Thoughtful Thursdays: Why I’m Still Pro-Choice

I want to start this post by saying that I have no desire or intention of starting a pro-life vs. pro-choice debate on my blog. I am writing this post because this was an important issue in my life that required many months of careful consideration and soul searching for me to resolve. I hope that my journey might help other women who feel similarly torn between their need for their miscarriage to be recognized as a loss and their belief in a woman’s right to choose.

I have been considering writing this post for a very long time. A very long time. I knew I needed to write it as soon as I came to a place of peace about this issue. I knew I needed to write it because I walked a long road of reconciliation to accommodate the feelings surrounding my loss with my pro-choice stance. At the same time, I was scared to put myself out there on such a hot button topic because I’m not interested in pro-lifers trying to convert or attack me (though I am interested in hearing their thoughts on this issue). Really I want to share my perspective in case it can help someone facing a similar dilemma. For some reason, I couldn’t bring myself to actually write the post until someone posted this article on Prompt-ly. I guess it made me want to defend the fact that my miscarriage didn’t weaken my belief in a woman’s right to choose, though I wondered, for a time, if it would.

I have always been pro-choice but the reality is that for many years I didn’t think much about what that meant for me. I didn’t start having sex until I was 24 years old so abortion was something I was absolutely certain I wouldn’t have to consider for a long time. From the moment I determined I was pro-choice (and I can’t remember when that was) I never faltered in my insistence that I would always support a woman’s right to choose. I also never faltered in my belief that I, personally, would probably never elect to have an abortion.

Unless, of course, I were raped or a pregnancy put my health in grave danger or some other unforeseen tragedy became my reality. These (and many more possibilities I’m sure I can’t even fathom) are the reasons I am, and always will be, pro-choice. I can’t imagine taking the option of terminating a pregnancy away from a woman when I have no understanding of that woman’s circumstances. It just doesn’t feel right to me.

I have always been sensitive to pregnancy loss. My mother lost a daughter (my younger sister) in the NICU and then three pregnancies, all stillborn boys. I honored miscarriages as real, very significant losses even before I suffered my own. Then I had my ectopic and my world came crashing down around me; I realized knowing that a loss is significant and experiencing that loss for yourself are very different things. Suddenly I was struck with the reality that my loss, at a mere 6.5 weeks, was utterly devastating. It was the loss a child, my child. If I felt I had lost a child at 6.5 weeks, how could I support women terminating pregnancies much later than that?

I didn’t ask myself that question right away. In fact, I didn’t ask myself that for a long time. A hint of it flittered in and out of my consciousness but I choose to push it aside. I knew I could never tell a women what to do with her body. The thought that I might have to reconcile my sense of loss so early in a pregnancy with my support of a woman’s right to choose to terminate her own pregnancy was something I just wasn’t willing or able to consider

Then something happened that forced me to face the issue. A close friend called me to announce that she was having an abortion. While I won’t recount the details of her situation, I will say that it had a profound effect on me. I assumed that if my friend could make this choice for herself, she could never validate my own loss. And if that were true, did my support of other women making similar choices also dishonor the tragedy I felt I’d endured?

These were very difficult questions I felt incapable of answering on my own. I judged my suffering incomprehensible to my IRL friends and I couldn’t explain my inner turmoil on my blog without betraying a confidant’s trust. In desperation I emailed a few select bloggers I’d befriended and with their help I started walking a path to resolution.

My wise, caring friends helped me see that while there might not be physical differences between the pregnancy I’d lost and the one my friend terminated, they represented very distinct things to each of us. The pregnancy I lost was a potential child, one that was planned and hoped for. One that was loved. For my friend, pregnancy was a biological inevitability, the improbable result of failed birth control. It was not wanted and it was not loved. In fact, it was a problem to be dealt with. That distinction meant a lot.

The other important differentiation was choice. My friend was able to make a choice and I was not. I had no choice. My pregnancy, if allowed to progress would actually have harmed me as it was wedged in my fallopian tube. My pregnancy never had a chance of becoming the baby I so longed for. Being denied the choice of whether my pregnancy would continue further distinguished my loss from my friend’s.

That is the other thing I realized: I viewed my friend’s termination as a loss. I was sad to not meet the child her pregnancy would have produced. I mourned the passing of that would-be person. As a woman who tried for many, many months to achieve a healthy pregnancy, who has followed women on journeys much longer and more painful in search of the same, I believe every pregnancy is a miracle. I know that for many pregnancy is not biological inevitability, but something elusive, to be cherished once it’s attained. And I do believe every beating heart, no matter its size, is wondrous to behold.

I also understand that sometimes not even the greatest of gifts can be accepted. Sometimes a new life cannot be. For so many reasons women may not be able to embrace that possibility. And while I can imagine some of those reasons, I’m gratefully ignorant of others. I’m also ignorant of the emotional turmoil that I’m sure surrounds every decision to terminate a pregnancy. The reality is it doesn’t matter why someone makes that choice or how that choice affects her, what’s important is that she has that choice to make.

It was the fact that I wasn’t given a choice that made my loss so difficult. I wanted to nurture the potential for life inside of me but it was forced out against my will. I was robbed of my choice and it was devastating. I would never rob another woman of her choice when I might not fully appreciate the consequences of being denied such an alternative.

Would that this were a perfect world. Would that all women who so desperately want to get pregnant could, and all women who would hope not to, don’t. Would that it were so, but it is not and it never will be. In the absence of this perfect world I can only hope that we would honor the choice of the women fortunate enough to have it while respecting the anguish of the women who grievously do not.

21 responses

  1. Very eloquently stated!
    I admit that I for a time after my losses I couldn’t stand the thought of any woman having an abortion, despite my decidedly pro-choice stance before my losses. However, with time and clarity I came to the same conclusion as you. As much as in my circumstance, making a decision to terminate a pregnancy seem reprehensible, in another situation it seems to me like the only sane choice. Recently, two women I know have gone through abortions. I was sick to my stomach hearing about it, but the fact is, that it was the right choice for them, and like you yourself said, that’s what matters.
    I was raped as a teen, and I can only imagine what had happened had that scum not used protection. If for nothing else, just for that reason I could never fathom being anti-choice. I don’t call it pro-life, because for me, pro-life and pro-choice are one and the same.

  2. Well stated, Esperanza!

    To tell you the truth, I am like you in the sense, that I find it hard to process when women around me choose to terminate their pregnancies.

    I found myself being judgmental and internally hating them for being able to say the yes or no.

    I have realized though (and still in the process of coming to a great conclusion) that I can’t dictate somebody else about how to lead their lives.

    For atleast one woman I came to know the circumstances much later, and I realized my folly – I had judged her only on her decision, not the process she had gone through.

    I loved your post.

  3. And on the flip side, imagine the anguish of a woman who is told that she must bear the child that is unplanned/unwanted or a health risk. Her choice would also be removed. I am not pro-abortion by any means, and it certainly makes me sad when people find that to be the only option. But I would never presume to remove the choice from anyone.

    I have spent some time considering the “when does life begin” question, and the early losses that I’ve had make that so much more difficult. But it doesn’t make a difference to the larger issue of choice.

    Excellent post…

  4. Great explanation and brave post. Pre-miscarriage, I was also in the camp of “I’m pro-choice but would never have an abortion myself.” Post-miscarriage I’m profoundly sad to think about a person snuffing out the little heartbeat that I so desperately wanted to see. And now as I’m adopting, it’s even harder to know of all the adoptive parents waiting for babies that would have existed but for the abortion. Yet, I still believe in the fundamental right of a woman to choose what happens to her body and her life. My own life choices dictate what I could do in good conscience, but others have had very different lives than I. If anything, now I find myself supporting social services programs so that wanted babies aren’t aborted for lack of resources.
    On a separate note, I feel compelled to remain pro-choice because of the creeping infringement on all things fertility-related. It’s not enough for the pro-life movement to just attempt to restrict abortion – now we’re starting to see positions taken on restricting access to birth control, criminalizing miscarriage, and restrictions on what can be done with embryos. If we don’t push back, our reproductive choices will become more and more limited.

  5. Great post.

    I’m pro-choice. Always have been, always will be. Some people seem to assume that my experience with IF might change that– as if every women who gets pregnant should be forced to give birth to all of the babies I wanted so desperately and couldn’t have (for a time). But life doesn’t work like that– burdening a woman who has no desire to carry a pregnancy (or become a mother) would not take away my pain in any way.

    To me, the decision to be pro-choice is a selfless one. It’s about looking past your own circumstances and realizing that you cannot possibly understand what’s right for another woman. For women who are staunchly pro-choice, then switch to pro-life after an IF/loss experience, it seems to me that they held their believes for the wrong reason– for themselves.
    (I can understand struggling to come to terms with how you feel about abortion afer a loss– those raw feelings of having your baby taken from you when someone else is willingly giving theirs up must be VERY difficult.) But in the end, I would think that if you believed that women should have the choice about whether or not they become mothers, you would come back to that decision in time.

    In the ALI community where women are desperate to become mothers, it’s difficult to imagine a women who is desperate NOT to– but those women deserve the right to their options just as much as we do… And my experience with IF has not changed my opinion about that in any way.

  6. Oh! So well said. I feel the same and have not been able to put my finger on the difference. Thank you so much for writing this post!

  7. The last paragraph sums it all up so beautifully. Thank you for stepping out and sharing your views on this sensitive topic.

    After my son died I was internally faced with debating my stand on this issue. I have always been pro-choice and I still am. Would I get an abortion, likely not unless the reasons you described were involved.

    It still amazes me that abortion is such a hot topic. I have never been faced with the choice, nor have any of my friends (to my knowledge). It doesn’t affect my life in any way, so why am I still talking about it? Which proves that another women’s business it not my business. It is not my choice to decide what she does or doesn’t do with her body. It is her choice. And if, Godforbid, I’m ever faced with an unwanted pregnancy or life-threatening pregnancy, it is only fair that choice be available to me.

    Again, thank you for being brave and sharing your story and opinion.

  8. That must have been a very, very tough spot to be in. I imagine it might still be today, even though you’ve come to this point of understanding the difference.

    You encountered some very wise women on this topic it seems, and you’ve come to an equally nuanced point of view.
    I can only nod in agreement.

    I’m always amazed at just how controversial the issue of choice is in the U.S. Proof of how huge a role religion plays in public life.

  9. I feel exactly the same way you do. I do wish someone pro-life would speak out, only because I’m curious they’re thoughts behind it. I like how Stef puts it – that if they were to change from pro-choice to pro-life, it would be about themselves. And ultimately, that’s why I’ve never switched to pro-life, despite my feelings after my losses. But I’d be lying if I said it didn’t pain me to no end when I think of some of the women I know that have had numerous abortions, when I can’t get one to stay. And this is where I pull the 5-year old and say it’s just not fair.

  10. Very good post. I always love your posts.

    Bodegabliss wanted to hear a pro-life stance, so I guess I’ll put it out there. (I normally never, ever speak up on the subject, as I am not a debator and am always afraid of putting myself out there, but I will here.)

    I am pro-life, but I guess you could say that I am a limited pro-life, as I believe in termination in the case of rape, health of the mother, or the baby being incompatible with life. My husband and I have gotten into so many debates about it, as he is really on the conservative side, and doesn’t believe in it in most cases. (However, I do believe that his opinion would be changed if I was raped).

    The reason for my belief is purely religious. I believe that a life is a life that God created, and we shouldn’t be the one’s to decide to take a life.

    However, there are holes in my belief, because if I really believe the above statement, then maybe I should believe that even women who are raped shouldn’t get abortions. So I struggle with that contradiction in my belief. But I don’t believe that rape is from God. I can’t really wrap my brain around the life that was created with rape. I guess I don’t want to. It hurts too much.

    As I’ve gotten older I have gone more to the left than I was in the past. But, I don’t believe that I will change my mind on this issue. However, I know people who have had abortions, and I don’t look down on them. I tend to be a very accepting person and I don’t like to judge.

    Anyway, that’s my opinion. I’m shocked I even put it out there, as this is not in my character! (Okay, no one be mean to me, please? 🙂 I know you won’t, Esperanza 😉

  11. I realized that I forgot to connect my thoughts to your post, which is what you wanted.

    My miscarriage did make my views feel stronger on being pro-life, even though I already was. I guess my experience with my pregnancy did as well, as you know, we were encouraged to terminate all the way up to 24 weeks.

    One thing that my pregnancy did allow me to feel, which I might not have felt before, was that carrying a child who is probably going to die is very hard. It’s excruciating. If a baby is incompatible with life, then I do believe in termination. I think that before my pregnancy, I did not feel that way.

    So as you can see, my miscarriage didn’t change my view on termination, just made it stronger, but my pregnancy did.

  12. Wonderful post! So very well articulated.
    I truly feel for your mother. She has been to hell so many times. She must be a very strong woman.

    My losses never changed my pro-choice view either. I still remember vividly one day shortly after my first loss when I caught a conversation between 2 teenage girls on the street. One was talking to the other about how she knew her body and knew without a doubt that she was pregnant and would have to get an abortion. The other was sympathetic and supportive.

    I remember looking up and thinking “good one”. I couldn’t help but give a big fat middle finger to the universe but I was still glad that she had that option because that girl was NOT ready for motherhood.

  13. Courageous, well written post. And Noelle, thank you for writing your view as well. This is such a hot button topic in this country, and yet here we see that there is room for a gentle, nuanced discussion.

    Personally, I would say my pro-choice views were tested during my struggle with infertility. Each of my three pregnancies were so precious to me. Each of those four babies were so wanted and fought for. I am so thrilled the twins were born, but I do still mourn those other losses. Like you said, I mourned the potential of each of those would-be lives.

    I grew up in a pretty strict Christian church that did not believe in abortion in ANY instance, not rape, not incest, not if a nine-year old was pregnant, not if a pregnancy was threatening the life of the mother. I fought our pastor on this in bible class and he did not like me for it. I think that experience solidified my views on being pro-choice. I am still pro-choice.

    I am very disturbed by the increase in legislation trying to monitor miscarriages and investigate them. It’s very creepy, very 1984. My miscarriages were the worst thing that ever happened to me. Imagine the law coming in and intensifying your grief, and possibly prosecuting you for losing your pregnancy naturally. It makes me shudder.

  14. Jiraffe-I can’t believe about the legislation to monitor miscarriages either! I am disgusted by it! If I was questioned after mine, I would likely have tried to commit suicide. Seriously-I can’t imagine feeling any worse than I already did.

  15. A profound and beautifully written post. Well done. And well done for working towards reconciling your feelings about this issue rather than simply trying to ignore the discrepancy – that is truly something to admire.

  16. I have to say that infertility changed my point of view as regards abortion (I was lucky enough to never experience miscarriage, but I think the yearning for a child, plus having experienced intimate views of my future children at stages from blastocyst, to 4.1 weeks to birth, etc. certainly had an effect). I’ve always felt that I would likely never have an abortion myself, and I always felt a real wedge between a friend and I after she had an abortion for what reasons I can only deem convenience (despite her conservative religious and political views, the fact that she and her fiance-now-husband were both well-off financially and had the support of both sets of parents, etc., AND the fact that she supported legislation that would make abortion illegal, when she found out that she was pregnant, she decided to terminate. I just couldn’t respect her after that, at all.).

    However, I have also always felt that it was a person’s right to choose for themselves, that it wasn’t up to me to determine what was or was not an appropriate reason for a stranger to choose to terminate. Furthermore, I know of too many cases where women needed to be able to safely terminate for medical reasons who wouldn’t be able to do so were pro-life laws enacted.

    BUT. I have to say that my heart hurts when I hear about someone having an abortion. I know that parenthood is not for everyone, nor is keeping a pregnancy and then opting to enter an adoption agreement. But, like I said, having seen my little ones as hundred-celled beings, knowing how much life was already in them at that point, seeing what they now become? It makes me sad to think about a life being cut off before it’s even given the chance.

    Still, though, I cannot reconcile those heart-hurt feelings with any desire to take away someone’s ability to plan their lives for themselves. If your personal ethical code is such that this is acceptable, then who am I to tell you that you can’t or shouldn’t? I firmly believe that we shouldn’t base laws on a code of religious ethics, and I firmly believe that limits on abortion rights are almost always driven by religious ethics. I don’t want my freedoms directed by someone else’s definition of what is right or wrong based on religion, so I certainly don’t feel right in changing my views from being pro-choice to pro-life.

    Ugh. So much more to say on this nuanced topic, but I think you did an excellent job covering the bases, so to speak. I’ve blathered on long enough… but thank you for opening the topic and encouraging the dialogue. It’s very interesting to read everyone’s views on this.

  17. Great post. I think about this topic every now and then. My feelings are all over the map, and possibly offensive, but unfortunately that’s where IF has brought me. On the one hand, I am definitely pro-choice and always will be. If you don’t want a kid, I’ll be damned if I try to make have one (for me, as an infertile, the last thing I like seeing is resentful mothers). But at the same time, I really dislike efforts I sometimes see in the feminist world to, for lack of a better word, normalize abortion. I understand it can be a good thing to talk openly about it, for your sake and the sake of others. But I just don’t like it when women are casual about their abortions (which I’ve experienced). I think it’s distasteful, in the same way I think it’s distasteful when people complain-brag about their kids around people who don’t have them. Sometimes it seems like our society has collectively forgotten that people can be infertile, even with all our awesome medical advances. I’m pretty sure, and granted this would be before abortion was legal and therefore safer, that one of the deterrents to aborting used to be the possibility that something could go wrong and you could become infertile. But I see some women who act like getting an abortion is just another step on the becoming-a-woman ladder–as if after you start getting your period and before you get pregnant because you want to you’re bound to have a slip-up because gosh your just so darn fertile, better get an abortion and you can always have that baby later. And I know I sound bitter (which I am), so I just want to say I don’t mean to direct this bitterness towards women. I honestly have compassion for women who abort–I don’t see a whole lot of difference between being pregnant when you don’t want to be, and not being pregnant when you do want to be. It’s more that I have bitterness towards the universe for making this so. So while I completely and entirely want abortion to be legal and accessible, it’s always going to be a reminder of other people’s fertility, which sucks.

  18. Here from the future via Time Warp Tuesday. What a thoughtful and interesting post. I also really appreciate what everyone has shared in the comment section.

    I have struggled with this topic for years, especially after dealing with secondary infertility and loss.

    For much of my life I considered myself pro-choice, but believed I myself would never get an abortion.

    When I was in grad school a very close friend of mine got pregnant, when her boyfriend used the “pull out method” and it failed). She chose to have an abortion. This was years before I would be faced with the inability to get pregnant/sustain a pregnancy after our first child was born, but it still tore me apart. She called to tell me about her situation and it was so hard for me to understand. I did support her emotionally during that time, as her friend, but I did not agree with the choice she made and to this day I still think about it. Its also sometimes hard for me to accept that she went on later in life to have children relatively easily. It just seemed unfair to me. But I know that life is not fair.

    Before we started our family one of my real world jobs was with a faith based institution. I worked at a Catholic Graduate School for Theology and Ministry and while there learned about Cardinal Bernadin’s “Consistent Ethic of Life.” I really embraced the concept and have tried to adopt most of what it speaks to. I have never believed in Capital Punishment and have had many debates with those who do. One thing I like about the “Consistent Ethic of Life” is that it believes in honoring life at all stages from conception to death at an older age (no matter what crime you may have committed, even killing another person).

    After my two miscarriages, our ectopic pregnancy and losing our daughter Molly soon after she was born, it definitely impacted my view of abortion even more. I get that there are instances, such as the mother’s life/safety, where it is necessary (in my view) for it to be allowed. However, i most cases I really struggle with it being a “choice” that someone is allowed to make, especially when the person/people making it were not careful when having sex and “got themselves” into this situation.

    I also get that there are so many layers to this discussion and ramifications abortion were to ever become illegal again. So I am not suggesting that. However, I tend these days to lean more towards pro-life, than pro-choice in my views. I am not in a place to declare myself one or the other. But it pains me to know how many people use abortion as a form of birth control, when so many of us who so desperately want/wanted to be able to have children have had to struggle so much to conceive and sustain pregnancies.

    I know I am not sharing a definitive opinion here. I am just being honest that this subject still is hard for me to wrap my brain around. The post I am reflecting on for Time Warp this week is one in which I talked about our donating our frozen embryos for stem cell research and I get that can also be considered a form of ending life at its earliest stages. So in making that choice, I feel like it would be hypocritical of me to say that I fully believe in the “Consistent Ethic of Life,” even though I really like the ideas behind it.

    I know this is such a long comment, but clearly it struck a chord with me. That last thing I want to say is that I believe very little in life is “black and white.” I think, especially because of my experiences with SIF and loss, that I am able to appreciate and embrace the “gray areas” that so much of life is encompassed in. So though it does pain me that so many women have abortions in cases that I do believe they shouldn’t be allowed to, I am not ready to say that no one should ever be allowed to.

    As you said in your post, in a perfect world those who wanted children could have them easily and those who don’t wouldn’t. But for some reason, we may never know, that is not the case and we need to learn to live and make peace with it somehow.

    • Kathy, I agree with you in many, many ways. I too wish abortions were a very rare occurrence, an emergency procedure used only when health or violation (or something else awful I’m too naive to even think of) are part of the situation. But there are situations like my friend’s, who had an IUD in and is evidently one of the of 1% of the population for which an IUD fails (of course that would be my friend, of course!). Can I really begrudge her the termination of her pregnancy when she was so responsible in trying to prevent it? When she chose the method that is touted as being the most fail-safe? That doesn’t seem fair either. The reality is, as you said, there is no black or white. People make mistakes, birth control is fallible (even when used correctly) and an unwanted pregnancy is a very difficult thing to deal with. Where I am at this point, I can only hope that the decision is never taken lightly, and the women making it understand deep in their heart what they are doing. I think the vast majority do, or at least will, at some point. We all must live with the choices we make, but I’m glad that we have the right to make those choices.

  19. Glad you revisited this post. I remembered it well.

    I’m still pro-choice and VERY scared of people like Tim Tebow who thinks women with ectopic pregnancies and who doctors say are going to die if their pregnancies continue should pray to God and hope for the best and refuse treatment. I mean, we might as well be in medieval times. Shudder.

    But as an infertile, it’s very, very hard to sympathize with this sort of thing: In fact, I can’t. Not one little bit.

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