If Abortion had been Illegal Then. ~ Carre Otis

Via Carre Otis
on May 3, 2012
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Sisterhood, Now: The Political, the Personal and the Just.

I am a survivor of sexual violence. I am a survivor of rape. I am a daughter, a sister, a wife and a mother. I am a friend of women and I am their advocate.

Given my history, I constantly have my ears tuned into the state of women’s rights and women’s freedom. And as a mother of two daughters, my concern grows daily.

In my memoir, Beauty Disrupted, I had a lot of ground to cover…so I couldn’t possibly include all the details of my life. I had to be thoughtful about my sharing––what, how much, how explicit––with the intention of explaining my healing process and making a difference for others, rather than being exploitative just for the sake of enticing readers or satisfying curiosity.

Now I find myself at another crossroads, wondering about the potential benefits of sharing more of my personal experience in the public sphere. After careful thought, I’ve decided that by opening up about more of my past, my voice can contribute to the fight to make a difference in the present.

As a teenager, like many young people, I was sexually active. I was also a drug addict, incredibly immature, undeniably irresponsible and quite self-centered. And with my dangerously naïve, youthful perspective, I did not understand the potentially devastating consequences of my choices and behaviors. I became pregnant at 16. And as painful and harrowing a decision as it was, I opted to have an abortion.

I’ll never forget the emotional horrors of that decision-making process. I was disconnected from my parents, so telling them I was pregnant felt impossible, given that telling them about anything––a mall-outing, a classroom experience or even a movie I’d seen––was a total rarity. I had no financial resources, no emotional support and hadn’t finished my education.

I was terribly conflicted: as much as I thought I would be a somewhat okay mother, I knew that in most ways I was utterly unprepared. And “somewhat okay” mothering just didn’t seem good enough. A baby deserves more than that. But despite all the overwhelming data indicating that I wasn’t ready, the choice was still one of the hardest I’ve ever had to make.

I look back often. I wonder who that child would be, how my life would’ve played out and where I might be today had I not had a choice in the matter. Today, as a happy wife with two incredible children, I’m so thankful that I was born in a time when that option was available, when this freedom of choice was legal.

It’s safe to say that all the growing I needed to do, all the therapy I participated in and all the healing I’ve done has made me an available, loving and wise mother. Had I chosen to have a baby at 16, I wouldn’t have been able to provide adequate parenting and would’ve undoubtedly passed on some serious family dysfunction.

While this pregnancy was a result of consensual sex, I was raped just one year after. I didn’t get pregnant then, but I sometimes wonder what would’ve happened if I had, particularly if abortion had been illegal then. What kind of horrifying experience would I have had to endure, what other kind of violation would I experience, if I had to resort to illegal measures?

Today, the very same freedom I had to make the appropriate choice for my life and my body—is being threatened. The hands of time seem to have been rewound and the freedoms women fought so hard for in the 60s and 70s are in serious jeopardy. I can’t help but worry for my daughters. I pray they will have the same freedom of choice that I did.

Meanwhile, the rates of sexual violence against women are on the rise, increasing my grave concern for the rights of women, here and across the globe. I see that sisters, daughters and mothers in too many countries are suffering terribly. And frankly, I can’t feel any real sense of security as a woman until all women on this planet are safe. While I’d like to believe that because I live in the United States I’m unassailable and my freedoms are protected, that’s just not the case.

My daughters, your daughters, our daughters deserve safety, protection, and the freedom to make their own choices about their personal lives and their physical selves. They deserve to be protected against violence. They deserve to feel out of harm’s way in their own homes as well as on our shared streets. Anything less is a violation of human rights, a violation of a universal law pronouncing (I’d prefer “declaring”) that as humans, we seek to respect and protect one another.

Sometimes when I take in the latest news about the ongoing debate surrounding the moral and legal status of abortion, I’m tempted to ignore it altogether. For fleeting moments I want to tuck myself underneath my covers and pretend there’s no debate of any consequence and that any threat to women’s right to choose is minimal.

Then I practice some magical thinking, imagining that the situation will resolve itself soon, in my favor, because good will prevail and those who are anti-choice will be outvoted, or just come around to my way of seeing things. Or maybe, I think, all the powerful folks out there––the pro-choice politicians, the grass roots activists, the celebrities––they’ll fight the fight for me. Thank goodness for them!

And then, I wake up. I realize that I have resources within me to make a difference.


I believe that as women we must commit ourselves to sustaining the progress made by our foremothers who fought so hard for women’s equality and liberation.  Together, as a powerful and multigenerational sisterhood, we can stand up, speak out, hold hands and be the creators that women are. We must create both unity and action to ensure that every woman and girl is safe, protected and free.


Editor: Lindsay Friedman / Brianna Bemel


About Carre Otis

Carré Otis has long been one of the most recognizable faces in modeling, headlining in campaigns for Guess, Donna Karan, Calvin Klein, and Revlon. As a supermodel, Carré has appeared on the covers of Vogue, Elle, Harper’s Bazaar, Glamour, and Cosmopolitan. She’s worked with many of the world’s greatest fashion photographers, including Richard Avedon, Herb Ritts, Helmut Newton, and Peter Lindbergh. In her book Beauty, Disrupted: a Memoir Carré shares her unique insight into the business of beauty and the high price it demands by giving an honest account of her struggle with love, identity and spirituality. Now a wife and busy mother of two, she’s found a new voice as a passionate advocate for young women in and out of the modeling industry.


29 Responses to “If Abortion had been Illegal Then. ~ Carre Otis”

  1. yogi henry says:


    Your article is very personal and of course contains your opinions and judgements.

    In my life experience my wife and I were not having any luck conceiving a child. In another city not far from my home a teen-age girl aged 16, just like you were when you had your abortion was pregnant and had a decision to make just like you did. She decided to let her baby live and give it to an adoptive couple. What a gift this young woman gave us. What a gift this young girl gave to the world. That baby grew up to be a wonderful person with a Masters degree from Northwestern University and teaches Native Americans in Albuqueque,NM. She now has a beautiful daughter of her own. What a shame there isn’t more public awareness and money spent to educate young girls on the option of adoption. While that is certainly always a choice, articles like yours seems to leave that part of “choice” out. Just sayin’

  2. guest says:

    No, her article is not leaving that part out. Her article explains why its important that women have the right to choose and how having the choice can lead do different outcomes depending on external circumstances. And you are not "just sayin", you are implying that adoption is a "better" decision than abortion when it isn't. It all depends on external circumstances. And women must have the freedom to choose, not doing so implies we are not smart enough or not mature enough to make such an incredibly hard decision. If men were able to become pregnant, we wouldn't be discussing this.

  3. guest says:

    I honestly can't understand how the issue of abortion is still a debate. It is so incredibly ridiculous – it blows my mind. Abortion is the prevention of another human being from existing. They are simply not able to make the decision for themselves, and that is taken advantage of and abused. All these reasons laid out in the article about how she wasn't "ready" and all this and all that are all SELFISH reasons. They are about HER. She doesn't want a baby to grow up with an "ok" mother. Who are you to make that decision for another human being? There are those who will say, "well its a fetus not a human being yet". I say even if that is the case, the fact is that there would be a human being here now had you not removed their embryo from your reproductive system. Who knows what they would have done with their life? And who cares? It is not anybody else's to take. Instead of praising and welcoming abortion, how about preventative measures and education for our young women so that they do not become pregnant in the first place.

    I want to share one quick story – My mother worked with a woman who was pregnant. This woman was over the age of 25 and had a house where she lived with her boyfriend. She told my mother she would be having an abortion because she wanted to get married first and wanted a few more years of non-parenthood. My mother, being an avid supporter of life, begged the woman to please not abort the baby, and that she would adopt it and give it a good upbringing. The woman replied that she could not bear the thought of somebody else raising her child.

    Apparently the thought terminating her child is better? This is probably one of the most selfish things I have ever heard, and it happens everyday. My mother has 3 children in college. 2 of us were young, immature pregnancies that in many cases would have resulted in abortion had the mother been somebody else. I know my views aren't mainstream by any means, but if you are going to reply please try to be respectful and keep the flames to a minimum. Thanks.

  4. shaydewey says:

    Just posted to "Featured Today" on the brand new Elephant Health & Wellness Homepage.

  5. Liana says:

    Here's a preventative measure; Why not make men get a vasectomy at the onset of puberty and reverse it when they are married and have written consent from their wife that the couple is ready to have a child and that the woman won't abort it.

  6. guest says:

    Or, you know, use protection when having sex. There are many options out there.

  7. Luki says:

    Your assessment that the reasoning she used to decide whether or not to have a child as being purely selfish I feel is not an accurate one. Each person and each family has an impact on the world in which they inhabit. If she did not feel ready to be a mother and knew that if she did become one at that stage it would be negative for both her and her baby, that is a choice with ramifications not simply to herself, but to the whole world. Of course things can change, but I'm glad she had the right to legally make that decision.

    I'm not a woman nor do I plan to be one. But I can imagine nine months of incubating and growing a human child inside my own body would be a fairly intimate process… in fact it's difficult to get more intimate than that. I feel you might be dismissing some very deep emotional aspects to a womans relationship with her body and growing a child. Keep in mind in abortion, the embryo is not actually a child, so it's technically not terminating a child vs allowing one to live. But terminating an embryo before it becomes a child.

  8. Jasmine says:

    I respect Carre Otis's choice. I think this is a very honest depiction of what she experienced, and that people who read it can see a different perspective than they are familiar with. This may help others be more understanding. I am pro choice, although I didn't choose have an abortion when I became pregnant at 19. I am also an alcoholic and addict, and have seen and experienced how things can happen raising a child while having an addiction as well as having been partially raised by parents with addictions who aren't in recovery. I think that comprehensive sex education will help, but that ultimately it is the individuals right to choose what happens to her body. Education about Womens History helped me see how much we had to fight for what right's we do have, so I appreciate them more than before I learned about them. I also admire Carre Otis and her advocacy of women's rights. I love her book, It helped me begin my recovery process.

  9. ramanesimha das says:

    http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.398352313521063.87993.202600839762879&type=1 This is McKinley’s story….a powerful one too…..

  10. deonthai says:

    I'm wondering if anyone can give some insight into this from a Yoga and/or Buddhist scriptures/sutra's perspective. What does Yoga and Buddhism have to say about abortion and ahimsa/non-violence?

  11. Sabine says:

    Two points to ponder here –

    One is a person’s (here, a woman’s) right to choose for herself – all her actions – as they unfold before her – and then live fully the consequences. I believe in this – Full Stop.

    Two is the balance of power and of privilege in our society between men’s (issues, desires, and freedom to choose) and women’s. It is sad that women must fight so hard for their choices; all the more ironic in the arena of sexuality – when having sex – with the possible consequence of childbearing – is, inherently, a “shared” choice. (takes two to tango and produce a maraca)

    Insurance companies balk over covering birth control but don’t blink at Viagra prescrip? Abortion is decried as “absolutely evil” but men who cheat and swap out for new wives are considered electable?

    Not that it has much to do with this story – but I was VERY happy to see on the cover of the NYT that police are FINALLY working to target pimps/johns rather than the sex workers. (duh!)

    Bringing it back home – I hope this article reflects on the fact that we are all individual HUMANS – and humans on a journey, at that. Given what life throws us, and tapping into whatever wisdom is available to us at the moment, I think that we should be free to make our own choices and then live fully within the consequences they bring about.

  12. Sabine says:

    And to deonthai's comment above – I am no sutra scholar..but we might argue endlessly about "ahimsa" (brutal act of terminating a fetus) vs. "ahimsa" the "violence" of bringing an unwanted child into the world – and delivering a lifetime of your own whirling samsaras onto them as you raise them. (we see this cycles all the time). One kind of "harm" pitted against another. And yet all this is but conjecture and judgement.. (how to define "harm") Birth, itself, is one of the most graphic examples of violence in the animal kingdom –> blood, pain, –> yet produces life which also contains ghappiness etc. So that tears of pain may then flow into tears of joy. So we will only lose ourselves in our monkey minds while trying to define what constitues "harm" and good vs. evil.. The point here might be taken that yoga/sutras etc. are all about training the mind to be still..to be quiet from all the external stimuli – both physical and mental – from the delusions that lead us forward. If one can be sufficiently still as to know one's one true, quiet heart – the correct choice (for that person) will be revealed to them.

  13. Alexandra Grace says:

    Before I start let me just say that I have never been pregnant, and therefore have never had an abortion. So I cannot speak from personal experience in any of this. But how dare anyone tell another human being what she gets to do with her body.

    Abortion is not fun. Abortion, I'm sure, is a difficult thing to do. What the anonymous commenter fails to discuss is that even a living child doesn't get to decide his own fate. Did you let your child pick his own preschool? Do you take her breakfast order every morning? Does he make his own doctors appointments and decide what vaccines he needs each year? Of course not. Parents make choices for their children, their families, and themselves. People who aren't parents yet get to make choices too. You can exercise your right to choose by deciding for yourself not to have an abortion. But you don't get to tell someone else why a choice they made is immoral or inappropriate or anything else. (Unless, of course, your 4-year-old picked his own preschool and sets his own schedule. Then you, and only you, may have such an opinion.) Otherwise, stop monitoring the next person's uterus.

  14. Melissa says:

    Thank you everyone for the open, honest, and for the most part, mature discussion on a tough subject. Blessings!

  15. […] I was younger, I wanted to rage against the machine. I wanted to fight for gender equality, I wanted to save the trees, and I wanted to filet my best friend’s boyfriend like the […]

  16. theguvnah says:

    Pretty sure almost everyone in the US is aware of the concept of adoption.

    No one "owes" an infertile couple her own offspring. Fertility issues suck. We're all dealt the hand we have and then we make our own choices. Your decision to adopt has nothing to do with someone else's decision to terminate a pregnancy.

  17. Guest says:

    The author also confides that she was a drug user. My older sister is adopted and we didn't find out until she was a teenager that she exhibited signs of alcohol fetal syndrome and other issues due to her mother probably using drugs. It killed my mom. She died prematurely. She had worried herself to death over my sister. There was not a day that went by that was not a struggle with my sister. I couldn't have friends over because it would cause issues. I couldn't go places without taking her and issues always would arise. She threatened to kill my unborn daughter when my mother lay dying in the hospital. We, as a family in the 60s, 70s and 80s, were not equipped financially or with support, medical and mental, to handle her. My sister is still in this world but she is in and out of jail and on pubic assistance. She's one of the ones conservatives call "Good for Northing". We have many children looking for homes in this country and most everyone wants a baby. Not many want the child someone brought into this world and then decided they were not equipped to raise them, or were taken from their homes for safety reasons. Let everyone make their own choice. You can't walk in their shoes.

  18. My body my body my body my body my body my body my body my body

    My free will is ultimate gift…no conflict in using my will toward my body as I see fit. I would consider that the greatest “offense to God” is using the name of God to make a woman bend to somebody else’s idea of how she should live.

    Why isn’t access to healthcare for 50 million uninsured the louder issue.

    This isn’t about abortion rights. It’s about making the US a theocracy.

  19. Claire says:

    I respect that you share your views, especially because they are definitely not usually taken kindly by those reading this kind of article. However, your reaction is full of "flames" against a women you call selfish. I agree with your first sentenct only: "I honestly can't understand how the issue of abortion is still a debate."

    The choice HAS to remain there, otherwise, we regress as women with full rights. As with any freedom of choice, there are those who take advantage or take the choice for granted and those who don't. Additionally, without going too far into the bioethics of the whole debate – last time I checked there is NO CONSENSUS in the scientific community as to WHEN life begins. In my personal view, a fetus cannot survive without the mother – therefore, it is not yet its own human. The mother carrying the fetus is still the one who should have the rights.

    We can all come up with stories about people who might have been aborted that are here now. That's great. But like the author's story – she now has a much more stable life, with two kids who also would not have existed had she not chosen the way she did.

  20. deonthai says:

    Just for the record, Sabine, my "comment" above was actually a question/request – and not necessarily a loaded one, either. I have my own personal views on a woman's individual right to choose what happens to her and what goes on in her body. I am just hoping that some more people will take up the thread and talk about this from a Yogic and/or Buddhist perspective. I see so many people using a somewhat literal interpretation of scripture/sutras to back up their viewpoints on "ahimsa" as it pertains to killing/eating animal products – but then I hardly ever see anyone using a literal interpretation of sutras/scriptures as it pertains to abortion. I'd love to hear from someone more versed in this than myself … or for that matter, just anyone who has an opinion.

  21. Kiri Westby says:

    What a brave and honest account of making difficult choices and, most important, how the right to choose is being attacked by politicians and its up to us to stop them. Carre, your writing is straight forward and courageous. Thanks for sharing your inner difficulties and triumphs with all of us.

  22. […] vagina is the government. The funniest line, in my opinion, referred to a women’s “right to choose not to choose.” Ha! I say to anyone who thinks women should not have a right to choose: Stick […]

  23. […] I was younger, I wanted to rage against the machine. I wanted to fight for gender equality, I wanted to save the trees, and I wanted to filet my best friend’s boyfriend like the […]

  24. elephantjournal says:

    Here's one. Of course, at least in Buddhism, there would be no 'one' perspective, it's up to each of us to follow our conscience best we can: http://www.elephantjournal.com/2012/04/abortion-f

  25. Dea says:

    With that logic a 3 month old can't survive without the mother or someone else so if you feel you made a mistake or aren't ready to be a parent then why not a really late term abortion. There may not be consensus as to exactly when life begins but babies have survived being born in the late 20 weeks. So without question it begins before that and yet Roe allows for abortion up to the day of birth. Medical advances are making so that survivability is earlier and earlier. Roe was arbitrary and is not consistent with protecting life and liberty. When conception happens there is a unique and separate set of DNA it is no longer just the mothers body.

  26. Anthro_gurl says:

    I was asking myself the same question as I read the article and comments. Instead of re-hashing mainstream partisan talking points, what deeper yogic philosophy and guidelines can we draw upon in such a situation. I am in NO WAY one to elaborate on sutras & scriptures, but I love your point about using "ahimsa" talk to defend vegeterianism but the silence around abortion is LOUD.
    Let me state that I am pro-life and pro-choice. I want to be a positive voice in the world encouraging non-violence which would include helping women/girls to NOT choose abortion, but I would NEVER take away their right to choose. SABINE above brought up a great point about "weighing the degrees of harm". I had pondered the same…abortion is obviously violence (can be both to the living cells/fetus/baby being terminated as well as the mother, depending on how safely or not it is performed) – but an abuser mother (drugs, alcohol, risky behaviors in general) is also harmful – adoption is certainly another alternative, but depending on one's luck of the draw, an orphanage, foster home, or adoptive home could end up being harmful as well – or the detachment from the birth mother could cause great mental harm.

    I guess I'm interested, not so much in distinguishing between types/levels of harm, but in respecting life as a whole. (Could that be a valid definition of ahimsa?? RESPECT FOR LIFE?) There is no guarantee for anyone regarding QUALITY of life, only life. And what unravels in it is each of our stories. I certainly agree with Sabine that calming our minds, letting our truth float to the surface and guide us, would allow for the most conscious decision making. I WILL practice, however, NON-JUDGEMENT. I express GRATITUDE that I have not had to be in the shoes of women who have made such difficult, life-altering choices. I express GRATITUDE that women have all-options safely available to them, allowing us to exercise our free will completely. And I will ACT both to preserve infringement upon our free will and to help educate and empower women in difficult situations to help them find/express their SATYA (truthfulness) and make decisions they can be proud of.

  27. guest says:

    I assume I am the anonymous poster you referred to. What does the choice of preschool, quality of life, ect have to do with deciding if an unborn person should have the right to live or not? Because you deem their living situation as unacceptable you are allowed to cancel their chance to pull themselves out of said situation? A living child will someday be a living adult. Just because they aren't old enough to make their own decisions doesn't give anyone the right to stop them from living.

    As I mentioned in my previous post, my mother never graduated high school and raised myself and my siblings by herself. I am the first person in my family to have attended university. I was homeless for a good portion of my childhood and dealt with my mother's various boyfriends. Am I emotionally affected by my circumstances in childhood? Sure. Am I glad I'm alive? Ummm, ya. I am very thankful that my mom doesn't accept abortion as morally acceptable.

    On that note, I WILL voice my opinions about "somebody else's uterus" if that uterus is a place where another human being is being potentially stripped of their right to live. I believe it is genocide, and a facade of women's right is being put over it, which is irrelevant. For me, the right to choose should end when another person's life is being ended as a result. Choose your lifestyle, career, partner, housing, and so on, but don't choose which children get to live and why. I'll continue voicing my concerns as long as abortions are legal even if it's not okay with you.