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.