IT HAPPENED TO ME: I Dated A Guy Who Thought Poor People Used Abortion As Birth Control

Could I date someone who was pro-life?
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Brenda Janowitz
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Could I date someone who was pro-life?

He was handsome. God, was he handsome. I met him at a friend’s party and I was so excited when he asked me out. He seemed sweet, smart, and possibly funny, but really, he was just so handsome.

It was the year 2000. We went out a couple of times, and things were going well. With a few dates under our belt, he suggested we meet up the evening of the presidential election: Bush vs. Gore.

Now, I know there are certain topics that are potential landmines in polite conversation: religion, sex and politics. We shared the same religion, so we were fine on that front, and we’d made out a couple of times, so sex wasn’t a problem, either. And as for politics? As a single girl living in Manhattan, it was never much of a problem for me. I don’t think I’d ever dated a Republican on the entire island of Manhattan before. 

And I was so excited about this election. I was a huge fan of Al Gore -- weren’t we all? -- and I just knew it was a foregone conclusion that he’d win. I figured we could have a few drinks and then celebrate the inevitable together.

As the election results trickled in, the drinks kept flowing, and he admitted to me that he was, in fact, that rarest of rare birds in New York City, a Republican. Earlier that day, he’d voted for Bush, not Gore. 

No matter, I thought. After all, don’t opposites attract? And anyway, I wasn’t so liberal that I couldn’t see both sides of any issue clearly. Sure, I wouldn’t have voted for Bush if you threatened me with a weapon of mass destruction, but I was positive that he probably had some very smart, well thought-out reasons for voting for him.

Yes, I now see the irony in our Halloween costumes.

Yes, I now see the irony in our Halloween costumes.

The conversation floated to the issues, and I told him that there’s one major issue that I always vote on. For me, every election comes down to finding the candidate who supports women’s issues. I thought it was obvious that as a female attorney living in New York City, I’d be pro-choice.

He told me that he was not. Over the din of the bar, at first I wasn’t sure I’d heard him correctly. He wasn’t pro-choice?

“I mean I believe in a woman’s right to choose,” I explained, in case he’d misheard.

“I don’t think abortion should be legal,” he said back.

A million thoughts flooded my mind: How could he not be pro-choice? Could I date someone who was pro-life? What if I accidentally got pregnant? I was only two years out of law school and in my first job at a prestigious Park Avenue law firm. Would he really expect me to throw away everything I’d worked for my entire life and pause my career to have a baby? Or would he expect me to carry a baby to term, only to give the baby up for adoption?

And then he said it. Clear as day, as if he were announcing the weather. As if he was stating a very obvious fact, like that the sky is blue or that grass is green. He said the thing that I still can’t believe (even years later as I write this) a smart person would say. He told me: “Poor people just use abortion as birth control.”

I laughed as it came out of his mouth. I couldn’t believe that an intelligent, educated adult who lived and worked in Manhattan would actually believe that. Did he really believe that? Surely it was a joke?

But then I noticed that he wasn’t laughing.

“Poor people don’t use abortion as birth control,” I said, once I’d gained my composure. “That’s completely ridiculous.”

“Yes, they do. It’s a fact,” he explained.

“That is not a fact,” I said, as he interrupted me with a slew of facts and figures that would supposedly prove his insane theory: His parents live in D.C. and work on the Beltway, so he knows about politically charged issues; there have been actual studies done to prove this; I just have no idea what it’s like to be poor in America since I didn’t grow up poor.

I tried to interject. I tried to explain that “poor people use abortion as birth control” was merely a nasty stereotype perpetuated by the far right as an argument to take away a woman’s right to choose. To chip away at women’s rights.

But he was undeterred. He had a seemingly endless array of data, examples that couldn’t be proven, opinions disguised as facts. Studies that he couldn’t show me, data that wasn’t accessible to the public, first person accounts that he’d heard, but of which there was no record.

Once he was done explaining his thesis, I told him a story that I usually kept private. A story that wasn’t mine to tell, but one that I thought he very badly needed to hear. I told him about my friend from college, who had an abortion our sophomore year. She didn’t do it as birth control, she didn’t do it because she was poor. She had an abortion because she was young and scared and had her whole life ahead of her. She was selfless enough to know that she was ill-equipped to take care of a child, and it would be grossly unfair to bring a child into the world, knowing that she couldn’t care for a baby in her current circumstances. The decision to have an abortion wasn’t something she took lightly. No woman has an abortion lightly. My friend used birth control and it failed. An abortion is not, in of itself, a form of birth control.

His response? “Well, your friend may not have used abortion as birth control, but poor people do.”

And just like that, the relationship was over. The following morning, the election was still undecided, but I wasn’t. Handsome as he was, I never saw the guy again.