How I became pro-choice
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.