They Shoot Horses, Don't They?

The problem with the pro-choice movement

A blue-black morning just after New Year's. My friend Maria drove me in her little Honda. I was braced for protestors. In the parking lot, nothing moved but us, and the contrail of our breath. I had imagined brushing past the rubble scornfully, meeting their self-righteousness with my own: "Why don't you go live your precious life?" Their absence was nevertheless a relief: a week of nausea had left me fragile, and I was walking half bent over, with tentative steps.

Antichoice people throw the number "40 million" around like it alone will convince nonbelievers of the horror, the horror: 40 million abortions since 1973 and counting. To me, 40 million abortions means that I have company and lots of it. Say maybe 30 million women (given multiples) who chose, over the past 30 years, to have a legal medical procedure. Thirty million women (not counting those who had illegal abortions pre-Roe v. Wade) who don't usually talk about that procedure, because if they're anything like me and my friends, it's over, they don't regret it, end of story. Thirty million women represents, roughly, one out of every four women in the U.S.

 

Pamela Valfer

Inside the clinic, I waited. Forcing down saltines, slowly, with tiny sips of water. Not talking much, Maria quiet too beside me. She'd done this before, by herself, feeling more conflicted than I. This morning, the nausea crowded out any emotion but self-pity. In the square waiting room, other people waiting. I didn't look up much. A quick examination by a nurse confirmed my pregnancy. Fingers in and on my uterus, she claimed I was eight weeks. I argued weakly for six: Eight was impossible; my live-in boyfriend had been on tour. Probably some weird growth mutation due to the x-ray, I thought darkly. Not to mention the beer that had made me forget a step at First Avenue, occasioning that badly sprained ankle.

I was 29--it was late 1990. I was drinking a lot, as were most of my friends. I had a part-time job at a bookstore and a handful of freelance writing jobs. I cleared maybe $12,000 a year. My boyfriend, the same. I knew a couple of people with small children, and I didn't want to be them. I wanted to drink, see bands at First Avenue, and stay up afterward smoking, flirting, and deciding what was the best double album ever or who was most psychic among my women friends. My life had a loose-jointed fervor that I loved.

 

What you hear about are the regrets. The "post-abortion depression." The "couldn't get pregnant afterward." The "I know I sinned!" But if one out of every four U.S. women were wailing and tearing at their hair with as much ferocious guilt as the antichoicers say we feel, work wouldn't get done. Children wouldn't get raised (let alone born, abortion having made us all sterile and prone to breast cancer!). Sex wouldn't happen. Society at large would notice. Instead, most women pretend that abortion is a personal decision, and go on with their lives. Which is laudable, of course, but also, unfortunately, wrong-headed.

 

After more waiting, a session with a counselor. Another patient in the room, maybe two. I signed consent forms, looked the counselor straight in the face and promised I was there of my own volition and had no doubts. I'd already waited a week for my appointment. I'd spent most of it on the couch, moaning. My boyfriend was on tour again. Around 5:00 p.m. each day, I'd feel a slight easing of queasiness, move carefully upright, and shuffle to the kitchen to make ramen. The smell of the noodles cooking often threw the whole plan off. There was no sense of joy or purpose in me to counter the discomfort. It was irritating to be asked again if I was sure.

 

Antichoice people have made a woman's choice to have an abortion a public decision. They have clogged media online and off with stories of the relatively few women who regret aborting and/or who crave symbolina-hood, with its complimentary gift bag of support, sympathy, and smugness. Their public idea of Morality is, against the quietness of most women's personal, small "m" moralities, the only one hogging press. They have claimed God and called us sluts and, worse, casual. They have endowed abortion with a narrative of shame--to the point where a website presenting positive stories of abortion calls itself imnotsorry.net.

I won't even say, "I'm not sorry." Shame has nothing to do with my abortion story. Many of the accounts on imnotsorry.net sketch a narrative of rebirth: abortion as the crossroads where a woman realizes the value of her independence, ditches the abusive and/or indifferent boyfriend/husband, and sets out on her own toward schooling, fulfilling career, economic autonomy, and eventually true love. That's a wonderful narrative, and we need it. I can't say that my abortion kicked into motion any grand transformations. A couple of unrelated things happened, pleasant and painful, over the next year, and I did begin to focus more deliberately on my work and my relationship. But abortion didn't make me a better person. It gave me the freedom to bumble along on my humble path without damaging a child deserving of my wholehearted attention.

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