In my conservative Christian family, we never talked about sex, but we talked a lot about babies: mostly alive, but also dead. As in, murdered. By doctors. (And also sin!)
Abortion was the big political-moral issue at home, thanks mainly to Henry Morgentaler's ongoing fight with the federal government of Canada (where I'm from) at the time.
In the early '80s, my mom used to bring me to pro-life rallies as living proof of the superiority of childbirth (and the expense of babysitters). I mostly remember seas of flapping bell bottoms and windbreakers, and the grassy boulevard on which I tried my best to help assemble placards that I couldn't read, but which were helpfully illustrated with poster-sized photos of curled up bloody fetuses, mass infant graves and big-headed sleeping vertebrates, tethered and floating in mysterious sacs.
More vivid are later memories of pro-life pamphlets wedged in with the rest of the home bathroom reading selections. Between the Reader's Digests, Christian Archie comics, and James Dobson magazines, were always a few color brochures, show and telling the development of a baby in the womb (my favorite weeks are still the lizard weeks).
These BBC-esque nature sequences would conclude, jarringly, with a horrific red and black spread of dead fetuses. Reading along while avoiding dishes duty, I absorbed every gruesome moment of their saline solution murders and their soft dismembering for removal, piece by piece, with forceps.
From ages 0 to 17, I learned that abortions were basically performed by Klaus Barbie, on equally amoral women (ironic, given that Morgentaler spent time in Dachau).
Nearly 20 years later, I found myself breathless and reeling, having realized I had decided to terminate my pregnancy.
My journey from Right to Life rally child to now was, imaginably, troubled and weird. At age 19, I dumped God, who had been the most significant romantic relationship of my life to that point. It took some time to process. I took it out on others and on myself, not realizing until later that I'd been going through a heart-wrenching, self-destructive break-up.
But I made it, and now I'm here, a humanist atheist who is mostly OK with the variety of worldviews that people use to get through life. I don't feel guilty or angry anymore, and I've discovered a meaning and purpose in the world and in humanity that to me is profound and true.
So, when I found out I was pregnant, I had been OK with life for a while. I felt grounded, with an open appreciation for existence, people, and possibility. This included acceptance of people's reproductive choices -- their choice to carry a pregnancy to term, or their choice to terminate, whatever the circumstances.
At the same time, regarding myself, I had always said -- always "known" -- that if I ever had an unplanned pregnancy I would have to keep it. I've struggled with depression and anxiety most of my life, and I was sure that the burden of abortion would be unbearable.
But it turns out that I didn't really know anything about what I would do if I got pregnant.
When the rubber hit the road (so to speak), there were things I wanted out of the next couple of years of life, that it seemed to me would be rendered impossible by the birth of a child. As I thought about what to do, I constantly framed the idea of abortion as one of getting back to zero. Of erasure, and starting again at some point in the past. I would reverse these other decisions, that had ended up here, and get forgiveness from life. I would loop back, and achieve the goals I had already decided to. Create a parallel universe. And so I chose my own vision of my immediate future.
I also chose to not talk to a single person in my family about the situation. They don't know I was ever pregnant. Though my sisters are among my closest friends, and in many ways my most important peer group, telling them would have been equivalent to deciding to keep the baby. I could never ask them to keep this kind of secret, and my mother would have adopted a child before ever accepting the possibility that her daughter might abort.
After making the decision, I blocked it out. I made my appointment, walked to the clinic, read the pamphlets, signed the forms, entered the operating room, removed my sneakers, jeans, and underpants, and laid down on the table. It wasn't until I was staring up at the "100 kinds of cats" poster taped to the ceiling for distraction (I hate cats), heard the vacuum begin to suck, and felt the cold tools enter me, that that blockade cracked, and I began to sob.
The fetus was removed as tears poured down my face, and then it was done. I had had an abortion. I have had an abortion. I will always have had an abortion.
I sat until the sedatives wore off, and walked back home. And then I wept in my room for two days straight, while narcotizing with every single episode of "Battlestar Galactica." Two weeks later I turned 36 years old. To celebrate, I got very very drunk.
Six months later, I still wasn't sure I'd made the right choice. But I decided that the only way I could ever fully see what that choice had been about, would be to follow through on the vision that I'd had. This would complete the abortion, and close the process. I promised myself that having had the abortion meant that I would do these things that I wanted. I owed myself. I'd already paid.
In my stress and sadness, the abortion became like a secret, internal icon. A symbol of the faith by which I was re-orienting and conducting my life. A talisman, and a symbol of a promise, I wielded it like a crucifix whenever I was threatened by doubts or fears about my decisions and goals. Like a dead ancestor, the fetus returned to life, as a spirit that urged me on. This was... unexpected.
But unexpected things are part of any choice. Choosing one thing, and not another, also means choosing and not choosing unknowns. No matter how certain you are, you're also always gambling. This realization suddenly terrified me, in a type of extreme buyer's remorse. And all of these things combined -- being unable to just let it go and forget about it; memorializing the abortion as a symbol; the terror of regretting a permanent act and its unknowns -- made me feel like a really bad feminist. Like I had done abortion wrong.
Because until this point, despite my reproductive rights stance, I had not really considered it much. My impression had been that abortion's supposed to be no big deal. "My Body, My Choice," period. No regrets, doubts, longings, or tears. Especially not still half a year later.
The stereotype I had absorbed as a child, and somehow never excised from my subconscious, was of the promiscuous, emotionless slut, who casually gets knocked up, and equally casually terminates, in the name of her own freedom.
She's the irresponsible abortion consumer that moderate pro-lifers want to prevent from using abortion as birth control. She's, supposedly, someone like me.
When it comes down to it, I used abortion as birth control. I'm not going to have a parade about it, but it's the truth. I made certain decisions that led to a pregnancy, and then I freaked out and changed my mind. I sent it back; I returned the dress.
According to the bathroom pamphlets, this is the ultimate secular, selfish, consumerist, morally vacant choice. So I wasn't supposed to have bad feelings about it.
But I did. A lot. Often. (Though I never felt wrong.)
The moderate pro-lifers who want me and others not to have access to abortion are not the type to force rape victims or those at risk of maternal death to carry to term. But they are still wrong. Wrong in the sense that all women, as humans, no matter the circumstances still have the right to choose. And also wrong for the caricature of the non-extreme case woman that they produce in their discourse.
Choosing can be hard for anyone. But a hard choice is not necessarily a wrong choice, and every choice is a right.