Shades of Gray in the Abortion Debate

One of the most controversial and sensitive subjects in American morality—and politics—is abortion. Opinions are polarizing as people fall either on the extreme left or extreme right of this issue, leaving little room for compromise. Though many opinions are black and white, most individual stories fall into a wide spectrum of gray. Recent statistics are not yet available, but the most current stats tell us that abortion rates are declining in the U.S. Regardless of your stance, I think we can all agree that’s a good thing.

It’s important to understand not just the conceptual implications of abortion, but also the practical ones. If your opinion controlled the fate of others, how would it affect them in real life? Does a one-size-fits-all solution work in the real world? One way to better understand these questions is to hear personal stories from people who have had to make this decision. I am one of those people. Hopefully adding a personal element will bring humanity to this controversy and understanding of all the questions—many still unanswered—that lead up to the decision.

Growing up too fast

At age 17, I thought I was an adult. I attended college, had my own car, a job at a bank, and too much freedom. Then my mom was diagnosed with cancer, and my reaction was to plunge into a deep denial. Anything that would allow me to escape the pain of reality, I did, and that included messing with the wrong boys.

On my 19th birthday, I found out I was pregnant by my then best friend. Instantly I knew that I would have this baby. There was no debate, no option, no backing out. I just knew. Five months later, my mom lost her battle with cancer and died in her sleep. It was devastating. To add insult to injury, my dad lived across the country and our relationship was strained, to say the least. There was no parental guidance during my pregnancy. The home I had been in since I was two years old was sold and I moved into a small two-bedroom apartment with my daughter’s dad. My world was flipped on its head.

Why didn’t I choose to abort or adopt out?

A baby was something to live for

A month later—after my family could no longer protect me—was the first time I was scared he would hurt me. He towered over me, screaming about something insignificant until I shook. It started as intimidation, then lies, manipulation, and isolation from friends and family. The further along I was in my pregnancy, the more alone I became. Still, I was looking forward to having my beautiful little girl.

My daughter was born healthy, strong, alert, and was, by all accounts, a happy and easy baby, but life was hard. The abuse and lies grew worse, and by the time she was six months old it had turned physical. But I didn’t leave. When I tried, I was blocked in the doorway. He would threaten to take my child and never return, and when I protested I ended up with my back against the wall—literally.

Why didn’t I call the cops?

When it all falls down, can I take you with me?

The next two years felt like being in prison. It was, as it is with many abusive relationships, much easier to accept the status quo than it was to start over, especially without parents around to advocate for me.

Sex was infrequent and unwanted; it was pity sex, sex out of obligation and fear of repercussions. Some have told me I was raped, but in the least, it was coercion, which is a type of assault. My eyes were always closed and my body tense. This was not a relationship, I was just trying to survive until I could escape.

I faked more stomachaches and headaches than I can count. He begged and pleaded, made up medical conditions for pity, and devalued me. Birth control was too expensive and the least of my worries, since we were barely intimate.

Why didn’t I protect myself?

Here we are again

I didn’t need a test to know the second time, the symptoms were all there. My immediate reaction was pure dread, followed by an almost instant resolve: “I can’t have this baby.” I told him solemnly, and without skipping a beat, I stated factually that we were not going to see this through. “I don’t like it, but I understand,” he replied.

Just as resolutely as I knew I would have my daughter, I knew I wasn’t going to have this baby—who I feel would have been a son, but I’ll never know. I could not bring this baby, as much as I loved it, into a life that I could barely survive myself, and one from which I couldn’t protect my daughter.

In California, where I lived at the time, it was not difficult to get an abortion. I had health coverage through my job, I got a referral from Planned Parenthood, and I requested that they put me under during the procedure. Since then, I’ve spoken with many friends who have gone through the process and realize that I was incredibly lucky to live where I did.

I wasn’t asked to explain my decision to medical professionals, there was no prying into my personal life, and there was no required “think it over” period. I had the option to be completely sedated. These are all things that friends of mine have had to go without. Being awake during an abortion is a terrifying thought. To anyone who has experienced this, you have my deepest sympathy.

I imagine sometimes what it would have been like if my immature, intimidated, 21-year-old self were made to explain that “I was coerced into sex and I just want it to be over.” What if my health insurance didn’t cover it? What if I had lived in a state where access was limited or restricted? What would my life be like today had the circumstances been any different? What if abortion were illegal?

A choice had to be made

A friend drove me to the clinic and home afterward. It was fast and painless. I didn’t feel sadness or regret or guilt. I felt only relief, which is more common than I thought. I would not be tied to this man by another pregnancy, another child, another mouth to feed that I would be solely responsible for. This meant that when I was stalked by him and by someone he knew, when my car was vandalized, and when my and my daughter’s lives were threatened, I wouldn’t be putting another soul in harm’s way.

Exodus and doubt

It took a while to leave the household, but I was finally able to, with lots of help from extended family. When my daughter was about seven and life had calmed down, I started questioning my decision. Did I do the right thing? Should I have had the baby? What role would the father play in my life now if I had two children by him instead of one? Would I have been able to escape? Could I have been able to stay with family if there were two? Would I still be using government assistance?

Did I make the right choice?

Now that I feel established as a mother and as a professional, I have no regrets. I’m so thankful I could make my decision without being criminalized, though I don’t think I could ever make that same choice again.

Now judge me for my abortion—or don’t

There is a huge difference between morality and legality. Morally, I’m undecided on whether abortion is “right” or “wrong.” It’s rarely that simple. I don’t know if aborting a fetus was the right or wrong thing to do in any circumstance, but I do know that if I one day conclude that it is absolutely wrong, it’s not my place to tell another woman that she should be a criminal for making a choice I disagree with. Pro-choice to me means even if I would do things differently, no one should be criminalized or jailed after making one of the most difficult decisions she could ever face.

My personal story may bear no weight on anyone else’s opinions, but I hope it brings a human perspective to a difficult topic to discuss. Everyone’s story is so personal and complex, and there is no easy solution to how we, as a nation, should handle it. Regardless of your stance on this topic, I urge everyone to look first at the person, and secondly at her choice.

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