An abortion gave me freedom
- Abortion in extreme cases are necessary
Jun 6, 2018-
When I was 23, my life forked. Until then, it had felt like one of those LA freeways with half a dozen lanes: I had options in terms of which path I took, but they were all going in the same general direction.I was barely making a living in a job I enjoyed, and living in a dump with friends I adored. Life was wide open. Then one day I took a pregnancy test and suddenly there were two directions for me: have the baby or don’t. I cried on the bathroom floor with my best friend, but the tears were out of embarrassment that I had been so careless. They weren’t out of fear. It was years before I appreciated what a privilege that was.
During the Irish abortion referendum there was a lot of talk about the extreme cases in which legal abortion is not just a right but a necessity: rape victims, foetuses with fatal abnormalities. But it would be dishonest not to mention the more banal stories like mine. Back then, I was with my first boyfriend, whom I loved very much. I was starting to recover from anorexia – which is why I hadn’t been more careful: I assumed I couldn’t conceive – and my boyfriend was then no more emotionally equipped than I was to look after a baby.
But the truth is, we – I – absolutely could have had that baby. I would have had to give up my job and move back in with my parents. My relationship would have eventually ended, and it would have taken years for me to be able to support myself and the baby. But, sure, I could have done it.
As the Irish went to the polls last week, several male columnists took it upon themselves to share their revelations about the female body. One broke the astonishing news that, when a woman is pregnant, a baby is growing in her womb. Another informed us that women who defend abortion are analogous to “human rights-abusing dictators when outsiders complain at what they do within their borders”. Because a woman’s body belongs to the people, not to her. Given that anti-choice arguments are always predicated on the idea that women are either idiots or evil, it’s a wonder anyone thinks they should have children at all. New York Times columnist Ross Douthat gave the game away when he wrote that, “with its restrictive abortion laws”, Ireland hadn’t “compromised women’s health”. Not once did he mention Savita Halappanavar, the 31-year-old woman whose death sparked the referendum; Halappanavar died of septic shock when the Galway hospital she was in refused to induce a miscarriage during her unviable pregnancy.
A few days before my abortion, a male acquaintance told me I didn’t know what I was doing. I was killing a baby! Did I really think I could live with myself afterwards?
I did and I do. People say abortion is complicated, but it isn’t. Only those with the luxury of not having to worry about the practicalities of parenthood can sentimentalise the situation.
Because if I had continued with that unwanted pregnancy, what then? I wouldn’t have had it in me to give the baby up for adoption, but I also wouldn’t have been a good mother – because I wasn’t ready. As it happens, two of my friends got pregnant at around the same time. Both continued their pregnancies and, because they were more emotionally mature than me, ultimately thrived as mothers. But I know as well as I know my own shadow that would not have been my story. I could barely look after myself then, let alone a baby, and becoming a parent would not have made me grow up: it would have made me dependent on my parents for years. I needed – and wanted – more time.
Since I had twins at 37, I’ve become even more pro-choice, because I now know the realities of pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood. Making anyone go through that when they don’t want to is so obviously self-defeating, it verges on the surreal.
My story is not every story, any more than an anti-choice campaigner’s love for their children is an argument against abortion. Women’s needs are different. That’s why they need a choice. Even some pro-choicers talk about abortion with distaste. But I love my abortion. It gave me the freedom to work, to choose when I wanted children and who I wanted them with. My now-long-ago-ex-boyfriend and I are not yoked together by a baby we weren’t ready for. And my abortion was so free of shame and fear that it has never affected me emotionally. The miscarriage that I had at 38, I think about every day, because I wanted that baby; my abortion at 23, I never think about at all. While I couldn’t control the outcome of the former, I am lucky to live in a place that let me control the latter.
Irish women, I’m so happy you finally have the freedoms I have, and Northern Irish women, you are not forgotten. One day soon the rules that control your life will look like something from a distant, crueller age. Because they are.
Published: 06-06-2018 07:07