As you can see from the above tweet, I do not want to write this essay. But that’s not completely accurate. In a sense, I do want to write it, but I just don’t think I should have to explain my opinions and experience with abortion. I don’t think it’s my place.
That’s because I am identified as a cig gender, straight man. As an ethnic American Jewish person, I’m not sure how white that makes me. White Supremacists would say I’m part of the scourge. But a lot of People of Color think of me as obliviously privileged.
Despite that, I consider myself in aggressive support of reproductive rights, which I view as a concern for women’s rights primarily. And if that’s really true, then maybe I should take a stronger stance. (Note: I also recognize that some trans men and non-binary people can become pregnant, and also that reproduction is not the only health-related avenue required in pursuit of equal rights.)
I’ve known several women who have had abortions, and I have been directly involved in one myself. But before I get to that, I’d like to provide a little history on my perspective.
My mom is my dad’s second wife. He was only married for a few years the first time; his first wife became pregnant after, in his view, the marriage was all but over. She carried that pregnancy to term and delivered a baby girl who would eventually become my estranged older sister.
My dad was remarried to my mom by the time that child was two years old. Six weeks into his second marriage, my mom became pregnant. Her mother always told her if she had vaginal intercourse, she would become pregnant. So she waited for marriage. And she had had an IUD because she did not want to become pregnant immediately. But one day while changing the sheets, she found the device in the bed, and soon after that she realized she was pregnant.
They were living in Berkeley and this was 1973. In an early medical appointment, the doctor asked my mom if she wanted to continue the pregnancy. My mom always wanted to have babies and the idea of terminating a pregnancy was laughable to her. But she’s always said that the option must be there for women who do not feel the same way.
She carried that pregnancy to term and gave birth to a boy who would eventually become my estranged older brother. My parents always said that although he was unexpected, he was not unwelcome. This has all been family lore for as long as I can remember.
A few years later, in an attempt to have a girl, I was born. Although I often think of myself as a lesbian (with boy parts), it doesn’t really count. But, as my mom says, “You get what you get.”
I hope I don’t get canceled. All I’ve ever wanted was to do is contribute to the cultural landscape in some kind of meaningful way. That dream has never included parenting.
Thirty years on, I was living in San Francisco with a woman in a supposedly sexually exclusive and monogamous relationship. She was 29. Within the first year of our cohabitation, I was not happy or comfortable. But I was not ready to leave, either.
Then she told me she’d become pregnant. She even claimed to know, to have sensed it, during the specific sexual incident itself. She did not tell me this until after we’d confirmed her condition with several pregnancy tests. I’d always been very open and up front about not wanting to cultivate a domestic life that involved raising children. However, I did not consider it appropriate to remind her about this at the moment. Besides, it was probably obvious by my reaction, even though I asked her as kindly as possible, “What do you want to do?”
She said she’d always expected to “…go through life as an empty vessel.” She’d been taking hormonal birth control pills regularly for as long as I’d known her. We also used condoms for probably the entire first year of our relationship, but this was long after that. I cannot say why she stopped taking the pills without consulting me, although I have some opinions. When I asked her, she said she didn’t know why she stopped taking them; she’d also say she didn’t know why she had bad credit. She said she didn’t know whenever I asked her how she felt about anything personal, and that’s fair. Emotions are complicated, especially for someone with past traumas that she’s never addressed.
I guess these traumas, without attention, can lead a person to a cloudy understanding of the logic of cause and effect. Or she just did not really want to say because she did not feel safe, or she was ashamed or confused. That’s fair, too.
“I never thought I could get pregnant,” she said. This was the first time, but sadly, not the last, that I heard a variation of this statement from a sexual partner. Why I was seen as a person with whom to test this premise, I do not know. I have some opinions, but they’re not relevant.
She made the decision to end the pregnancy, which she said was always the only option. We went to Planned Parenthood and after an examination, a medical practitioner informed her that she could not take the abortion pill because she was too far along. She was a day past two months pregnant, which was roughly two weeks longer than she thought she’d been pregnant. So much for having sensed the moment when it happened.
So she returned the next day for the vacuum procedure. I met her afterward and she said everything was fine. She was tired. I’m not sure if they offered her counseling services, but I expect they probably did, and I believe she likely declined to follow up. This was a woman who would have benefited from psychotherapy long before this episode, but she was reluctant to face her demons.
In a manner of speaking, anyway. What she did do, increasingly over the following two years, was get drunk and accuse me of detestably neglecting her needs. I was too noncomittal, she said, for refusing to get a joint savings account with her, for refusing to move into a different apartment that allowed dogs, for refusing to get excited about an Xmas tree.
And in the darker times, for being dismissive about her abortion. While I do not consider that a fair characterization, she is entitled to it. I probably underestimated the nature of invasiveness to the procedure itself, and I was definitely not emotionally literate enough to empathize about the judgment and shame she may have felt imposed upon her (by herself and anyone else). Not to mention the general sense of grief, which was almost completely overshadowed by relief for me personally.
We are no longer acquainted.
I do not speak for women. I speak for myself in saying I’m grateful I am did not become a parent back then. I would have been grossly disadvantaged and depressed had I been forced to accept a dependent upon my already overwhelmed sense of personal responsibility. And I believe my then partner would have been significantly traumatized by these circumstances had she been forced to spend a year growing this unwelcome presence inside her, changing aspects of her life and body permanently. I do not say this as an inducement toward abortion. I say this as an afterthought in appreciation of her decision.
To put it simply, I believe it’s her body and her choice. I do not speak out more about this because I believe that covers it. If it’s too wordy, then let’s just say her choice. Listen to her. Listen to them. Listen to each other.
I could probably draw a more detailed rendering of the complexity of modern human relationships. I could say that the practice of responsible sexuality is not a flawless endeavor. And I could try to make all the same established rational arguments for how reproductive rights including access to abortion are necessary for a free and equal society. Adding how denying the ability to make these decisions constricts a woman’s agency and eliminates her autonomy. I could further discuss the absurdity of granting personhood to a fetus, not to mention an embryo.
Or more importantly, I could state the facts on how laws against reproductive rights including abortion make women unsafe and do not decrease the incidence of abortion, but they just make life more dangerous for women. Abortion has been around a lot longer than society as we know it, than citizenry, than marriage.
I could say I’m grateful that I lived in a place where “freedom of religion” also means freedom from religion. I thought that was called America, but it’s not. That the women I’ve known have been fortunate enough to determine their own destiny in some respects, is more than a privilege. It’s a responsibility we all share.
Transparency: The abortion cost $500 and was provided in a neighborhood clinic. We each paid half. At that time, we were both earning about the same income. She did not have suitable health insurance through her employer.
Viewpoint: The debate about when life begins and what vital signs indicate about fetal development seems to be a distraction. I’m pretty sure the type of consciousness required for most of us to consider someone worthy of personhood are not present in a fetus, but I also think that’s beside the point. The Pro-Birth movement says this process cannot be interrupted, even by an autonomous decision of a would-be (or would rather not be) mother. Since this process happens inside a woman’s body and carries implications and possible physical, mental, and emotional complications, women’s rights advocates see this as implicitly her decision.
Post Script: I do not mean to suggest the scenario I’ve described in this piece is more common than any other. Or that unwanted pregnancies result mostly from women perpetrating deception in the name of curiosity or other dubious motivation. I know there are horrible men who remove condoms during intercourse and lie in other ways that can result in unwitting women becoming impregnated against their will. There are also horrible and violent crimes that result in pregnancy, but these should not set the threshold for abortion.