Lots of Shades of Gray

It’s a presidential election year (also a leap year – one extra day of campaigning) so we get to see lots of headlines about controversial issues: abortion, immigration, labor rights, civil liberties, and they are all framed as if there were only two choices, for it or against it. I understand the one vote policy opinion, there is no good way to say to someone here is a long and complicated spectrum of this particular issue, where do you fall on it and we’ll move forward based on where people cluster. But that is ultimately the exact problem we are facing, or that we have always faced, these issues are much more complicated than for or against and they all deserve a lot more thought and conversation than we give them. Today I am going to take up one of them and I am going to explore the complexity of the feelings I have about this one issue. Let’s talk abortion!

The best part of the debate around abortion is the rhetoric. I know that there have been many books written about this so it is not my intent to do a poor job of repeating them here, but I do want to acknowledge how brilliantly the issue has been framed, and let’s be honest one side has clearly won the rhetoric battle: who wants to say they are anti-life? So you have two choices, you can be either pro-choice or pro-life, quick pick! On the surface they sound like they have nothing to do with each other, certainly you can like making choices about your life and you can also like life. Maybe it would be easier to call one group pro-preborn and the other pro-living, at least that way it feels like we are discussing similar topics. But as I said this is not intended to be an essay on rhetoric, this is about the issue and whatever they call themselves both groups are talking about abortion.

I have not ever had an abortion so I can’t say whether or not I like them. I have had three pregnancies and two children, all intentional, all wanted, one with sadness, two with happiness. I like pregnancy enough, or perhaps I should say I like the result, the act itself was not my favorite and I certainly don’t want to do it over and over. I have been to the doctor at 10 weeks and I have heard a heartbeat and I have seen the little blob of vaguely looking baby (possibly monkey but that may be my own personal fear) and there is absolutely no question that it is a living thing. Can it survive outside the womb, no; is it alive inside you, yes. Let’s not debate nonsense. Having been pregnant and heard that heartbeat and wanting to have the children I have with the man I love I could not have an abortion, but those are very specific circumstances and not everyone is me.

Pregnancy is not easy, it is not comfortable, birth is not a rockin’ good time. It hurts, you lose control of your body in that it is a vessel for someone else. You do not get to eat what you want or drink what you want, you have strangers telling you what you should and should not do. You are sore both before and after the birth, parts of your body that used to be in one place and act one way move to other places and act in other ways. It is hard, it is a lot of responsibility and it is all of those things when you are doing it voluntarily, with joy, happiness and anticipation. And what if you are doing it because you have to? For some of the candidates in this year’s election they would have you go through this following rape (including incest rape). 36 weeks is a long time to be physically bearing the burden of an emotional wound that will never fully heal.

I love my children, deeply, fully, intensely and they still make me nuts. I wanted them, I welcomed them I am in many ways giving my life to them. I hope that they know and feel that. But what if I didn’t? What if I spent 36 weeks growing someone I hated and resented, and I brought into the world someone I did not want to have here, and that no one else was going to take from me to love and cherish. What life for that being?

But there is a heartbeat, very early on, a little thump thump waiting to become a person and to take their place in the world. That is true and real, and when you have an abortion you take that possibility away.

These are the true and emotional parts to both sides of this issue. There are crappy and callous sides too and those are the sides we all point at and say “see them over there, they are bad, they hate babies/women/freedom/privacy/god.” Some of them do, some of them just haven’t spent that much time thinking about how complex this issue really is. I’m on a parenting network in the area I live and someone wrote in for advice about having an abortion. The instructions for the requested advice included a warning that said something like, “don’t tell me I’m bad I’m not interested in hearing it,” so the advice was very supportive, headed toward the callous end of the spectrum and honestly I got really pissed off. Having a choice doesn’t mean you should abuse that freedom. And in the same way, acknowledging that there is life doesn’t mean that everything else should be subordinate to that potential.

A lot of the same people who believe that abortion should never be allowed also want to prohibit education about sex for teens (who by the way are biologically programmed to be going at it like bunnies) and access to birth control. This means that a lot of people who just want the fun part of procreation are going to be stuck in the creating part where they don’t want to be. This is a bad idea for both the creator and the created. I don’t think abortion should be the solution. I think birth control and planning should be. I think we need a whole lot of sex ed starting when kids are young, taught to them in a factual, honest way. I think kids should have to practice putting condoms on bananas so they all learn how to do it and it is no big deal when the time comes. Girls should be able to get birth control at their school, and condoms should be free in every bathroom everywhere. I bet that would help cut down on unwanted pregnancy.

And if we did all that, if there was no excuse for I didn’t know how, or I couldn’t get my pills, or we didn’t have a condom then fine, make the woman wait how every many hours, make her have an ultrasound, understand fully the consequences of your failure to take advantage of the resources put in front of you. But we don’t do that. We hide and shame sex and the tools that people need to be healthy when they have sex. And then we want to force people to have a baby they don’t want and will not love. And this is all just the case when we assume that both parties were willing participants, what then when they are not?

This is a complicated issue, that’s my point. It is easy to say that the living person whose body will be impacted, whose life will be impacted, who may be in medical danger, because pregnancy is dangerous, should be the final arbiter of what happens to her body. It is also easy to say that at ten weeks there is a heartbeat, a living thing growing into itself. The hard part is that there is so much more, on both sides of this issue, and they are all true pieces that make this so emotionally complicated.

I am a woman. I support legal abortions. I wish that women only had abortions in the worst case scenario and that every child born into this world was a wanted child.

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