No Guilt

I'm sure many Catholic women will find solace in the Year of Mercy recently declared by Pope Francis. In granting priests the power to pardon women for the "sin of abortion," Francis cited as fact that many such sinners carry with them "deep physical and spiritual wounds."

I'm not sure what physical wounds the Pope would be referring to, but as to spiritual wounds, yes, they may. If you practice a religion-- any religion-- which defines abortion as a sin, or if it goes against your personal moral code, but you choose to have one anyway, by definition you will experience some level of conflict about your decision. And I can imagine that internal conflict could rise, for some women, to a painful level, that it could, in fact, create a deep spiritual wound.

But I've never personally met such a woman. And I would be willing to bet that most women I know haven't either.

I'm in my fifties. I have three sisters, two daughters, three nieces, a career's worth of female law partners and employees and colleagues, and many, many women friends. And clients. Over the thirty years I've been practicing family law, I've represented thousands of women, women who tell me intimate details about every trauma in their lives, about addictions and mental illness, about domestic violence, about childhood sexual abuse. Not one woman within this universe of my life-- not one-- has told me she was traumatized by having an abortion, the sole exception being a few older women who have spoken about the experience of obtaining illegal ones, traumatic not because of the decision to terminate their pregnancies but because of the fear, humiliation and sheer physical danger involved in doing so.

And this jibes with my own experience. I'm in that thirty percent of American women who will have an abortion in their lifetimes. I can unequivocally say that for me, it was not a traumatic experience. The morning before I felt sad. The evening after I felt relieved. That's it. I hardly ever think about it--it absolutely does not register with me as a major life event. I couldn't tell you the date I had it and I'd have to think hard to remember the year. And that is because I don't believe what I did was wrong. I have no moral conflict about abortion. For me, it was the right thing to do at the time.

I write this because I am increasingly frustrated by the extremely effective hijacking of this conversation by the anti-choice movement. They have managed to define the debate to such an extent that women who have had abortions hesitate to even admit it. And the pro-choice camp has been backed into a corner-- we, whose personal experience of abortion is not the one defined by the right, have stood by and let them get backed into a corner-- by emphasizing the desperate circumstances of some women seeking abortions. You know, the "good" abortion reasons: she was raped, she is carrying a fetus with a serious birth defect, she's just a girl of thirteen.

Let's stop it. Now. There is only one reason for having an abortion, and that is because a woman who is pregnant does not wish to continue that pregnancy and give birth to a child. End of conversation. We should not have to justify the decision by pointing to the desperate circumstances cases. If I do not wish to grow a fetus in my uterus for nine months, push it out into the world through my vagina, and take care of the resulting child for the next twenty years or a lifetime, that is my choice. We are not merely vessels for the perpetuation of humanity. We are women with lives and families and jobs, with hopes and aspirations, and we need to stop apologizing for that.

It has been more than forty years since Roe v. Wade. The debate about abortion is clearly here to stay. But the pro-choice movement needs to take back the conversation. Which means that those of us in that vast demographic field, that thirty percent of American women who have terminated pregnancies, need to speak up about our experiences. Our silence has hurt us and it's time to end it.