I was dramatically opposed to abortion from the time of my very earliest memories. My evangelical family was pro-life and had taught me to view abortion as the number-one evil facing our country. I remember being a kindergarten-aged girl and sobbing in the kitchen, overwhelmed with the horror that somewhere out there, babies were being murdered.
My parents were very extreme in their pro-life viewpoint. They were a part of Operation Rescue and other radical pro-life groups that organized illegal sit-ins in front of abortion clinics. Both my parents and some of my older siblings– teenagers at the time– were arrested for these activities. I was too young to join in these “rescues” so I was simply recruited to carry anti-abortion picket signs. They never made me carry the gory signs but I was surrounded by them at the protests. I can still call to mind all the pictures of dismembered fetuses and how much they horrified me as a child. I especially remember one illustrated pamphlet that depicted a “partial-birth” abortion, which was traumatizing to me.
For me, those gruesome photos weren’t just a part of the protests. I encountered them in the multitude of pro-life books and literature we had at our house as well. We had videos of Holocaust footage combined with slideshows of abortion pictures and the music of Randall Terry. We had anti-abortion fiction by people like evangelical author Frank Peretti and pro-life leader Paul DeParrie, and entire pro-life albums by contemporary Christian musicians. The message was clear: Abortion was akin to slaughtering children, and upstanding citizens who didn’t do everything in their power to stop it were responsible. With all this indoctrination, it’s no wonder that I had become convinced that I was somehow complicit in the worst mass-killing of all time: abortion.
To me, the fact that there was even a debate about abortion was baffling. I couldn’t understand how anyone could defend something so barbaric. I assumed that most pro-choice people had been deluded into believing “the lies of the abortion industry” and they simply hadn’t seen enough dismembered fetus pictures. Abortion doctors were twisted monsters in my view, and women who had abortions fell into two rough categories: confused victims of the agenda of the “pro-abort” side or malicious, selfish women who simply didn’t care that they were killing a baby. The difficult realities of unwanted pregnancy was very much downplayed in the pro-life culture I was raised in. Why didn’t those women simply wait nine months, give birth, and put the baby up for adoption? I wondered. Didn’t they know there were lots of pro-life people who would want to adopt such a baby?
When I became an adult and continued examining the issue, I began to understand the different positions to the point where I could see why there was a debate. Information I didn’t know, like the development of a fetus’s sentience and pain response, and how painful and difficult pregnancy really is, came to light. I also found out that a modern medical abortion is 14 times less fatal to a woman than live childbirth. From that perspective, I could see how any abortion could fall under the “life of the mother” exception. I felt the strength of my pro-life viewpoint falter just a bit. I stopped speaking out against abortion and telling people I was pro-life at this point.
Although I had been raised to think that men were the superior sex, by the time I was in my 20s I had begun to take an interest in feminism. Even though I embraced most feminist principles, I felt awkward being a pro-life feminist. I knew that I was not the only one who felt that way, but I began to worry that there was something I still wasn’t understanding about the abortion issue. One interesting viewpoint I eventually encountered stated that the “When does personhood begin?” question is a red herring, and that the real issue of abortion boils down to a matter of bodily autonomy. From this viewpoint, the question became: “Why should a woman be legally forced to risk her life, freedom, and well-being to keep someone else alive inside her body, even if that someone else is also (possibly) a person?” This was the first time I had heard the pro-choice viewpoint phrased in a way that didn’t try to diminish the personhood of a fetus. That piqued my interest. It wasn’t long before I realized I found the pro-choice side the more convincing of the two, and I even began to allow myself to question the “personhood from conception” belief.
Of course I never would have gotten to that point without first truly understanding the personhood of women. A million arguments against fetal personhood didn’t do anything to change my mind, it was feminism that got through to me. Before, a woman was a baby-carrying vessel, but through feminism I could see the importance of living a life free of the burden of unwanted pregnancy. Nowadays I am fully pro-choice. I cannot say for certain when “personhood” starts, but to me the right to an abortion must exist regardless of how much of a person an embryo or fetus is. Maybe someday I will be able to say with certainty, as a lot of pro-choice people do, that a fetus is absolutely not a person, but I’m not quite there yet, because the pictures of aborted fetuses still haunt me. The scars you’re given in childhood don’t go away that easily.