More Emphatically Pro-Choice with Every Pregnancy

Guest Blogger Bio: Molly Westerman is a writer, book nerd, literature PhD, and parent of two. Her current projects include a book for feminist parents and the blog First the Egg: A Feminist Resource for Pregnancy, Birth, and Parenting. A version of this essay was originally published in July 2013 at First the Egg.

Safe, legal, affordable abortion access is something I’ve felt strongly about since childhood. I don’t remember quite what brought twelve-year-old, southern, Catholic me to feel that way: it was not exactly taught at my school! But it felt big in my heart, a revulsion at the idea of forced pregnancy and at the rhetoric of the “pro-life” movement around me.

Many years later, I have had two babies. I have held my breath hoping not to miscarry two very-much-wanted pregnancies, hoping to have healthy little humans join our family. I have been so lucky to avoid unwanted pregnancies and to have unambiguously healthy planned ones. I have felt two beloved fetuses moving inside my body.

It’s interesting to me to hear how individuals’ gut feelings and beliefs about reproductive justice–and specifically about abortion and fetuses–are affected by personal experiences of pregnancy. People seem to expect folks who’ve birthed babies to question whether terminating a pregnancy is acceptable, at least on an emotional level, as a reaction to All the Love and All the Cute (of which, certainly, there is a great deal).

My own reproductive experiences have pushed me in the other direction, to more passionate and visceral revulsion at the idea of requiring anyone to carry out a pregnancy and birth against that person’s wishes. The common notion that a person can and should “just give the baby up for adoption” seemed borderline reasonable before my pregnancies. Now I feel slapped in the face with the immense carelessness, cruelty, and arrogance packed into that little word “just.” Many different arrangements work best for particular individuals and families, sure, but just? That erasure of all the physical, social, economic, and psychological costs of pregnancy—especially of difficult pregnancies and pregnancies that aren’t supported and celebrated by our culture—stuns me, now.

I had no idea, before experiencing it myself, how whole-body and huge and permanently-changing pregnancy and birth are. I also had a less-direct understanding of the process of fetal development and what all that means as a physical and emotional reality for the person whose body creates and sustains that other/same body. I had no idea how loaded and immense–physically, emotionally, spiritually, socially–the pregnant, birthing, and postpartum body/self truly is. No idea.

After a mostly-wonderful first pregnancy and birth, I thought, wow, no one should ever have to do that unwillingly. After an extremely unpleasant and challenging pregnancy and amazing (and challenging!) birth with my second child, I thought, I would have killed myself if I hadn’t wanted a baby and I’d been forced to continue that pregnancy. It was a meaningful family experience for me because I wanted the pregnancy, I wanted the child: I could appreciate the lovely bits and bear the awful grind because of the love and also the sense of freely choosing to go on. Without an out, I think I would have been swallowed up in hopelessness and anger and found my own out.

I know very well that my second pregnancy–the hard one–was easy and complication-free compared to many people’s pregnancies. The idea of forcing an existing person to carry a pregnancy to term doesn’t just seem wrong, now: it seems gruesome.

It’s not that I’m “pro-abortion” or somehow interested in convincing people to terminate their pregnancies, as some anti-choice folks suspect of pro-choice ones. Why on earth would I object to someone staying pregnant? It’s just that I can’t wrap my heart around forcing anyone to stay pregnant, and I can’t wrap my head around the idea that a potential future person’s right to join the human community trumps an existing person’s right to bodily autonomy and self-determination.

Does your community have these “Maybe Your Baby” anti-abortion billboards? Maybe your baby will be a great artist, will be super-cute, whatever. Do these people seriously think people terminate pregnancies because they figure their baby won’t be pretty or talented or otherwise high-quality enough to merit the trouble? Before my pregnancies, I might have rolled my eyes at these signs, slathered in appealingly chubby nine-month-olds. After my pregnancies, I am insulted by their patronizing and totally clueless approach not only to Possible Mommy Ladies but also to pregnancy, birth, parenting, and human beings. The anti-abortion rhetoric that I heard at my Catholic grade school and church, that I witnessed at a large Southern university, that I read from politicians, that I see on outdoor boards today all seems to exist in some alternative universe.

Here’s my reality: My body will forever be marked by pregnancies and births and breastfeeding and all the physical interactions of parenting. My sense of self, my social status, my economic realities, my memories, and my emotional well-being will be, too. I embrace all that, in part because I chose it.

Similar Posts (automatically generated):

36 comments for “More Emphatically Pro-Choice with Every Pregnancy

  1. shfree
    February 27, 2014 at 8:17 pm

    I agree completely. I thought I was pretty committed to the idea of abortion rights before I got pregnant, but afterwards I get it on a completely visceral level.

    My pregnancy, unplanned, but the resulting baby ultimately wanted and cherished, went very smoothly. Regardless of that, the changes in my body were so profound, and I still carry them over fifteen years later, that no one should have to go through those changes unless they desire to continue the pregnancy. Hell, medical anthropologists can look at skeletons and tell how many times a person has been pregnant to term, that is the kind of influence a pregnancy has on our pelvises alone.

    Which is why I say that a person should have access to abortion so long as pregnancy impacts as opposed to risks or endangers their health and/or body, it doesn’t imply a negative outcome. And that’s really important in the conversations around abortion, particularly when you are dealing with people that are reasonable but are conflicted about the issue. We need to emphasize that abortion is a health care issue, our bodies belong to us, and we get to decide what changes within them we are willing to tolerate.

  2. February 27, 2014 at 10:26 pm

    I had a very similar experience. We chose to try to conceive, and were able to. I had a difficult pregnancy and hellish childbirth, and now I find it totally unconscionable to essentially force that on anyone. I was pro-choice before, but now I’m all-caps PRO-F’IN-CHOICE. I didn’t bring it up in polite company before, now I have no problem talking about it. “They” were right; having a baby totally changes one’s perspective on abortion. But that doesn’t automatically mean anti-choice.

    • Shoshie
      March 4, 2014 at 3:29 pm

      I had the same experience– horrible pregnancy and birth. I love my son, and the pregnancy was wanted, but damn if I didn’t consider having an abortion at a couple points during my pregnancy. And now, after a c-section, I’m slowly, slowly starting to recover the strength that I lost during the whole process. No one should be forced to carry and birth a baby.

      • EG
        March 4, 2014 at 6:51 pm

        Shoshie, it’s good to hear from you again. I’m really sorry to hear that you’ve been having such a painful time. I hope recovery continues apace.

      • March 4, 2014 at 9:58 pm

        Everything EG said. I’m so glad you’re feeling somewhat better now.

      • Donna L
        March 4, 2014 at 11:40 pm

        What EG and Mac said, Shoshie. I’ve missed your presence here, and am so sorry to hear that you’ve been having such a difficult time. May everything continue to get better.

      • Shoshie
        March 5, 2014 at 12:54 am

        Thanks, guys! Things are definitely on the upswing. :)

  3. emily
    February 28, 2014 at 5:59 am

    Me too. I don’t know where the pressure comes from, but it’s like I feel that because I’m a mom and currently pregnant, I’m expected to be anti-choice. Or that my perspective was expected to change to something more anti-choice. Like the others here, my perspective did change. I went from pro-choice to what I called “militantly pro-choice” during my first pregnancy. And with each successive pregnancy, I get more angry about it. My last pregnancy ended in a spontaneous abortion. I was lying on my sofa bleeding while watching Wendy Davis filibuster on YouTube. I really felt connected to it, like she was doing it for me (maybe I’m paranoid, but I think if abortions are made illegal, spontaneous ones will be investigated. We already saw a law hinting at this try to pass in Virginia). I think this was also around the same time a poster here talked about her spontaneous abortion and how it made her more pro-choice. I was really glad to know that other women shared my opinion: that both successful and unsuccessful pregnancies can make us feel more strongly pro-choice. I wanted to make a maternity shirt that says “this is what pro-choice looks like” to wear when I’m all obviously pregnant and miserable, but I don’t like the suggestion that there is only one way for a pro-choice person to look.

    • February 28, 2014 at 12:43 pm

      . I wanted to make a maternity shirt that says “this is what pro-choice looks like” to wear when I’m all obviously pregnant and miserable, but I don’t like the suggestion that there is only one way for a pro-choice person to look.

      :) How about “This, too, (or This is also) is what pro-choice looks like”? It seems to take away the squick and still get the point across.

      Fantastic article, by the way!

      • February 28, 2014 at 5:54 pm

        “This is what pro-choice can look like”?

  4. Kim
    February 28, 2014 at 6:56 am

    I found myself pregnant at 22. I kept him and now he’s 8 and I don’t regret it one bit. But he made me more pro-choice. I love him and always have, but, like you, pregnancy, childbirth, and early baby days especially made me think no one should be forced into any of this. And he was an “easy” pregnancy.
    Now I am 30 and nearing the end of a much-wanted pregnancy. This pregnancy wasn’t not nearly as easy, with “all-day sickness” my first trimester and morning sickness still lingering at 33 1/2 weeks, as well as a host of other things that are just more uncomfortable this time around. And I am finding myself even more passionately believing that this should always be a choice.

  5. AMM
    February 28, 2014 at 9:06 am

    Then there’s the anti-choice slogan “would you have liked it if your mother had aborted you?” I think they’re expecting you to say, oh noes! then I wouldn’t exist! Well, for long stretches of my life, I’d have answered, “hell, yes!” And I was a “wanted” child. (Well, my mother wanted her fantasy of a child. The reality, not so much.) I cannot imagine the hell of growing up with a mother who resented the fact that you were born at all.

    There’s a “Freakonomics” argument that the legalization of abortion is responsible for the drop in the crime rate: fewer children are being born to mothers who are in no position to care for them and protect them from a society that treats them as toxic waste. (Granted, Freakonomics is long on handwaving and short on proof, but it’s no worse than the stuff anti-abortion zealots churn out.)

    My slogan: better not to be born at all than to have to live in a family and a world that would rather you’d never been born.

    • Roz
      March 2, 2014 at 5:27 pm

      Awesome response. Couldn’t have worded this better myself.

  6. February 28, 2014 at 9:17 am

    I used to be pro-choice in that ‘Oh, I wouldn’t make it ILLEGAL but I could NEVER have an ABORTION’ way. Until I had kids. Until I faced that decision myself. In my own case, I chose to keep my child, but I was also told that any subsequent pregnancies would likely kill me, so I’ve gone from ‘I’d NEVER do that’ to ‘I didn’t but I can see how others could’ to ‘If it ever happens again, hell yes I’d abort because my living kids need their mom’. And I’ve learned that everyone has their reasons, and the vast, vast majority of them are valid reasons. And even if I don’t feel they are, it’s none of my business.

    So yeah, pregnancy and child-rearing has definitely made me more pro-choice.

  7. Jennifer
    February 28, 2014 at 9:52 am

    I totally agree–I’m still trying to recover from baby #2 more than 3years after the delivery. I don’t even know what another pregnancy would do to me. I’m guessing that for the anti-choicers, misogyny combined with ableism would lead them to think that I’m just imagining my problems and that I’m actually fine (I “look fine” for whatever that’s worth, which is *nothing*). Like others here, I also get really angered by the attitudes even of many nominally prochoice people that you can “just” give a baby up, as if you’re back to how you used to be once the baby is out of your body. For too many, people with uteruses just don’t matter.

    • February 28, 2014 at 6:02 pm

      Like others here, I also get really angered by the attitudes even of many nominally prochoice people that you can “just” give a baby up, as if you’re back to how you used to be once the baby is out of your body.

      Years ago I read a book called The Girls Who Went Away, which was about unwed mothers’ homes in the days before Roe, when teenage girls were coerced into giving their babies up for adoption. It really drove home to me just how insulting the whole “just give the baby up for adoption” conceit really is. It was a powerful book, and I highly recommend it.

  8. lt
    February 28, 2014 at 10:14 am

    Me also – my on paper politics haven’t changed but I have a more intense emotional revulsion at anti-choices. For me, interestingly, it wasn’t so much the pregnancy experience that did that but parenting. I love my kid and being a mom to bit but I now understand a lot more viscerally how an overwhelmed person could just be wrecked by being forced to take on more. The majority of women who have abortions already have a kid. They’re not doing it because they don’t know that kids are cute. I will admit that while I’ve always been pro-choice, I always wondered a little why we had so many unplanned pregnancies in the U.S. – of course a lot of people lack access or funds, but I just didn’t get why contraception wasn’t priority #1 (probably because I was anally paranoid about not getting pregnant before I was ready myself.) But boy, now do I understand how making your appointment for a refill, dealing with insurance etc. could go to the bottom of your priority list, even if you’re lucky enough to afford it. And I have just one kid, good insurance and a supportive partner, but I’ve still had a hard time keeping on top of my health and self-care.

  9. lt
    February 28, 2014 at 10:15 am

    Ha Ha I meant I love being a mom and my kid “to bits.” Not just a bit!!

  10. Jerry
    February 28, 2014 at 12:22 pm

    Being a man, I can only see these things indistinctly, but it must be incredibly terrifying to be a woman in a situation where abortion is discouraged or illegal and have a pregnancy that is having serious problems. As a man, I’ve never experienced a medical situation where a doctor would let me suffer, or even die, because of some abstract theological principle. No woman should ever either.

  11. Siobhan
    February 28, 2014 at 12:33 pm

    I have gotten the anti-choice assumption a few times because I did give a child up for adoption. The experience was, as the article points out, absolutely heartbreaking. I can’t even imagine forcing anybody through that against her will. (And I have seriously Lost My Shit on people who have made the suggestion to me that we should.)

  12. bingo
    February 28, 2014 at 5:55 pm

    This is a fantastic article. Thank you for writing it.

  13. March 1, 2014 at 12:59 am

    Thank you for offering this perspective – from both the author and the commenters. Having never been pregnant I had never thought about it this way before.

  14. whistlewren
    March 1, 2014 at 11:42 pm

    Both times I was pregnant and both of my births were very smooth, as far as these things go. And even so, I absolutely believe it is not an experience anyone should be forced to go through.

    But for me, the thing that made me 100%, ALL-CAPS pro-choice was all that happened after. The 7 years of DV that would have been so much easier to get out of were it not for the fact that I had two small children. The plethora of medical, social and developmental issues that my eldest has had to go through as a result of the abuse we both suffered. She is forever, irreversibly scarred by an experience she never chose, and was brought into by the fact that a 30 year old abusive predator forced a 19 year old girl to have unprotected sex. The experience of being homeless with my children as we escaped the abuse. The experience of facing homelessness again and again after finally getting out of the shelter and in to temporary shared accommodation when I had to try for months to get a rental, and the other 30 applicants were mostly childless couples, both with a full-time income. Having to constantly fear, once I got a place, that I won’t be able to make rent, and being unable to take on more work because I already could barely afford childcare that week. and my kids hated the daycare where they were being bullied, but was the only one which would pick them up from their school so I could work late. Never having enough money for all the things we need. Taking twice as long to get through university because full-time study, full-time work, and being a single parent is impossible for me, especially when I am also dealing with a 2-year long custody battle. Dealing with PTSD every time I had to do a handover of the kids to my ex, because the family court would not compel him to pay for supervised third-party handovers, despite the documented abuse. Wondering if I should settle the case by compromising and giving my ex an extra night of visitation even though the thought of him being near my children turns my stomach, because I don’t know if I can risk him getting even more than that at the eventual trial. Getting my shifts cut at work because the childless worker who can stay late and work on weekends is seen as more valuable. Changing my dream career to one that is more family friendly. Rarely seeing my family or old friends because money I would use for flights goes to school fees, specialist appointments for my daughter, or even just groceries.

    I love my kids very dearly, but there is no way in hell I would ever judge someone for choosing an abortion, when I know exactly what that may mean.

  15. March 1, 2014 at 11:51 pm

    My grandmother seemed to have the opposite reaction–after having a miscarriage, she felt more pro-life. But I’m guessing she’s not really thinking about the ramifications of criminalizing miscarriages and how that would have affected her.

  16. Ken
    March 2, 2014 at 8:36 am

    “Why on earth would I object to someone staying pregnant? It’s just that I can’t wrap my heart around forcing anyone to stay pregnant, and I can’t wrap my head around the idea that a potential future person’s right to join the human community trumps an existing person’s right to bodily autonomy and self-determination.”

    I believe the pro-life position rests on the idea that, once pregnant, the mother’s baby is not a potential future person but an existing one. One can have empathy for what a woman experiences in pregnancy but as long as one sees the unborn baby as a human person, abortion cannot be justified. If you want to convince pro-lifers to become pro-choice, you have to overcome this not insignificant hurdle.

    • EG
      March 2, 2014 at 10:09 am

      as long as one sees the unborn baby as a human person, abortion cannot be justified.

      Nonsense. No human person has the right to use another person’s body against her will. No human person has the right wreak the kind of physical changes and bodily harm on another person without consent.

      • whistlewren
        March 2, 2014 at 10:58 am

        Yeah. This is why reading some 101 feminist theory on abortion is important before commenting on a thread about abortion in a feminist forum. The comparison between a pregnant woman and fetus with the situation of a donor match and someone about to die without their extra kidney or bone marrow has been made plenty of times, very eloquently, in many different places around the interwebs.

      • March 5, 2014 at 3:12 am

        Would the anti-choicers see it that way, or say that the woman’s illness, pain, and all the other things happening, are not reason enough to kill the person she’s carrying?

      • EG
        March 5, 2014 at 10:02 am

        I don’t think that matters much. The point is really that forced-birthers want to give fetuses special rights that no born person has, to use somebody else’s body without their consent.

    • Jamie
      March 2, 2014 at 8:01 pm

      The analogy that I like to use is that a house is on fire, and in once room there is a pregnant woman, and in the other room there are two children. You ONLY have time to save the occupants of ONE room, and you have to choose…knowing that the other will die. Which do you choose? If a fetus is TRULY a person, then a pro-lifer should have an impossible decision, right?

  17. March 2, 2014 at 4:20 pm

    I just want to thank everyone who’s shared stories in this comment thread. You’re all awesome, and your stories are so powerful.

  18. MJP
    March 2, 2014 at 4:32 pm

    There are so many reasons that a woman chooses to end a pregnancy and the other side either does not understand that or chooses to ignore them. My first pregnancy was textbook perfect, followed by three miscarriages. Then the horror truly began, two more pregnancies that were termed ” not compatible with life” – the choice, continue on and plan funerals or terminate two much wanted pregnancies. Nine years after the birth of our first child I once again gave birth to a healthy child. People assume since I had so desperately wanted a child that I must be anti abortion, they couldn’t be more wrong. I am grateful I had the choice.

  19. ClinicEscort
    March 2, 2014 at 5:57 pm

    Beautifully written. I also became vehemently more pro-choice with each of my pregnancies. Ironically, during my first pregnancy (planned and wanted) out me into a severe depression. I truly believe that the knowledge that I had an option to not be pregnant and that I was, in fact, choosing to stay pregnant kept me from going completely over the edge.

    I think it’s also notable that most women who have or have had abortions have also carried pregnancies to term. The pro-life movement gives women so little credit for understanding the realities of our own lives.

  20. March 2, 2014 at 6:56 pm

    Brava! Well said.

  21. March 5, 2014 at 2:33 am

    Haven’t read the comments yet, but want to say what a terrific piece this is. I’ve never been pregnant, nor ever wanted to be, but your descriptions speak for me. The idea of a forced pregnancy, of being made to go through with that, with all those things happening to your body and a potentially fatal process at the end of it – it’s just horrific.

Comments are closed.