Sunday, March 27, 2011

Reflections on the A word

The bottom line is that I am pro-choice.

And yet. Could we perhaps make room for ambivalence?
Could we talk about this matter without immediately resorting to name calling, ideological grandstanding and recounting extreme-case scenarios on both sides?

Terminating a pregnancy is not a choice I have ever had to make, for which I am grateful. I have always been lucky that way. We never got pregnant without meaning to, and conceived easily when we did.

I don't know what I would have done if it had been different.
Something twists in the gut at the thought of terminating a pregnancy. I suspect that reluctance to end a potential life is not the worst of our instincts.

I do not take the matter lightly. I believe our sexual mores in general could stand some tightening up. We have gone way beyond compensating for Victorian prudery. But that is several other blogs.

Back to the A word. As long as women have conceived without intending to they have attempted to undo their condition. Abortion will happen. Whatever traditional herbal knowledge the European culture may have had was ruthlessly suppressed in the burning times.
In the absence of clinical options desperate women will resort to unsafe back-alley places, knitting needles and poisons and get killed. Many of those women will be mothers leaving other children behind.

My pro-life friends (believe it or not, I have some) will say: "Just choose adoption!"
This may be an option for some, and they should be supported. But it is NOT an easy choice, for either mother
or child.

I have never been unwillingly pregnant. But I do know what it is like to go into hospital to give birth and to come out with empty arms. After a healthy pregnancy and an easy full term birth my first-born died a day later from a congenital defect. Ever since I have felt a kinship with birth mothers who had relinquished their children.

We did it over and had a healthy daughter seventeen months later, and a beautiful son five years after that. The children have given us joy for 36 years. But birth mothers have to cope with life-long doubts and questions. Bearing a child and giving it up is not an experience to inflict on anyone against her wish.

A Canadian radio play managed the impossible: tackle the thorny subject in a way that just might satisfy both sides. I heard it only once and don't remember the title, but it made such an impression that I noted the name of the author: J.J. McColl.
Recap: A fortyish career woman finds herself pregnant by her married lover. Her lover and most girlfriends assume that "of course" she will have an abortion. Her religious conservative brother assumes that "of course" she will continue the pregnancy. The only person who gives her the space to truly consult her own heart is the feminist counselor at the abortion clinic. She decides to cancel the operation and have the child. Voila, a happy ending for both  pro-lifers and pro-choicers, quite an accomplishment.

Japan acknowledges the difficulty of the choice and makes room for ambiguity. There are temples devoted to the cult of Jizo, a deity who looks after the unborn on the other side. The cult reminds me a bit of the Roman Catholic church's extortions pre-Reformation: buy this candle, pay for this mass, and your dead loved ones will be better off . I certainly have no wish to see Jizo temples sprout here. But I do like the combination of legal abortion and a place where regret can be openly expressed.

In our society the of politics of abortion leave little room for ambiguity.

I have never been unwillingly pregnant. I do not know what I would have done if it had happened. But I do know this: I would want the decision to be mine.

The bottom line remains that I am pro-choice.


Jacqui Binford-Bell said...

I have been unwillingly pregnant and while on the birth control pill (one later recalled) and while dating a man who thought he was sterile.

I have always hated the pro-lifers that make it sound like abortion is the easy way out. That us "irresponsible" women think it is a walk in the park to end a pregnancy. They never mention the number of years you will see a child of about that right age and burst out in tears.

Or the times you will doubt the decision you made, only to have to painfully review all the evidence behind that decision. I made the right choice for me at that time.

My family bred and showed dogs. And when 12, doing a genetics paper for biology class, asked my parents about family medical history. There is TB, stoke, asthma, lupus, RA, alcoholism (not all of these identified as genetic at that time). I considered the evidence and announced to my family that if we were a linage of dogs we would not breed them, stunning confirmation or no.

That was one leg of the internal conversation a decade later but also I had to consider the economics, the unwillingness of the sire, my family's likely reaction, and my own immaturity.

Would I make the same decision later in my life? Maybe not. Fortunately I did not have to. I never again believed a man (doctor or no) when he said trust me. And I would defend to the bitter end a woman's right to make this decision for herself.

Very good blog, Ien. You show that it is by no means an easy decision.

Ien in the Kootenays said...

Thanks for your thoughtful reply. The reality is so much more complex than ideology.

Catherine Sweetpotato said...

I'm always amazed how this topic evokes such polarized opinions . Life is about the choices we make and I certainly feel that a woman should have a choice in bringing a child into this world when it involves her life and her body. The choice to me is neither good or bad but one that is based on individual circumstances....and these circumstances never fit into a one fits all category.
While I say I am pro choice, I also think it's a terribly difficult choice for any woman to have to make. I've never known a woman who didn't struggle with the decision of pregnancy termination at some point.
In the perfect world all children would be planned and have a wonderfully supportive life awaiting them at birth~ in reality we are imperfect and therefore need choices when life hands out these surprises. My choices aren't those of others and vice versa...neither is necessarily a better one just a different one.