm. I was in the neighborhood of 20 weeks along and my baby was still.
    I had to pass protestors with signs to get to the OB’s office….The office staff told me they came every day. They didn’t know what to do with me…They referred me to various clinics where I could have a D&E. I couldn’t bring myself to pass the protestors with the signs, couldn’t bring myself to have the procedure for fear of all that it would conjure up. I begged for time to wait and deliver the baby at home. I was closely monitored by OB and midwife to make sure I never developed complications or infection, and a few weeks later, I delivered the fetus. We gave it a funeral on our family farm. My heart was totally broken. I can’t imagine how much worse I would have felt if I had been mocked, called a “baby-killer” or judged in some way for my choices.
    When I heard Hillary at the last debate talking about how these difficult choices should be made by the women, with the consultation of their medical and spiritual advisors, without intervention by the government, I totally thought I was listening to the Libertarian candidate. I had never thought of it that way. The government stays out of the way on this issue by keeping it legal. No government intervention necessary beyond that of a woman, her doctor, her spiritual mentor who know the woman and know what’s best.

    • Sara Gardner says:

      Thank you Violadiva for sharing your experience. I wish others could read and hear about your experience and Liz’s experience, then perhaps they wouldn’t be so quick to judge.

  15. Stll not over it says:

    I echo the voice of another commenter who said she was the most fiercely pro choice while she was pregnant. I have had three devastating pregnancies. Each worse than the previous, each I was confined to bed and hospitals with medical interventions keeping me stable. I was a shell of a human. I couldn’t walk, eat, shower, care for my kids, even remotely have a relationship with husband or friends. I lost years of my life in bed. During one I had lain in bed so long my hair was matted and I need to cut it off because the smell of soap or shampoo made me vomit for houts. I was misery. I do not wish any of my precious children away, but I felt very strongly that the life of a not-yet formed fetus shouldn’t be valued more than my life. I felt strongly in support of women who must give consent to continue and must be allowed to end it if it is unbearable. Every abortion is sad. There is no doubt in my mind. But because of what I experienced in feeling loss of control, feeling harmed by my experience, I changed from being a judgmental pro lifer to being pro choice. The impact of a devastating (health or mental health-wise) pregnancy cannot be underestimated by dudes making policy and law.

  16. Andrew R. says:

    Many years ago when my brother was bemoaning that he didn’t want to go to Church (because it was boring) and he had his freedom to choose my Dad said something that has always stuck with me.
    “You are free to choose, you are free to choose the right.”

    The Church is pro-choice in the sense of moral freedom. Unlike many pro-lifers the
    Church is not seeking to put anyone in an intolerable situation. However, there have to be moral obligations bound into it. Abortion should be available for cases where abortion is absolutely required. But it should never be considered a form of contraception, or family planning. And frankly that is how it is viewed in the UK – bear in mind we have a health service free at the point of delivery. No one pays for an abortion – even if it is just because they don’t want the baby.

    Women should have the choice where the choice is morally sustainable – rape, incest, viability, mother’s health are all morally sustainable. Of course moral sustainability does not mean that abortion should be a given in every case above. Some will choose to have the baby come what may. Some will choose to have the child adopted, etc.

    Eighteen years ago on the 12th of next Month my wife and I went for the 12 week scan of our sixth child. It was quite obvious that there was something wrong – something we were not trained to see. I saw a baby shaped blob with a beating heart, and I loved it straight away. However, the child was anencephalic. It would not live beyond a few days if it lived at all.

    I have always considered that if I were female I would not have an abortion for any reason at all. It’s a bold statement for someone who will never carry a baby to make. However, by the same token I recognise I am a man and it is a woman’s choice. If my wife wanted to terminate the pregnancy I was happy for her to make that choice and would support her fully.

    My wife wanted a miracle. Others have them, why shouldn’t she? She chose to carry the baby. I gave her many blessings, I never felt impressed to tell her everything would be alright. The baby grew, the baby moved, everything was just like all the other pregnancies from my wife’s point of view. At 43 weeks they induced labour with the same pill used to start a termination.

    Heart beat monitors let me hear my baby’s heart beating away. At some point it stopped – I think because they removed the monitor. Our baby boy, weighing in at 7 lbs 6oz, was stillborn. He would be in his last year of high school and planning to follow his brother into the mission field. But he isn’t. In fact, because there is no revelation on the matter, we do not even know if he will be resurrected. We believe he will, we hope he will, but there is no certainty.

    Would she do the same again? She would.

    Another couple in our stake had the exact same thing. We didn’t know at the time, and have not spoken to them about it, they chose abortion.

    Were we right and them wrong? Were they right and we wrong? The answer is that I hope we were both right. That we made the choice that was right for us, and our babies.

    We have had two children since, both girls. So it’s not like that body was no good and the spirit used the next one. But for others a body correction may be needed so that the spirit can come and live life.

    • Melissa says:

      Andrew, I’m so sorry for your experience. That must have been excruciating for both you an your wife.

      The women on this blog aren’t saying they feel abortion is a good option for birth control. Many have expressed what a tragedy they feel abortions are. We are saying that we have compassion, and in many instances empathy, for women who are going through incredibly difficult situations, and we do not feel comfortable making judgement on them. Also, for me, I have a very strong belief that I chose to come to the earth following Christ’s championing of our agency. I know that agency does not make every decision a person may make right, or good, but we must be careful not to brush a woman’s agency aside because our beliefs dictate that what she is doing is wrong. That is not God’s way.

      • Melissa says:

        All of that is to say, these are the reasons I feel, and I feel the other women here would agree (correct me if I’m wrong sisters), it is prudent to take a pro-choice stance.

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