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The two sides of the abortion question—pro-life and pro-choice—have become so entrenched that healthy compromise seems out of the question. And how do you compromise, anyway, when one side believes abortion to be murder and the other sees its elimination as government control of a woman’s own body?
I believe there is an opportunity for greater understanding between the two camps, and the ball is in the pro-choice court. Can it really be that difficult to admit that abortion is a practice to be avoided whenever possible, an act of last resort? Yet the insistence on the abortion option, without acknowledging its dark side, reads, on the other side of the equation, as utmost callousness, even cold-bloodedness. Abortion should not be a form of birth control.
During the recent presidential campaign, then-Senator Barack Obama made a step in the right direction by acknowledging that abortion occurs all too frequently. I applaud him for his comments. Now it is time for the pro-choice camp itself to address the issue honestly and realistically. I say this as a lifelong (liberal) Democrat, who, like many women, shudders at the thought of my government telling me what I can and cannot do with my body, but also as a single mother who once contemplated abortion. I believe my story illustrates the dangers inherent in a blanket endorsement of abortion.
Just before my 18th birthday, a few months after graduating from high school, I discovered that I was pregnant. I acquired this terrifying knowledge during a visit to my local Planned Parenthood office in a midsized Texas city. I found the women at that office to be extremely supportive of my situation, and understanding of the considerable fear it aroused in me, given my single, adolescent status. Yet it seemed to me at the time, based on the information I was given, that the only plausible course of action was abortion.
This was in the 1970s, just a few years after Roe v. Wade, at a time when abortion was not only legal, but subsidized, among low-income women, by the federal government. Before I knew it, an appointment had been scheduled for me at a Houston abortion clinic, and I was purchasing a bus ticket for the trip. No one ever sat down to explore with me, in any depth, my feelings about this choice, or to offer any option besides abortion. What makes my story even more remarkable is the fact that I had already passed the first trimester of pregnancy.
I rode all night, alone, on the bus to Houston, where a friend picked me up and drove me to the clinic. It was early morning when we arrived, shortly before the clinic opened, and we sat in the parking lot staring at the clinic’s front door. My friend, sensing my underlying distress, asked if abortion was what I really wanted and offered her support regardless of my decision. It was a long time before I could answer, though I had discovered on the long bus ride my true feelings on the subject: I did not want an abortion. I did not know how I would possibly raise a child on my own, but I was certain I wanted to raise it.
I want to emphasize my gratitude that I live in a country where I had the right to make that choice for myself. At the same time, I look back on that chain of events even now with a sense of horror over what nearly happened—namely, that one of life’s gravest decisions, the choice to become or not become a parent, was almost made on the fly.