a tale of two choices: what pro-choice looks like in practice

I have never wanted kids. I knew this at age 5 and my opinion on the matter has never substantially changed.

I was raised pro-choice. When I started having sex, I/we always took precautions but in the knowledge that if the preventative measures failed, I’d definitely get an abortion.

The first time I had (PIV) sex was when I was 17½ and about a month or two away from graduation from high school. Teen pregnancy was a huge nope for me, and pregnancy in university would have been pretty lousy too. Eventually I finished my education, had a job and was in a stable relationship, but though the ‘bad timing’ reasons had fallen away, that fundamental desire not to have children was still as firmly in place as always.

Even now, when pregnancy is still probably physically possible for me — but only barely (my age is now a more effective barrier than a condom, hurrah!) — my decision would be the same. If I became pregnant despite precautions, I would not hesitate to have an abortion. This would not be a difficult decision for me, really, since I’ve made the same decision over and over anytime I’ve considered the issue.

No, I’ve not been confronted with having to act on that decision. I’m a thoughtful, sensitive person, and I’d expect to feel a bit of a pang. It wouldn’t be regret about the child not had; it would be that I’ve always done my damnedest to avoid having an abortion and regretting that I had to have one in order to continue to be child-free.

Now let me tell you about my good friend Rosa. She’s like me in many ways: staunch atheist; a highly sensitive person; cautious and slow to trust; intelligent and educated; world traveller; no desire for kids.

I should qualify the last a bit. Once upon a time, she accidentally got pregnant. She loves her child dearly and wouldn’t give them up, but she has been clear to me that this was really not the plan and she would have preferred that things hadn’t worked out that way.

She recently got married and with marriage comes the questions about whether you’re going to have a child, and her (their) answer was an unequivocal no, in part because it’s getting a bit late for that but mostly because they really didn’t want to.

But then she got pregnant accidentally. It really shouldn’t have happened. At her age, she should have had only a 5% chance of getting pregnant during any given cycle. But more to the point, she had an IUD, which is 99% effective. With an IUD in place, it should have been an ectopic pregnancy if anything, but no, it’s all normal and viable and looks fine.

She’s already had a child, she didn’t (doesn’t) want another, her husband doesn’t want a child, and it’s massively inconvenient. When she told me about it, she was clearly unimpressed with the situation, so I started gently encouraging an abortion, but then it became clear that this had happened long enough ago that the decision had already been made. The basis for her decision? She checked in with her gut and chose the option she could live with more easily.

I can’t pretend to relate to her choice because obviously it’s the opposite of what I would have done. But — and this is the really important bit — it is and should be her choice.

The issue she was dealing with at the moment was how to cope with the negative reactions of her husband and child while she was going through something she didn’t want to be going through in the first place. To my mind, my job was (and is) to support her.

If she had come to me for advice earlier to help her make that decision, I would have encouraged an abortion because I knew that she didn’t want to have a child. Knowing what I know now, I doubt very much that I would have changed her mind.

But when the decision is made, it’s made. I’m not going to tell her what to do or undermine her choice. Even when it’s not the choice that I’d make for myself. Even when I know she’d rather not have the child. Even when I can see that the consequences for her are going to be huge; she knows so much better than I do what the consequences will be for her and there’s nothing I can tell her that she doesn’t already know.

Being pro-choice isn’t about demanding that everyone have an abortion — what utter nonsense! Pro-choice is about respecting every individual’s personal autonomy to make their own decisions, especially when those decisions have profound consequences for the person making them. Pro-choice means not criticising or offering opinions that are not asked for; it means not saying explicitly or implying that the choice made is wrong. Pro-choice means trusting women, which I suppose is why this patriarchal society has such a problem with it.

I think there’s a misconception (no pun) that if a person is pro-choice, that means they would automatically have an abortion in the circumstances where that’s a consideration. This isn’t true. A pro-choice person respects other people’s bodily autonomy, but you don’t actually know what decision they would make for themselves. In contrast, if a person is anti-abortion (also misleadingly termed ‘pro-life’), you know that they wouldn’t have an abortion, and that they want to impose that choice on others.

Another way in which Rosa is like me is that she is very precise with her words. She had told her husband that she didn’t want another child and that remains absolutely true; unfortunately, he interpreted that to mean that she would abort an unplanned pregnancy, which is not true. I have a lot of sympathy for him since he’s now in a situation he never bargained for, but my understanding is that they never discussed what would happen if the IUD failed.

There is no contraception that is 100% effective. If you are sexually active, please consider how you would want to deal with an unplanned pregnancy. Just as a vasectomy is ultimately the decision of the person whose penis it is, an abortion is ultimately the decision of the person whose uterus it is. If you and your partner disagree about abortion as a backup plan, then you should seriously consider additional contraception. And for the love of all that is good, talk to each other about it before anyone gets pregnant!

16 thoughts on “a tale of two choices: what pro-choice looks like in practice

  1. I am so glad you wrote this – life can be strange and as you say pro-choice should be accepting a person’s choice even if you don’t agree with it. When I was younger I used to struggle with the idea of abortion as I was adopted as a baby. If my real teenage mum had had an abortion I would not be here. I became a bit righteous about it but then I grew up and realised what’s good or best for one may be the opposite to someone else. I also realised when I reached a certain point in my life, that I would choose abortion. So your decision can change as the years go on…

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    1. I’m glad this spoke to you. Yes, I can see how having been adopted would give you a different perspective on the issue.

      I may be splitting hairs here, but I don’t think I’d say I “disagree” with my friend’s choice, since I think the connotations of that word lead you back toward judging a person’s decision on the basis of what’s right for you instead of them. It’s just not the choice that I would make for myself, which is slightly different.

      You’re so right about different choices being right for different people. And it makes a lot of sense that as we change and grow, our decisions might change as well. It hasn’t in my case, but certainly “too young” is a factor that will eventually change, for instance.

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