The Abortion Debate

When I had my first child one week before turning 35, it was the happiest day of my life. Only to be matched by the birth of my second child two and one-half years later. I was supremely lucky in my experience of motherhood; I was physically, psychologically, emotionally, and financially ready and able to care for my children and I got two of the greatest kids anyone could ever want. I was relaxed and happy and in a marriage which was relatively stable at the time. Which meant that I had the time and energy to enjoy my children. And enjoy them I did.

But I don’t want to think about — much less to go into — what I went through to avoid pregnancy all those years leading up to those happy days. I came of age pre-pill and pre-Roe, and for a middle class girl of my generation to get pregnant was the shame and tragedy of a lifetime – and provided the plot for many potboilers. Of course, the tragedy both fictional and real usually revolved around the damage done to the career prospects of the accidental young father; the girl –“damaged goods”– was usually tossed aside on the trash heap of life. In fiction , it seemed a fitting fate that the fallen woman conveniently die in childbirth — or as a result of a “back alley, coat-hanger abortion.” In real life, it was off to the Florence Crittenden Home with the hopes that friends and family would buy the “six-month visit to Aunt Kate’s” story.

Let’s just say it’s a miracle that I wasn’t permanently psychologically scarred by the fear and loathing my family instilled in me at the very prospect of an out-of-wedlock pregnancy. Or permanently scarred physically by my contraception of choice. For, like hundreds of thousands of clueless women, I risked permanent sterility when I opted for the Dalkon Shield to delay pregnancy. Of course, who knew back then what damage those little plastic thingies with the sharp points were doing inside a woman’s uterus? And, who really cared? All I knew was that I bled like a stuck pig every month – so much so that I couldn’t leave the house — and when it came time to think about getting pregnant, well, the Dalkon shield had done its damnedest to make me sterile. But finally the babies came – and how I have loved being a mother.

This is the experience of motherhood I would wish for all women who want to have children. But it is increasingly rare. For a multitude of reasons. First and foremost, we live in the only mammalian society I know anything about which deliberately sabotages the whole process of motherhood. For example, what other species prohibits females from feeding their young in public? Our culture is so perverse that we find breastfeeding offensive! Imagine! (While we hardly turn a hair as we watch Iraqis daily being blown apart on the nightly news.) I write this as my foal nurses to her heart’s content while my mare peacefully grazes in the pasture surrounding my house. But a human infant nursing at a human female’s breast? Oh my god! This in a world where breasts are thrust at us from every screen and billboard, etc. Go figure!

Even more insane, what other species deliberately prevents females and their young from getting access to food and shelter? Yet our species denies females access to resources at every turn. For example, it was an unwritten rule in the company I worked for to discourage the hiring of women with small children. And even if women are lucky enough to find work, just trying to work the required 40-50 hour workweek while maintaining the semblance of being there for her children creates an impossible conflict for any mother. And most jobs young, uneducated women can get only pay minimum wage – a minimum wage she must turn around and pay to the day-care worker, netting her exactly $0 to keep body and soul together. In the rural county where I live, poor working women frequently have their children taken away from them because they do not make enough money to support them. Then the mothers are required to pay child support.

Our deeply disturbed patriarchal society is constructed specifically to punish the females of the species for reproducing (a function which is absolutely necessary for the species to continue to exist) - – unless the reproducing is completely under the control of some male. Even then, depending on the male, the vulnerability a woman assumes when she gets pregnant and has children can and often is used against her. And we believe the human species is superior to other animal species!

What kind of species are we that we make the female reproductive role so difficult? Unless a woman is financially independent, having a child – whether it be planned or unplanned, whether she be single or married – means increasing one’s vulnerability in every department. Increasingly, the norm is that women are facing motherhood alone – or in unstable relationships — without the resources necessary to bring up a healthy happy child, much less to be able to enjoy the experience. But our society continues to maintain the illusion that the norm is Mom, Dad, Buddy and Sis. All that is needed to set everything right is a man in the house – and it is the woman’s responsibility to make sure she has one. But as all readers of Flannery O’Connor know, a good man is hard to find. It is my opinion, however, that single motherhood is here to stay – and society is going to have to adjust to the realities of the new norm – just as I did.

Although my situation as a mother had started out conventionally, things soon changed, and a few years later I became a single mom; but because I was well educated and had work experience, I was able to find a good job which enabled me to adequately support my children – and by that time they were in school and did not need me 24/7. But at least I had been able to be with them during those precious early years – and at least when I needed to go to work I was able to. My relationship with my children continued to be close and loving – and, from my perspective, our homelife actually improved. No more arguments, no more seething anger, no more living on the edge of a violent outbreak. I am here to say that single parenthood need not be a nightmare. It can be rewarding and fulfilling and fun. But more often than not, it’s a nightmare – not because there’s no daddy in the house, but because our society can’t seem to get real concerning what motherhood demands of a woman. And it’s almost always a nightmare if that single parenthood is accidental. Which brings us at long last to the topic of abortion.

In our society, an unplanned pregnancy is frequently a trainwreck. It is, therefore, one of the possible life events that the majority of women in their childbearing years fear most. I still remember all too vividly the terror I experienced if my period was late. Being forced to bear an unwanted child can destroy a woman’s life. It can destroy any chance she has for a full and happy life — a full and happy life which includes planned pregnancies and wanted children. Being forced to bear an unwanted child can precipitate a descent into poverty for both the woman and her child. As a result, most women take birth control medication, risking stroke and cancer (and in my case unwittingly risking permanent sterility) in order to avoid the risk of unplanned pregnancies and their attendant social ills and personal miseries. But occasionally, a woman will find herself accidentally pregnant, no matter how hard she tries to prevent it, because to tell the truth both nature and society conspire against us. And this is the ugly truth of why unplanned pregnancies happen in the first place.

Although most adults and young people know an unplanned pregnancy can spell personal, social, financial, and psychological disaster for both mother and child, our society values above all things “real men,” and it is the mark of all real men from puberty onward to try relentlessly and ruthlessly to get into some girl’s pants, regardless of the serious consequences a girl may face for a moment’s gratification – generally not hers. Making matters worse, in our society, a woman knows that her worth is directly tied to her ability to arouse sexual desire in a male, specifically to incite him to choose her pants to get into, regardless of the negative consequences to her of his invasion. Since unwanted pregnancies are the result of men getting into women’s pants, since men never let up in their desire to get into women’s pants, and since a woman doesn’t feel worthy unless some man is trying to get into her pants, is it any wonder that unplanned pregnancies happen? Until our society really values male restraint as a manly virtue and female freedom as a woman’s right, the ability to terminate an unplanned pregnancy (abortion) is often a last-ditch and only chance a woman has to have some measure of control over her life.

At issue in the abortion debate then is not if we are pro or anti “life” or at what point life begins, it is whether or not it is in the best interests of women, in particular, and society, in general, for women to have some measure of control over their lives – which means enabling them to terminate an unwanted and unplanned pregnancy.

It is therefore resolved that it is in the best interests of women and society for women to be able to terminate an unplanned pregnancy. Those taking the “yes” position must show how planned pregnancies and wanted children are in the best interests of women and society. Those taking the “no” position must show how unplanned pregnancies and unwanted children are in the best interests of women and society.

Really, folks, is there any argument?

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