Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Abortion and Me

I have never had an abortion. That does not make me a better person than a woman who has had an abortion. It means, if anything, I have never needed an abortion.

On the other hand, I unashamedly took birth control pills as a married woman for three years before we decided to go for it and try to have a baby. I also relied on birth control between babies, and had a surgical procedure called a tubal ligation at the birth of my second child. So ended my reproductive years.

I have suffered what was probably a miscarriage as a teenager, alone in the world with no hope of caring for a child on my own. I spent a full day agonizing in prayer for the welfare of my possible child (I just realized I my period was late), talking with God and trying to come up with the best plan possible in case I was in fact pregnant. A very heavy, painful period started that night, with severe cramping and clotting. In medical terms, it was likely a "spontaneous abortion".

What do you think of when you hear the word abortion? A gruesome surgical procedure that involved viciously dismembering a sentient terrified child? That's what the pro-life movement has been promoting for years. Medically, though, that only applies to late term surgical abortions- procedures outlawed now in most states. It's illegal in my state.

I have called myself pro-life for so long, longer than some of my readers have been alive. And yet I always have meant pro-life in the purest sense of the term; wanting life and good for mother and child. In wanting life and good for both mother and child, that means invariably that in some cases abortion is the right choice to make.

Let's look at the word abortion first. My staunchest pro-life friend claims that birth control pills are abortificants. Well if taking birth control pills equates to having a chemical abortions, I am definitely pro-abortion! Like most technologies, including advances in transportation, information technology, the medical technological breakthrough of the birth control pill is a huge advance for society. Not only is it the single best way to prevent unwanted pregnancies in unmarried women, it is a huge blessing in many marriages. People can put off pregnancy until they are ready, emotionally, physically, financially and socially. It's a great blessing that God has given humanity the wisdom to create, if you want to get religious about it. And save the stories about the very few people who feel birth control pills caused them some real harm. In the same way that stories of people trapped in their wrecked cars by wearing a seat belt won't (and shouldn't!) stop other people from wearing seat belts, one person's problem with birth control pills shouldn't factor into anyone else's decision to give them a try.

I, like most sane people in the world, do not consider a zygote a fully human sentient separate person. It's one cell. For several days, the cell divides but the resulting cells do not yet differentiate. It is when this blastocyst is a mere eight-celled ball that in vitro sampling occurs. This is important to remember for later. This is also the stage (between eight and sixteen cells- none of them differentiated at all) at which research on human stem cells is proposed. Remember this. There is no tiny little person whose organs are being harvested, a la the pro-life movement's fictions. Eight to sixteen cells- you need a microscope to see a blastocyst. Pictures in textbooks are taking with microscopes and magnified many times.

As the blastocyst develops, it forms into two layers, one of which will become the placenta, the other of which will begin to take the shape of a person. It does not become a person overnight. It begins to take the shape of a person. At eight weeks it starts to look more or less human, and the basic prototissues from which the organ systems will develop are formed. The name is changed from embryo to fetus, and the eight week fetus is ONE AND A HALF CENTIMETERS long. That's it. If you miscarriage at this point, you will not see anything in your menstrual flow but blood clots, one of which could be what would have developed into a person given enough time and good health of mother and fetus.

I wish I still had my textbook, so I could give page numbers, but the title was Hole’s Essentials of Human Anatomy and Physiology (2009) and all this information is in the last chapter, which was about human growth and development. This is all very important to me because it matters what people mean when they use the word "abortion". If you are calling birth control pills "abortion" then you are an extremist and we have no common ground. If you are against in vitro genetic testing and/or stem cell research on the basis that it constitutes "abortion" then you are either uninformed and envisioning the destruction of tiny people (a la Horton Hears a Who) with thoughts and feelings of their own- which is NOT the case- or you are an extremist and we have no common ground.

Another term I would like to define is "pro-life". To me, this means pro-people, wanting the best possible outcome for all persons involved. This naturally means that the mother matters every bit as much to me as any child she may be carrying. There is no other honest way to define "pro-life" though few pro-life people are truly pro-life anymore. They are anti-abortion, and in many cases anti-woman. Much of the time, the same people demanding abortion be made totally illegal are also the people wanting to prevent government assistance for child care, health care and food/shelter/clothing needs for single moms. These people are not at all pro-LIFE, they are religious zealots who want to force the rest of the United States to live by their religious code of moral conduct and blame all the chaos and pain that will result as "the will of God", i.e. "not their problem."

Because I am truly pro-life, this means there are some abortions that I will support. Here are a few scenarios where I think abortion is the right thing to do:

In the interests of the child:
a) In vitro genetic testing and destruction of embryos carrying any genetic code that will result in a short, tortuous life for that child: Tay-Sachs, Duchennes muscular dystrophy, and the like.

b) Also, surgical abortion as early as possible when amniocentesis and genetic testing show the same genetic code in a naturally conceived pregnancy. At this point in technology, the earliest an amniocentesis can be done is ten weeks. It can be used as a diagnostic tool up to twenty weeks. Twenty weeks then is the absolute latest date the need for this type of compassionate abortion could be diagnosed. I say the earlier the better, and I hope that new technology will lead to earlier tests becoming available.

In the interests of the mother:

a) Spontaneous abortion, commonly called a miscarriage, has never been considered anything other than an unfortunate fact of life. Yep, so-called "pro-life" legislator has gone that far: Pro-life legislator wants to criminalize miscarriages

b) In cases of rape and incest, and again the earlier the better. A raped woman who seeks medical attention immediately will likely be offered emergency contraception. No one but the most radical would consider that an abortion, but if someone considers birth control pills abortions then they will qualify this as a crime against humanity as well.

c) Ectopic pregnancy ectopic pregnancies mayo clinic . Believe it or not, so called pro-lifers wanting to outlaw all abortions include the procedures that would save a woman's life in this no-win situation. Home school advocate Doug Phillips calls for the death of women in this situation, though he does at least want to honor them as martyrs when they die of this entirely preventable tragic death.

And where do we classify the abortions sought by terrified women of all ages who have neither the means nor the will to support themselves in pregnancy, much less the life of dependent child? People like to point to adoption as always the answer in these situations, a la the movie Juno, but the teen in that movie had supportive parents and access to healthcare. Not all teens have those luxuries. I have met several grown women, mothers at the time, who had abortions as teens and did NOT regret the decision. I can only assume they made the right decision then.

I don't know where to classify the women I know who have had abortions when they were in their thirties, forties and fifties. Personally, they did society a favor by not reproducing, as the women I am thinking of were not very good mothers to the children they already had. Life for such children would be far from good, living with that DNA and family heritage. Others may very well be great mothers to the children they already have, but know for a fact that they could not cope with the pregnancy or the addition of an infant to an already stretched thin household.

Personally, I have no problem with early abortions and concede that their are some really good reasons at times that make abortion the most true "pro-life" response. I would love to see the need for surgical abortions eradicated. as earlier and earlier diagnostic tests help women with unwanted or tragic pregnancies make possible the decision to terminate a pregnancy in the first few weeks of pregnancy. That would be ideal.

I would love to see birth control accessible to all women of reproductive age who are or plan to soon become sexually active. Young women need to appreciate the amazing capabilities of their bodies and know how to manage them for good health for themselves and any future children they want to conceive. We owe our daughters full disclosure about their bodies and their options.

I don't think any victim of rape (whether by incest, stranger or acquaintance rape) should be denied emergency contraception or if necessary surgical abortion. I hope these women get help right away, making the need for surgical abortion unnecessary. However under no circumstances do I believe a woman should be forced to carry and give birth to her rapists child. Some brave women may choose to do so; no woman should be forced to do so.

Parents who are facing the heart-breaking reality that their conceived children will be born only to suffer horrible and eventually die should have the right to choose abortion, in the best interests of the child. Testing should be done as early as possible, the earlier the better, to avoid surgical abortion.

Elective abortions should remain legal, but I would love to see them limited to the first sixteen weeks, long before there is any possibility of a sentient thought or separate survival on the part of the fetus. As I wrote earlier, I would love to see women make these decisions as early as possible, though recent efforts to limit abortion to five weeks are ridiculous. Those legislators know that they are effectively outlawing abortion, which is their true intent.

I truly thought that once partial birth abortion was outlawed, and late term abortions no longer legal, that we could all settle down to a life of peace. People truly wanting to end abortion could do so by helping pregnant women with the needs of pregnancy and child-raising. Creating a culture where mothering is promoted by law and supported by tax dollars seems like the logical way to help end abortion. Another positive way to end the need for abortion is to make birth control available to all women who want it (including minors) and teaching women how to use it effectively. You can't end the need for abortion without taking these steps.

Simply making it illegal won't help at all. But it is easier than actually helping, which is why it is so popular I guess.

So there it is all laid out: abortion and me. Let the flaming begin.


  1. I don't know if you read this or not, but I thought I'd mention a post I did some time back called "Rewriting the Pro-Life Agenda," because it makes some of the same arguments you do: http://lovejoyfeminism.blogspot.com/2011/06/rewriting-pro-life-agenda.html

    For example, I point out that making abortion illegal won't help (as you point out), and the need for birth control and for support for women who choose to keep their babies. It seems that the pro-life leadership is against these very things, which are the true way to cut down on the number of abortions preformed.

    I also agree with you on trying to make early abortions easier. I think we should make it possible for every woman who needs an abortion to get one by six, seven, or eight weeks, when the procedure is still easy and there is no chance of sentience. Unfortunately, pro-life laws make that difficult, resulting in abortions occurring later than they might otherwise occur.

    This whole debate has become such a mess, largely, I think, because it was so politicized. I consider myself solidly pro-choice, and you call yourself pro-life, but we pretty much completely agree on what steps should be taken. No one who is pro-choice WANTS abortions to occur - the goal is to make them safe, legal, and rare. Clearly, cooperation should be possible. Why does it never seem to happen, then?

  2. Criminalizing immorality (however one defines that word or applies it to specific behaviors) through legislation rarely, if ever, eradicates the behavior. Punitive measures only drives the behavior underground, where it accumulates all kinds of concomitant dangers and tragedies. A legislated moral code--whether in society or in a family--no more contributes to the development of integrity and good character than... well, I can't think of a good analogy... it doesn't work is my point.

    What does work--and has been proven to work over and over and over in all kinds of settings for all kinds of issues--is education and compassion. If you (the amorphous You Out There) want to outlaw abortion because you think that teenage girls are sluts who whore themselves for a burger at McDonald's or less and that they deserve to be punished ("reap the consequences of their actions) by carrying and raising the child, then how about a little compassion for those little sluts? Instead of sitting in your lawn chair with a hate sign in front of Planned Parenthood, how about you spend the same time volunteering at an after-school program for girls that teaches them that they have value? Show them they are worth more than the price of that burger by getting involved with them as people? Teach them to respect themselves through the experience of your respect for them. Like Jesus did.

  3. I agree that an embryo is not a fully human sentient separate person. But insofar as this collection of cells is both alive and human (I guess, insofar as it's viable), I still think that ending the life of an embryo is ending a human life.

    I'm not sure what ethical difference sentience really makes. Unaware death is still death, and pain and fear are often worth it. I think it's wrong to wantonly kill or mutilate insects, whether or not they feel it, and okay to spay cats, even though it hurts like heck. I guess it's better to end a human life without making it suffer, but the golden rule tells me that life wants to keep living whether it has a central nervous system or not.

    But there are circumstances in which ending a human life makes a lot of sense (thanks for mentioning the ectopic pregnancy example!).

    (There's been plenty of discussion of this throughout the history of Christianity -- medieval scholastic theologians like Thomas Aquinas believed that a body cannot receive a soul until it is adequately developed. "Life begins at conception" is a new mantra. I'm not totally happy with the old scholastic perspective, however, since to me it seems to privilege the spiritual over the physical, mind over body, which I think is ultimately a defensively misogynist way of thinking.)

    So if birth control pills alter the body such that pregnancy is unlikely to succeed, I would say that this could result in the death of a viable human life, but it is crazy to compare this to an act of killing. Women's bodies have the innate capacity to make these changes to avoid and end pregnancies (i.e., God made women this way). Our ancestors lived on this earth for many thousands of years before agriculture, cities, and technology changed drastically changed our lives. Women's fertility was very different before these changes occurred (i.e., they had less of it!). Our modern lives have sources of stress and hardship that don't provide natural feedback to our bodies resulting in natural hormonal birth control. No wonder that we might need birth control pills!

    So I kind of agree with you and kind of disagree? You will have to judge whether I'm one of the extremists with whom you have no common ground!

    It sounds like you're simply being consistent in the case of rape and incest -- that all rape and incest survivors should be offered the same options as any other woman.

    In my experience, many pro-lifers believe that rape or incest makes abortion or emergency contraception okay even while it is wrong for other women, and this really bothers me, because again it seems to be more about judging women than valuing life. So I appreciate that you are both honest and consistent, unlike "pro-lifers" who show their true colors when they say that abortion is murder when harlots get pregnant, but understandable when good girls get pregnant against their will. So I guess that's just a little rant of my own that I needed to express!

    I agree with most of your ideas about what directions the pro-life movement would need to take in order to prevent abortions and help young mothers and their children. In my comment on Libbey's post I also suggested that those pro-lifers who really want to save lives should be working on the artificial womb, and laws that would allow third parties to finance the care of any aborted fetus that, with medical help, can still make it into the world. Or at least, when the artificial womb is perfected, pro-lifers may really have to put their money where their mouth is! With that kind of technology, suddenly it would be possible to save babies without controlling women, and the pro-life movement might look very different overnight.

  4. be,

    Pro-lifers (the political group) won't spend a penny on artificial wombs, and will probably find some reason to object to their use if/when the technology becomes available. That's because their true agenda is not the welfare of very young people (as it was when the pro-life movement started), no matter what they might say Their agenda is to control adult women.

    If they truly cared about these (very young) people as people, then they would not be anti-welfare, anti-child care, anti-health care, anti- public school- and today's conservatives are against all those things. If pro-lifers really wanted to cut down on abortion, education and birth control for all would be high on their agenda, but it's not. They want abstinence-only education (i.e. ignorance) and no access to birth control.

    We will continue to disagree that a collection of living human cells equals personhood. A drop of my blood contains many living human cells. There is nothing all that special about those biological characteristics. What makes a person a person is much more complicated than that! However, you disagree as a compassionate adult should, straight-forward and without rancor. Thank you very much!

  5. Sandra,


    You are so square right on. I had no idea that so many "pro-lifers" were actually just wanting to hate on people who don't choose to live by the moral agenda to which they give lip service and by which some may actually live.

    A person is one twisted piece of work when they use the word "pro-life" as an excuse to rant about how inferior and disgusting are those "others" who don't live by THEIR high and lofty standards. The truth is, then, that they care nothing for the fetus at all, they just want the mother to suffer shame and hardship for breaking their moral code. Most likely they will turn their noses up at a child "born out of wedlock" in social situations and never offer a spot of help to the kid as long as he lives.

    That is hardly what I call "pro-life".

  6. Libby,

    Yes, one of my best friends and I also share the exact same beliefs but call our selves by different labels. At this time in history, it's a moot point. We don't choose labels anymore, they are assigned to us by the religious right.

    In the 70s and 80s, there was more coercion of women to "choose" abortion- by parents, partners and by the very profitable abortion businesses that were springing up. I felt that pro-choice was a misnomer because in my experience at the time in hearing other's stories, women were being exploited and pressured into abortions they personally were not comfortable with, and this is WRONG! It's very much akin to being raped.

    My friendships with such women shaped my desire to see abortion limited and regulated- not to end abortion, but to end late-term abortion and to make sure the women patients were making the choice to abort themselves and not under pressure by anyone else who could profit in any way- socially or financially. Since at the time at least, pro-choice meant no regulation or oversight of any kind, and abortion up until the entire full term child emerged completely from the womb, nope I couldn't align myself with that.

    However, RECENTLY, in looking at pro-choice web sites and seeing what it out there for (teens especially) women facing a surprise pregnancy, the most balanced literature out there helping a woman make a decision she can live with was from a pro-choice site. Far from coercive, it was informative and encouraged the woman to explore her true feelings, think about all her options, and gave resources for all three choices: adopt, carry and keep, or abort the pregnancy. That was not the pro-choice way of taking about abortion that I grew up with.

    Then the other real women I met in the last twenty years, who chose (chemical) abortion and it was right for them also helped define my perspective- the home school mom abducted and raped from a discount store parking lot, the pro-life home school mom with an ectopic pregnancy, the home school mom of seven who confided that she had an abortion as a teen and had no regrets about it and would not have the wonderful life she was living and all the wonderful kids she now had if she had not terminated her teen pregnancy. These women's stories opened my eyes to a bigger picture. Abortion was the right thing for each of them, and I would hate to see that right taken away from women in these situations in the future.

    I always thought that with the elimination of partial-birth abortion and the newer technology making surgical abortion less common, we as Americans could settle down and live with compromise. Who could foresee the situation we have today, where even women who naturally miscarry face criminal charges? 0.0

  7. Oh, my, gosh, I was JUST thinking about this before I pulled up your blog. Freaky! ; )

    Excellent post! I know early bc pills worked by making the uterus inhospitable to a fertilized egg, but don't modern pills just prevent the egg from being released in the first place (except the emergency kind)? How is that abortion? Or am I mis-informed?

    The question I ask the anti-abortion crowd is what will you do if/when abortion is illegal? What is your next step in ending abortions? Scary to think about, isn't it?

    If the anti-abortionists really wanted to be pro-life and reduce abortions to the lowest level, they could do it. They have the millions of dollars, the political clout, the advertising connections, and the armies of willing volunteers to Promote Life, keep children healthy and alive, educate young parents, support family issues, and instill a positive concept of children, parenting, and family in this country.

    Instead they've spent those millions and 40 years sweating with signs on the steps of clinics and trying futilely to pass unenforcable laws. Way to go guys.

    By the way, Libby, your post was EXCELLENT also.

  8. Thanks for this post, I had never thought about it that way before. I like your definition of "pro life."

  9. I wonder about the passage in Exodus:

    "And if men struggle and strike a woman with child so that she has a miscarriage, yet there is no further injury, he shall be fined as the woman's husband may demand of him, and he shall pay as the judges decide. But if there is any further injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise."

    Exodus 21:22-25

    I does sound (unless I'm reading it wrong) that the fine for an (admittedly unintentional)miscarriage is a fine...not death as in the death of a person.

    One of my favorite bible teachers completely blew off this passage in his "verse by verse" exegesis.

    I don't know how that squares with our modern view of life beginning at conception.

    This is a sticky situation indeed.

    I like what Sandra said about teaching young girls that they have worth!

  10. I know, Ma. Isn't it funny how the same people will take the passages from the law about a "man lieth with man as with a woman" being abomination 100% LITERAL WORD FOR WORD NO EXCEPTION but then the passage where the miscarriage of an unborn child is clearly not on the same level as murder, and NOW they get to wiggle on the words all they want!

    Today's conservative Christianity just uses the Bible in whatever way they WANT to use it;there is little concern for being people of integrity who handle the word of God reverently.

    In Ecclesiastes, the author says a child who dies en utero is better than one who is born. THAT part of Ecclesiastes we write off, but the part where he writes that two are better than one is recited over and over again in Christian marriage ceremonies every week across this great country of ours.

    Very treacherous indeed.

  11. Thanks for your reply shadowspring.

    I actually sent that passage in Ecclesiastes to another one of my favorite bloggers when he was wondering about the eternal state of the unborn.

    He didn't really know what to do with it.

    Actually, that book (Ecc) and the passage and other things started me a-questioning much of what mainstream Christendom is teaching us.