Guest Post: Rebecca recounts her childhood in Operation Rescue

A guest post by Rebecca 

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.

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Maggy

    Thank you for sharing your story, Rebecca.

    I was raised Catholic and attended Catholic school from K-12. My grandmother was active in the right to life movement. I remember participating in a pro-life walk when I was a kid although I do not remember the exact purpose (protesting Roe v. Wade? raising money for “the cause?”) One of my freshman English teachers was staunchly pro-life and would inappropriately use the classroom for this platform. I wore the little feet pin with pride. I do remember being horrified when she showed “A Silent Scream,” a movie about abortion, in class. Being surrounded by Catholics, I don’t recall ever getting counter messages about this issue. And though I know I identified as pro-choice once I attended college, I just can’t remember what caused me to change my way of thinking.

    Although our stories are a bit different, reflecting on them makes me wonder how many other people who identify as pro-life have been exposed to people and events that challenged their thinking. Learning how many gray areas exist in the world really changed my world view.

  • Saraquill

    I had the misfortune of encountering posters full of “aborted fetus” photos, and I couldn’t help but think of two things. One was that the remains were too developed, intact and clean to be credible, plus they were being featured in black garbage bags rather than biohazard containers. In short, they looked doctored. The other issue that bothered me was that whoever put the pictures there was doing nothing constructive, just lying and stigmatizing those who had abortions.

    If those people really wanted to reduce the number of abortions, they would have been better off handing out free condoms or fighting to improve social services for parents and children.

  • E

    One of the few bright spots of my Catholic upbringing was a commitment to letting people make their own mistakes. I was horribly judgemental towards abortion and people who had them, performed them, or supported them, but I figured it was their choice to go to hell. I never participated in anti-choice activism and never thought it should be outlawed. I’m reasonably sure my close-minded teenage self managed to avoid doing material harm to women–one less thing to resolve in therapy.

  • Carolyn the Red

    Thanks for your story. Though I was never really pro-life, I crystallized my pro-choice mindset in a similar way to you – around the time the abortion law in Canada was being overturned (maybe a few years later, when there was still a push to create a new law rather than leave us with our current “no federal law” situation). My CEGEP class that term was on ethics, and of course we discussed abortion. There had been a case in Ireland in the news. A young, very young in fact, girl was pregnant after a rape, and the rapist was pushing to block her from traveling to England for an abortion. I couldn’t help but see how much of an undercurrent of misogyny there was in the objections, down to the idea of the rapist father having a right to beget a child through rape (I can’t even articulate this well, it bothered me so much). The poor girl was such an afterthought. I imagined having to carry that pregnancy to term, especially in so much media (international) spotlight.

    There was no further thought. I didn’t ponder the mythical 8.5 month abortion for a moment. I immediately decided I had no right to decide which situations were sad, but not worthy enough of an abortion, and which I could support. That girl just highlighted for me how one can’t ignore the woman making the choice.

  • Flora

    Judith Jarvis Thompsons “A Defence of Abortion” is truly one of the seminal pro-choice philosophy works. If anyone hasn’t read it, I highly recommend googling it – it’s available from numerous sources for free online.

    I’ve visited an abortion clinic after-hours along with other pro-choice medical individuals, and it was an incredibly illuminating experience for me. Most stunning was the number of stories they had of turning away pregnant women who were not sure about going through the procedure – in one particularly moving story, they helped a woman escape a physically and emotionally abusive boyfriend who was trying to force her to have an abortion (They made the bastard wait in the waiting room all day while they sat in the back and chatted with her, bought her lunch, etc. so he would think she’d actually gone through the procedure.) They got her bus tickets to go to her family out-of-province the next morning, she escaped the abuser, and had her baby happily and safely. It’s amazing how reality is so much more nuanced than the pro-life movement would have people believe.

    • Christine

      They shouldn’t be publicizing that kind of story though. As good as it is to be able to counter the ‘well abusive men can force their wives to get abortions’ narrative, we really want abusive partners who try to force someone to get an abortion to bring them to a medical clinic for it.

  • Cyn

    I grew up in a family very similar to yours, we saw (and carried) the gruesome signs.
    The truth is that it is so much more complicated than when life begins. I believe that life begins at conception, but that life is so dependent on its mother until it is born, and a loving family until it is an adult!
    I became pro-choice after I had my own child. Once I held that baby and fell in love with him I knew beyond a doubt that every baby deserves to be loved that much, and deserves the best life that his parent(s) can give him. No baby deserves to be born unless there is a family that wants him and can take care of him. So I always tell others that I am pro birth control, and pro-abortion because I DO love babies and children so much.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      I became pro-choice after I had my own child.

      More people need to hear this sort of thing. It was the same for me – while I was technically already pro-choice before having children, going through pregnancy and holding my babies cemented it. And yet, I have heard so many on the anti-abortion side say “just wait until you have a child of your own” or “just wait until you feel your baby move” as though it’s some sort of universal law that no one who has been pregnant or had children could ever be pro-choice. :-/

      • ArachneS

        Ditto here too.

      • Anonymous

        I think it should also be pointed out how many of the women who have abortions already have children (in the U.S., around 60% I believe). My mother was one of them; she miscarried the first time, then gave birth to me and then my sister, and on her fourth pregnancy decided to end it in abortion. She did it to make sure that she was best able to support my sister, stepsister and me, and I think now what it would be like if I had a middle-school-age sister or brother and how I probably wouldn’t have been able to afford college if my parents had an extra mouth to feed. And now I’m in grad school and living my dream!

  • Ted Seeber

    What a privileged first-world viewpoint. There is no such thing as an unwanted pregnancy- EVERY human being is valuable (including the women).

    • Flora

      Your blind assertion is blind. There are plenty of reasons why a pregnancy could be unwanted – even more so in developing nations. The health risk of even the simplest pregnancy, in particular, is even larger outside of a first world, where many women do not have access to pre-natal care or assistance in birthing. If every human being is valuable, every human being has the right to protect their own health (including the women.)

    • http://politicsproseotherthings.blogspot.com/ Nathaniel

      There is no such thing as an unwanted pregnancy

      Sorry, what?

    • Anat

      A woman is valuable. If she is pregnant but does not wish to be so then her pregnancy is unwanted – by her, the only person whose opinion matters.

      (How is this a first world, privileged view-point? See http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/ib_0599.html )

    • jose

      Ah yes, the personhood argument. You’re in the wrong post, that one is from a couple days ago.

    • Uly

      How ignorant do you have to be to think that poor people always want their pregnancies? The sheer chutzpah of that statement is frankly outrageous.

    • smrnda

      So, do rapists have a right to impregnate women? Can a rapist force me, against my will, to carry his baby to term? I should be like ‘wow, the trauma of rape wasn’t so bad. Now I can think about it constantly as my whole life is now changed because I got raped. I’ve got this nice reminder that good can come from rape right inside of me.” I just picked the most extreme case because it stood out as the easiest retort.

      This is actually the reason why I take birth control even though I’m not into men and am sexually inactive.

      I’m thinking that as a result of my biology class and my knowledge that plenty of fertilized eggs go right down the toilet without anyone being the wiser makes me unable to consider the pro-life position.

    • Aurora

      Wait, how the heck is that a “privileged first-world viewpoint”? You think women in other countries don’t have unwanted pregnancies? Hint: there’s a reason so many Americans adopt babies from China or Africa–they have orphanages full of them. And abortions happen there, too, even in countries where it’s not legal. Women have gotten pregnant when they didn’t want to in every country of the world, in every era of history. It’s not a new or Western idea at all.

  • Niemand

    There is no such thing as an unwanted pregnancy

    How many pregnancies have you carried to term, Ted? And even if you feel that women should have no rights over their bodies-as you clearly do-can’t you at least allow them to decide what they feel? Is controlling women’s every action not enough for you, that you also seek to control their minds a la 1984?

  • http://www.theupsidedownworld.com Rebecca Trotter

    I guess this argument never made sense to me. I’m a woman. I’ve had kids and hated every second of being pregnant and child birth. Some days I think about running away and hitchhiking to Vegas to do meth in a seedy motel with whoever I can find to join me. It seems easier and more productive than raising kids. I get it. But my body isn’t my enemy. It works a certain way and when I found myself alone and pregnant as a 21 year old, it wasn’t like I hadn’t been aware of the prospect. I didn’t feel punished by my body doing what it was made to do. Even having used birth control, I was well aware that it could fail. I made my choices, was unlucky and didn’t feel it was then my right to get an abortion because it wasn’t what I intended. Life is full of things that happen which I can’t do anything about. It’s the way life works. (And no, this wasn’t guilt over my choices – a baby isn’t a punishment for pity’s sake!)

    All that aside, the reality is that something like 60% of women who get abortions give fear of losing their relationship or even direct pressure from boyfriends, fathers and others as reasons for their choices. So how empowering is abortion when many women are pressured into it by other people (often me)? How much control do women really have in these situations? And if you talk with young men, many assume that if they get someone pregnant, they would expect the woman to abort. Clearly abortion isn’t doing anything to empower women in their sexual relationships when this is the case. When I was a young single mom, I wound up in a long term shelter for homeless single moms. The majority of the women there had already had an abortion prior to delivering a child. We have millions of abortions a year without any reduction in the number of kids being born into poverty to single moms. I just don’t see these nice ideas about how abortion helps women playing out in real life.

    I agree that the “look at the dead fetus” form of anti-abortion activities isn’t great. But the results of 40 years of abortion on demand aren’t all that either.

    • http://equalsuf.wordpress.com Jayn

      I had a longer response, but a lot of it can be boiled down to: You want to address the issue of people trying to control another’s actions by trying to control the second person’s actions in a different way? Most of the problems I see raised in relation to abortion are actually problems with why women have abortions, often ones that go way past reproductive choice. Banning abortion does nothing to address the underlying issues.

  • Will Caskey

    Thank you for this. It is…eerily similar to my own childhood, with the obvious difference of being a man and not facing the corresponding issues of feminism in a personal way.

    The pro-life extremist world is a very disturbing one, and seems to relish a particular kind of indoctrination with a particular kind of appeal to dualistic evil. Your concluding sentence is very true, and haunting.

    Thank you again.

  • Joan

    I had the same childhood! I would apologize to the Planned Parenthood workers where I was dragged to say the Rosary in front of. I was so embarrassed. I don’t remember when I changed, because as a small child, I did empathize with the dead babies, but by the time I was in high school and being forced to “pray” at PP, I realized what we were doing was wrong, but I don’t remember the trigger that made me change.


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