When I think about abortion, I rarely think of the NOW, pro-choice organizations, or pro-life camps. The abortion issue does not shape my voting patterns. I do not contribute to pro-life or pro-choice organizations. I do not think about moral or spiritual aspects of abortion. When I think about abortion, I mostly think about my own experiences and my many friends who have made the decision to have or not have an abortion.
I chose to have an abortion the summer before my junior year of high school, when I was 15 years old. I grew up in a strict Catholic home, with a single mother who voted primarily on the pro-life issue. When I told my mom I was pregnant and that I wanted an abortion, she was supportive and understanding. She never judged me, or told me that I was a bad person. She simply told me she disagreed with my choice, that I would have to pay for the procedure, but that she would support me and love me - no matter what. She drove me to the neighboring state, walked by the protesters, sat in that clinic with me, and held my hand during the procedure. The day I had my abortion was the day I truly understood what is meant by "a mother's love" and mark that moment as the start of my adult friendship with my mother.
A year after my abortion, I traveled to another country for a year as an exchange student. I returned home, went to college, earned a bachelors degree, worked abroad, learned two languages, returned to the US for graduate studies, and began my career as a professor - at the age of 28.
A year after my abortion, my best friend got pregnant. She is now a medical doctor with an 11 year old daughter and is happily married to her child's father. We made very different choices, but I am positive that both of us made the best choice.
I have had a number of friends who have faced the decision of whether or not to have an abortion - friends in high school, friends in college, colleagues who take medications that make accidental pregnancy dangerous, and students who come to me for support.
While working with Catholic sisters (nuns) I have often heard them talk about being both pro-choice and pro-life. Many liberal Catholics argue that the problem is not abortion, but unwanted children and unsupported women and families. They say, if we developed a society that was supportive of women and children, abortion would be less of an issue.
I do not consider myself "pro-life" or "pro-choice", but when policies are passed that limit the ability to access abortion, I find my heart sinking. I cannot imagine what I would have done had I not had the option of getting an abortion.
I feel that our understanding of "the issue" would be less polarizing if the many women that have had abortions could speak openly about their experiences. Many women do not regret their decision to have an abortion. Many pro-life organizations tell women they will have "feelings of guilt and dread" but I never have. In fact, I feel relief knowing I have the choice. Because we cannot openly talk about abortion in US society, people do not realize that many different types of women have abortions for many different reasons. Many of our nurses, clients, teachers, neighbors, and pro-life friends have had abortions.
If we could create a less hostile environment for speaking about abortion - less shame and judgment on women in general - we might be able to have a more mature, nuanced conversation about abortion.
I would recommend Dr. Susan Wicklund's book "This Common Secret: My Journey as an Abortion Doctor" as one recent publication that offers a new perspective for reframing and understanding the abortion issue.
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