I’ve often said that when I was pro-life it was because I honestly believed the embryo/fetus was a person with a soul. This is true, but there’s something more. The reality is that I had no idea what women who found themselves with unplanned pregnancies faced. I had no understanding of the reasons someone would choose to end a pregnancy.
I was raised by a stay at home mother who had baby after baby without ever a threat to her health or the family’s finances. No pregnancy was planned, but every pregnancy was welcome. No pregnancy was ever inconvenient or any trouble at all. I couldn’t conceptualize what it would be like to want only two children, or none, or to face an unplanned pregnancy on a tight budget or as a working mother. Things like maternity leave or daycare costs were foreign to me. I had but one word for women who had abortions: selfish.
I believed that it was women’s role, as laid down by God, to have children. Many children, presumably, because children I believed children were always a blessing and never a burden. And child bearing was what women were made for, after all. It was also women’s role to remain within the home, cooking, cleaning, and rearing and educating the children. It was laid forth by God. Women whose chose anything else were selfish, seeking personal fulfillment over the needs of their families. Women who wanted to limit their family size were selfish. Women who felt their hearts sink rather than leap at a positive pregnancy test were selfish.
The problem was not unplanned pregnancies. The problem was not tight economic situations or a work environment for women that does not always accommodate pregnancy. The problem was selfish women, women who didn’t want to be pregnant, women who didn’t want to be mothers, women who didn’t want to stay home and care for their children. If women would just stop being selfish and realize the role they were created for, the whole abortion issue would disappear.
Today, I don’t want a dozen or more children. I don’t even want eight children, or five. I don’t want to be a stay at home mom. I don’t want to spend ten full years pregnant or twenty years changing diapers. I don’t actually particularly enjoy being pregnant. I want to work, to continue on a career that I find intellectually stimulating and fulfilling. I want to raise only a few children, but to invest in each one and raise them well. I want to choose when and if I become pregnant, to be able to have my economics and work situation in order, to be as prepared as possible for each child I decide to bring into this world. I have become one of those selfish, selfish women.
Except that I don’t feel selfish. I feel responsible. I feel loving. I feel happy.
The truth is, not wanting a large family isn’t “selfish.” Not wanting children at all isn’t “selfish.” Wanting to plan when and how many children to have is not “selfish.” Wanting to work outside the home isn’t “selfish.” Feeling your heart sink when you learns that you are unexpectedly and inconveniently pregnant is not “selfish.” In fact, it’s kind of normal.
Many women have abortions not because they are “selfish” but because they are responsible. Sixty percent of women who have abortions already have children. For some women, an abortion is the only financially acceptable option. For some women, an abortion is needed so that they can properly care for the children they already have. For some women, an abortion allows them to finish their education so that they can someday give their future children better lives than they themselves had. Women don’t have abortions lightly or on a whim.
It’s often stated that women faced with unplanned pregnancies should just go through the pregnancy and then give the child up for adoption. This is the “selfless” thing to do, and those who choose to abort rather than offer their child for adoption are “selfish.” There are several problems with this argument.
First, not everyone is comfortable with the idea of having a child and letting someone else raise it, probably without ever seeing it again or knowing if it is having a good life. I know I’m not comfortable with that idea.
Second, pregnancy is an extremely difficult and arduous and invasive and inconvenient process. Pregnancy means losing control of your body for nine months, facing debilitating nausea and food aversions, a lowered immune system, a swollen belly and altered sense of gravity, physical discomfort and potential back problems, and finally, the painful and difficult process of labor, followed by a recovery that takes months. Oh, and did I mention that pregnancy includes having to buy a whole new wardrobe and answer questions from family, friends, and ever-friendly strangers?
When I was growing up, I saw adoption as the solution to the problem of abortion. I threw the idea out there flippantly, like it was so obviously a simple and easy solution. I now realize that it absolutely isn’t. If a woman wants to go through the pregnancy and give the child up for adoption, great. But no woman should be expected or forced to do so.
Today I understand abortion as a much more complex issue than I did growing up. If I still thought that an embryo/fetus was a person with a soul and all that, I would likely still oppose abortion, but I would at least understand it as a much more difficult question than I had thought it was. Abortion isn’t about “selfish” women flouting “God’s plan” for their lives. Abortion is about women in tight situations trying to make the best decisions for themselves, their current and future children, and their families. Sometimes, there are no easy answers.