I'm sure you all know by now that South Dakota has passed an abortion ban that is likely to go to the Supreme Court. It's seen as the first attempt to chip away at Roe vs. Wade and I've read differing opinions on the significance and expected consequences of this attempt. I, like many women, see it as part of a larger issue in which folks are attempting to put women "back in their place."
In light of recent events, Anna Quindlen's The Last Word in this week's Newsweek talks about the place of women. There is a book coming out this spring called "The Girls Who Went Away" and Ms. Quindlin mentions it often in her column. In looking it up, I just discovered the subtitle: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade.
The column mentions these women- the ones who were sent to maternity homes and forced to surrender their babies. Ms. Quindlin states, "...they came back riddled with pain and rage and an unspeakable sense of loss," and goes on to quote a woman from the book as she recalls how terrible it was to lose her baby.
The article glosses over the reality of today's birthparents, but does so to make a point that today there is choice. Sure, we could argue about all the times when there still is no choice, but the truth is she makes her case elegantly as she suggests that overturning Roe vs. Wade will make women invisible again: forced out of academia (as Justice Alito's group attempted at Yale), denied jobs, forced out of work for being pregnant, sent to maternity homes (of which our President calls for more), but mostly the sense of being exiled for an accidental pregnancy and forced into maternity homes or into the hands of someone promising an illegal termination. Sexuality becomes a crime.
I've been pro-choice for as long as I knew what it was. I was sixteen when I met my first rabid pro-lifer- a dear friend, actually (and future lawyer). We would sit and argue the sides. He was one of those who actually knew women who used abortion as birth control and thought nothing of having multiple abortions. I understood why he was against abortion. It was the beginning of opening my eyes to all the nuances of such a hot issue. I learned quickly that there were many who claimed to be pro-choice, but the reality was that they were only pro-choice if it was a stranger. They would never have supported a friend's right to choose. As I got older I realized that this was true on the other side, too, with the pro-lifers who secretly have or send their daughters to have abortions when they face the reality of a crisis pregnancy. Despite all the gains Ms. Quindlen notes in her column, there is still much shame attached to unexpected pregnancies- sexuality out there in plain view.
I felt ashamed of my pregnancy. Never mind that over 90% of people have premarital sex. Those things don't matter when you're the one with the big round bulge announcing your sex life to the world. It didn't help that there was no man in sight- my daughter's father was home in his own country across the world. The shame came as a shock. I kept repeating over and over- but I chose life! Isn't what all those bumper stickers told me to do? Wasn't that supposed to shelter me from the shame? Shouldn't I have all the Catholics reaching out to me and comforting me and loving me? I chose life!
No, I opened myself up to scrutiny instead. I would be lying if I told you I've never thought about the alternative: a private abortion. No one would have known. I keep my good girl status. I keep my job. I keep my friends. Please don't get me wrong, I don't regret having my daughter. She was worth every bit, but I still can't help but compare each reality. Even though women who have abortions still get judged, there is the option to keep it private. From everyone if she wants.
And then I gave birth and a new reality kicked in. Me, the girl who was often called cold by those close to her, the one without a nurturing bone in her body, gave birth to the most perfect being in the universe (it came out of me! I did this!) and felt the most intense set of feelings I had ever experienced. I felt like a mother.
But I made my choice and I placed my daughter and I spent the next three months in a fog. Reality hit again. There were those who thought I shouldn't grieve because I made a choice. There were those who just didn't know how to handle the grief. There were plenty who looked down on me for taking the full twelve weeks (unpaid) maternity leave when I had no baby to care for. But mostly there was grief. For the first time in my life, I discovered what it was like to lie awake all night unable to sleep. Many nights found me crying all night only to finally drift into sleep on the living room couch at 9:30 AM.
It has been three years and I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy. I've said the same since pregnancy. It's true. The pain is that intense, the change that far-reaching, the consequences so severe and unpredictable.
There are many women who say that having a baby changed their beliefs from pro-choice to pro-life. I know my story is different, but having my daughter made me more pro-choice than ever. I wouldn't change my choice, but I gained new respect for the ability to choose. No woman should be forced to continue or terminate a pregnancy or to relinquish a baby or to parent a baby. The consequences are too big, the effects too far-reaching, the circumstances too varied for some stranger to make that choice for all women.
Unplanned pregnancies are not something you can predict a response to. I don't really believe that any woman or any family really knows what they would do if faced with an unplanned pregnancy. We need choice. All of us.