Friday, May 7, 2010

Guest post: Pro-Choice? Pro-Abortion.

Today is a very special Friday, as it marks the first official guest post this blog has hosted! Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser is a prolific writer and longtime activist for reproductive rights. She's also the author of the really lovely blog Standing In The Shadows, where last week she wrote a post in response to one of our posts (Desembarazarme's, actually), and we've been happily chatting about it since then. Sarah, thank you for letting us reprint that post here today!

I spent some of a cloudy Sunday afternoon walk thinking about whether to write another piece about abortion access, and how I am really, truly PRO-abortion not pro-choice. Earlier this month I participated in the National Network of Abortion FundsBowl-a-thon and Blog-o-thon. I wanted an excuse to give readers the link to donate one more time (my former work was as a reproductive rights organizer so what can I say: will-raise-money-for-important-causes, check).

Then, I read a wonderful post on the Abortioneers’ blog. This group blog talks about the daily work of people providing abortion services. Theirs isn’t always easy daily work, especially in a political and social climate that has essentially turned abortion into a bad word. Remember how then-Senator Hillary Clinton (in 2005) called abortion “very sad and very tragic?” The possibility that abortion might be one of many reproductive choices—take guilt off the table, please, and while you’re at it, unless the entire situation is tragic, take tragedy off the table, too—without such a sense of taboo and secrecy and shame has become quite radical these days. The post was called Utopia.

Here’s an excerpt:
Today’s the kind of nearly-perfect day that makes me think about what would be absolutely perfect: A world where Sunday means nothing but relaxing with a cat and books and tea, no matter how warm it is outside, and also, a world where OF COURSE everyone wants abortion to be included in the new healthcare plan, where woman talk about their (positive) abortion experiences in the same breath as they talk about the frozen yogurt they had last night, where Medicaid pays for all abortions, where birth control is affordable and accessible and side effect-free, where abortion providers are heroes to all, where every child is wanted, where every termination is a blessing, and where no woman has to panic or give up her dignity or feel complete despair because she doesn't have the money or the means to terminate her unwanted pregnancy. Oh, and also a world where I am 5'9" and I have chocolate pouring out of my kitchen faucet and I have a unicorn.

Well, I thought to myself; she said it beautifully—and even with a lighthearted touch. So, I did what I often do when I love something I’ve read; I posted it on Facebook. I wrote this: I heart this, the idea that utopia INCLUDES abortion access. I had been mulling a post about how my ideal world includes abortion, but now I don't think I need to write it: thank you Abortioneers!

I didn’t bargain on negative comments, which were along these lines: abortion is not to be defended with zeal. At best, it’s a necessary evil.

I strongly disagree. And here I am, writing.

My utopia isn’t exactly like the one described in the Abortioneers’ post. That’s to say, in my twenties, when I worked in the field, most of my peers were, like me, childless and our support for abortion rights often came personally—we’d had abortions or otherwise had our own reasons for feeling strongly about the option—and we were very much guided by feminism as our shared rallying point. By feminism, in this context, what I mean is that we believed strongly that for women to be equal in society, agency over reproduction—our bodies—to be essential. Punctuate that with a period. Actually, cap it with an exclamation point! It wasn’t an apologetic stance; it was a celebratory one. I think it more closely resembled the wonderful utopia described in the post I'd just read.

Two decades later, I know people whose views about abortion (from support to opposition or strong discomfort) have changed after 1) having a child, 2) losing a pregnancy or a child, 3) struggling with infertility, or 4) adopting a child. That hasn’t been the case for me. My sense of urgency about abortion rights hasn’t faded one bit over time. It has, though, been altered by parenthood.

What’s changed is that I now see all choices—and that’s really to say, our lives—as messier and more chaotic than I once did (I think I harbored some fantasy that when you truly grow up, you figure “stuff” out, something I now know to be just that, fantasy). I realize in a way that I didn’t back then when getting pregnant seemed to be the easy part—and lucky me, in my case, that remained so for all three babies I gave birth to—that so many things are complicated, amongst them getting pregnant or staying pregnant, not to mention the whole huge black hole of potential hardships raising children… I’ve garnered a new and vast appreciation for life’s complexities and how they don’t necessarily get solved.

And given the sheer weight of that responsibility—parenthood—along with the lack of adequate support for it—no paid parental leave, no single payer health care, women making much less than a man’s dollar, and that’s just for starters—in this country, I would never assume that it’s fair or reasonable or respectful of women to foist that awesome (as in, immense) responsibility upon any woman. I feel that is a tragic situation, although in the same breath, I absolutely know that for many individuals, an unexpected pregnancy and child can turn out to be the greatest of blessings. The one does not change the other.

So many years into the wash of pregnancy, infertility, babies, and children, I appreciate that each of us has a lot to carry and it turns out that how we carry our own experiences is a pretty complicated endeavor, too.


My belief given all these givens is that every woman should be very free to make her very own personal choice. Please imagine me, as a potential adoptive mother when Saskia’s birth (or first, or just plain) mother was pregnant with Saskia told me that she considered abortion but couldn’t have pursued it because she didn’t the money. To clarify here: she did not say that’s what she’d have chosen, only that she couldn’t even consider it due to cost. I said (and I cannot make this up): Had I known you, I could have helped you find the money. Why? I knew where money was. I’d worked with—helped to found—the Abortion Rights Fund of Western Massachusetts and because I knew, too, of the Eastern Massachusetts Abortion Fund in Boston. And I meant it, much as I was waiting, and italics can’t adequately convey how fully I was waiting, for that baby, because by then, hers was a pregnancy with an intention and that intention was the baby I love more than I have words to describe.

While I feel, as the mother to Saskia, particularly because the warmth of our open adoption makes our personal story one of the happier ones, exceedingly fortunate, I also know that not all adoptions are so positive. Ours isn’t an easy situation always for all (and our daughter is two; we don’t yet know how she will feel over time about her situation).

No one decides upon placing a child for adoption and goes forth without looking back, as far as I can tell. My friend, Susie Book, wrote on her blog about participating on a panel with other birth mothers. One question was, “How often do you think about your placed child?” Susie wrote: “I think she (the adoptee) got the answer she wanted: Every day. Even the woman who relinquished better than fifty years ago said it immediately: Every day.” The bottom line is this: parenthood is a huge deal. And there are no easy answers.

I believe our best choice is to acknowledge that given the complexity and the responsibility, we must, must envision a world that supports women to make their own choices, without the hubris of shame or the crushing taboos that cast silence atop our most intimate—and sometimes painful--experiences. Now that I am raising a daughter, I want her future to be that much freer than the present. So, I’m going to continue to challenge us all to look beyond what we carry with us—important as those experiences are—to what it means to try to make this choice for another person. I’m not just going to hope for this; I’m going to work hard to try and ensure that you keep your hands off my daughter’s body.

Like it? You can find Sarah writing regularly at Standing In The Shadows.


  1. "Two decades later, I know people whose views about abortion (from support to opposition or strong discomfort) have changed after 1) having a child, 2) losing a pregnancy or a child, 3) struggling with infertility, or 4) adopting a child."

    This particularly struck me because I, too, was very pro-choice (and I use that phrasing intentionally) in my twenties and early thirties. I had two abortions, one at 19, one at 20, with absolutely no regrets, then or now. I worked in an abortion clinic for two years. I taught HIV education and sexual health education to teenagers. I referred people to abortion clinics. I helped them find the money when they couldn't afford it.

    And at 34, I became pregnant with a child that I felt ready to care for. That I loved with all my heart from the moment I found out I was pregnant. I carried that child (and, again, I use that term intentionally) until I was 38.5 weeks pregnant. And then I had severe complications in labor that caused him to die being born.

    Four and a half years later, I still strongly support abortion rights. I still do volunteer work with one of the local abortion clinics. I would still help someone find the money for a termination, or loan them the money myself if I have it. And, after reading several stories about women who have for various reasons given their children up for adoption, I have become no longer pro-choice, but pro-abortion. I hate living in a world where way too often, a woman's only choices for an unwanted pregnancy are to have the child and feel forced to give it away, or have and keep a child they cannot care for for whatever reason, and possibly resent it for the rest of your life. Those "choices" are each inhumane.

    I have decided to not have another child. And I find myself stuck at a crossroads. I have asked myself repeatedly, what if I got pregnant in the future? What would I do? So far the question has been academic, since I'm practicing the safest form of safe sex, abstinence, LOL. But the question still lurks in my mind. And I don't have an answer. I'm grateful that I can even MAKE a choice. But for the first time in my life, I have no idea what my choice would be.

  2. It's time for pro-choicers to rip off that scarlet letter and to embrace the fact that abortion itself is a blessing. I wrote a blog post about how I am pro-abortion, because being pro-abortion is one part of being pro-choice. It's right here:

  3. I think the reason I describe myself as "pro-abortion rights" rather than "pro-abortion" is twofold. "Pro-abortion" to me seems to imply that abortion is the the default option, the best answer to an unwanted pregnancy -- though I know many who describe themselves as "pro-abortion" don't see it that way, I know a few who do.

    Also, while I don't doubt an abortion experience can be "positive," the very situation of an unwanted pregnancy (or a wanted pregnancy gone tragically wrong) is not something I would wish on anyone.

    That's why "pro-abortion rights" works for me!

  4. Oh I like this post. President Obamas abortion should be rare comment stuck in my craw too. Why? Because it was said to appease forced birthers, not because surgery in general sucks. They've been allowed to frame abortion for decades,in hopes that they will finally treat women as people. As an aside: The "I'm Prochoice But" people. If you add a but you've negated everything before it. I'm not a racist but..

  5. .....I'm not going to make it any more plain: Abortion is the only common medical proceedure under theocratic attack.
    .....This discussion here would be regarded as silly if we were defending wisdom teeth extraction.
    .....Anyone with the pain and bleeding gums of a sharp extra molar growing into the corner of a jaw would slap you silly for pretending murdering that tooth must be stopped by force of law.
    .....Personal sentiments are just that.
    .....Religion must not be allowed to interfere with gynecology or dentistry.
    .....No woman should be forced to stay pregnant. If a man could have an egg forced into his penis and have an ectopic pregnancy in his scrotum as if his testicle was an ovary, we'd have songs of celebration for relieving him of this unwanted condition, but women have no such song?
    .....Larry Carter Center representing the South Carolina Women's Choice Fund 843-718-4657 when folks call they will hear Sue's voice that we are out of money and until donors send more checks, women will have to seek help elsewhere with their out of pocket expenses for life saving, freedom necessary reproductive choices.
    .....Life begins with a willing healthy mom you religious fanatics who might read this. .....Life began with the first self replicating bio agent, a virus, what ever and we are all part of a food chain that has evolved over one billion years.
    .....Not a 500 year old bible lie.
    .....Her body is not your church.
    .....Keep your rosaries off her ovaries.

  6. ...I hope my previous remarks will be approved as I've been a volunteer escort, battered and abused by dozens of fanatics in Charleston, SC.
    ...I'm a father of 2 young women ages 16 & 35.
    ...No one can decide for them when to make me a grandfather. Without their freedom to choose, they are potential chattel slaves to a religious law.
    ...Without insurance that pays for routine gynecology services, both would be dependent upon charity if faced with an unwanted pregnancy.
    ...The kind of crisis that has the most mixed feelings is a late term abortion.
    ...Obviously then, either a very immature young woman has waited too long or a willing mom is faced with a dead or dying fetus, threatening her life.
    ...I make no apologies for women to make their choices when and if they shall remain pregnant.
    ...I know personally women with life threatening cancers trying to stay alive for existing children rather than die without treatment for the cancer on the off chance a fetus will survive a growing possibly metastatic tumor or bone marrow affliction.
    ...No one should be allowed to increase their agonies of any kind.
    ...Their choice is between them and their doctors, alleged deities and clergy butt out.

  7. most appropo to this discussion is the story of my daughter and her mother during a high risk pregnancy.....
    ....after a dozen ultrasounds and two late night high speed trips to the hospital for urinary retention, a painful bloated bladder needing to be catheterized....
    ....a religious nurse married to a clergyman just blurts out: "you are both Atheists, why don't you just save yourselves a lot of trouble and have an abortion?"
    ....This shocking insensitive remark exemplfies the notion that religion dictates choice. We were willing parents dedicated to our choice. The high risks at age 41 for my spouse and my desire for a son included diabetes, iron deficiency, twice daily insulin injections, 4 daily blood glucose pinprick bleeding onto test strips....
    ....We were bombarded by doctors and nurses with statistics on likely mongoloid fetal characteristics of a woman her age.
    ....And they neglected to state a woman with 3 successful prior pregnancies would not be so likely to carry a defective embryo. Grandma birthed my spouse age 39.
    ....I finally told them all: "We want our child unless it has 3 eyes and no head, all the ultrasounds look normal, why are you suggesting abortions? We'll kill it only if we have to."
    ....Our only birth complication was a broken collar bone that mended without much attention after the x-ray.
    ....Our child is an a national merit scholar.
    ....Why assume religious people all must stay pregnant and Atheists want abortions?
    ....Choice is personal. Not all religions are anti-abortion. Our lack of faith is pro-medicine. We are lifelong participants in a flouride study.
    ....Please just keep religion private and let women decide when and if they want to remain pregnant. Otherwise it is rape of freedom.

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This is not a debate forum -- there are hundreds of other sites for that. This is a safe space for abortion care providers and one that respects the full spectrum of reproductive choices; comments that are not in that spirit will either wind up in the spam filter or languish in the moderation queue.