August 31, 2020

To Abort or Not to Abort: What we Get Wrong about Pro-Choice.


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I was a few months short of 22 when I got pregnant.

The heat of the San Gabriel Valley was beginning to peek its head out, shaking off the cold of winter as it rounded the corner toward spring.

I was also rounding the corner toward graduation, in the midst of my very last courses of college, compiling a draft of my thesis, and looking ahead to the gaping yawn of adulthood and my entire future.

One Sunday morning, while the rest of the campus slept off hangovers and one-night-stands, my boyfriend and I made the short drive to CVS, where we nervously avoided eye contact with the cashier as we bought a pregnancy test.

Back at the bathroom in my house, I peed and conjured up a plus sign from the you’re-knocked-up stick. I took so long in the bathroom that, by the time I went into the bedroom to break the news to my boyfriend, he’d already guessed the prognosis.

That day was spent stumbling through our Sunday to-dos, eating root beer floats (he’d had to run some errands and came back, inexplicably, with a liter of root beer and a gallon of vanilla bean ice cream), and looking at each other, stunned, as we wondered to ourselves and each other, “What do we do?”

That question bounced and jolted between us as the next few days passed. What do we do? What do we do? What do we do?

Before I found myself in a bathroom with a pink plus sign staring back at me, 21st century feminism had painted a picture in my mind that if I got pregnant before 25—maybe even before 30—or at any time when I wasn’t in a financially stable, career-achieved, fulfilled adult existence stage in my life, I would waltz off to the doctor or Planned Parenthood and confidently, casually schedule an abortion.

But that’s not what happened.

Instead, I quit drinking. I stopped taking puffs off my boyfriend’s joints. I bought prenatal vitamins. I hadn’t actually decided I was keeping it—but I also wasn’t preparing to schedule an abortion. Against all odds and expectations, at the age of 21, I was on the edge of going through with an unplanned pregnancy.

My surroundings, upbringing, and support system were all raging and rallying against that desire. I was young—very young, by modern, Peter-Pan-syndrome, millennial standards. I’d been raised by a career-driven mother who’d refused to take my dad’s name when they married and hadn’t started having kids till she was 30. Ours was a liberal, non-religious household, with no question over which side of the “right to choose” debate we fell on.

I had been a 4.0 student in high school, was valedictorian of my class, had sustained a high GPA all the way through college, and was preparing to apply to grad school. I was deeply, devotedly feminist. I’d spent many years wondering whether I wanted to get married or have kids at all, and was leaning further toward “no” than “yes” in the time leading up to that warm winter morning. I wanted to accomplish and do and achieve and be and live and impact the world, and had come to believe that that life path probably didn’t—or couldn’t—include motherhood (and sure as hell didn’t include young motherhood).

When I told my parents I was pregnant and considering keeping it, they were—to briefly and delicately summarize it—completely against it. Before I took the test, when I had suspected I was pregnant (after wolfing down two whole dinners, a large piece of cake, and an entire sleeve of Thin Mints), I’d confessed my suspicions to a friend, who’d said, “If you keep it, I’ll kill you.”

According to the worldviews that were built up around me—by my family, by people who wanted me to succeed, by well-intentioned feminists—becoming a mother young was what high school dropouts did, what unambitious women did, what irresponsible people did. It was what traditional people did, what conservative Christians did, what the uneducated did. It was not what a smart, educated, ambitious, feminist, responsible woman did.

But this model of womanhood—and of “choice”—quickly started to unravel the moment I peed on that stick.

From the second I found out what was quietly taking root in my belly, it became obvious that the notions that had shaped my understanding of the idea of a woman’s “choice” played no role whatsoever when it actually came to making that choice. It wasn’t about politics or feminism or independence or gender roles or career choices or ambition or religion or ethics or wealth or marriage or convenience or duty. It wasn’t a dialogue between me and my God, me and my parents, or me and my government. It wasn’t even a deliberation between me and my boyfriend, though I did care what he wanted and involved him constantly in the decision process.

It was between me and my own self—and between me and the bundle of cells in my uterus that could, possibly, potentially, one day, turn into a person of my creation.

It was an intimate, highly personal, impossibly important choice that had nothing to do with everyone else and everything to do with the life and future that would spring out of that single decision.

It was about my womb-deep desires as an autonomous individual—and about my willingness (or lack thereof) to embark upon a trek into motherhood.

It was a “bathroom floor” decision—the kind that we make while sitting on cold tiles, locked away from everyone and everything we’ve ever been told, listening to the rumbling in our bellies and the truth that comes bubbling up when we put the world’s expectations on mute.

We get women’s rights wrong when we push it so far that we suddenly find ourselves in a new definition of womanhood that has its own restrictions, rules, and expectations. We fail in the “pro-choice” debate when we rally for abortion so hard that we come to believe women with unplanned pregnancies should have abortions, or that every woman must consider it as an option. We misinterpret and miss the mark on feminism when we arrive at the conclusion that we know the right choice for a woman better than she knows it for herself.

The right to choose is just that—a right to choose. “Pro-choice” doesn’t—or shouldn’t—assert any claim to whether abortion is the right, ethical, appropriate, or fulfilling choice to make. What it should instead stay true to is the idea that a woman is the only person who can, should, or will know what to do when it comes to her life, her pursuit of happiness, and her claim on motherhood.

A couple of weeks after that Sunday morning trip to CVS, I woke up with blood in my underwear. A few days and a couple of hours-long visits to the emergency room later, I lay on a hospital bed while a doctor informed me that there was no heartbeat. I had miscarried.

I still don’t know what choice I would have made, had I been given the opportunity to make it. But I do know that it would have been my choice—and my choice alone—and that’s exactly how it should be.

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