Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Why I Became Pro-Choice Even Before I Became A Womanist

Have I ever written about what changed my views from staunch anti-choice to absolutely pro-choice?

There was a woman in my cancer support group. She had Stage III breast cancer. Her husband decided he couldn't deal with her illness, so he left her for another woman while she was going through chemotherapy. She had three children to care for. One was a young tweenie and the other two were just above toddling age and she had just found out that she was pregnant with a fourth child.

Now, she could have tried to go through with the pregnancy but it would mean she'd have to stop her chemotherapy. She was already in a position where her oldest daughter was forced to carry out almost all of her duties as a mother (cooking, bathing the kids, cleaning the house) because of how the cancer and treatments had begun to weaken her. The hubby had walked out on her and didn't seem too eager to take the kids they already had over to where he was now living with his young girlfriend.

When I heard about this, I was floored. This woman was already facing a long battle even without the pregnancy. Stopping the chemo would be signing her own death warrant. She wasn't bleeding to death or anything that might make some feel confident that this was an emergency situation. However, she was not going to live without chemo and anything that delays chemo diminishes the possibility for a cure.

I agonized over this situation. The woman was Catholic and she was agonizing, too. However, her feeling was that God didn't want her to leave the three children she had completely orphaned and there was a good chance that she'd die before she could give birth even if she did try to keep going with the pregnancy. To her, an abortion seemed like the only rational decision. I still can't argue with that. I realized that my arguments against abortion didn't take into consideration the range of situations that women can find themselves in.

This woman was married, faithful to her husband (she was still hoping he'd come back home even though he'd already moved in with someone else), a good mom, a good Catholic. She wasn't engaging in any of the behavior that I saw as irresponsible or licentious (according to my religious conservative weltanschauung ). Yet, here she was in need of an abortion. That woman's situation has stayed with me from that day on.

Someone recently pointed out to me that this kind of situation is quite uncommon and constitute a sort of special circumstance. These kinds of "special circumstances" didn't mean much to me until I met someone who was in one. Now, my feeling is that I don't want to be a part of anything that would say these women don't matter, that they don't deserve to be able to control their own bodies and their own destiny. I don't want to say that these women should die because their situations don't occur often enough for us to take them into consideration before we pass rules that will affect them.


Professor Zero said...

The thing is that that kind of situation is *not* all that uncommon.

bint alshamsa said...

Yes, I think you have a good point there. Even if the details aren't the same, the basic situation is a familiar one for women: few resources, a heavy responsibility load, no support system, no reason to believe any of these factors will change any time soon. In fact, it's a situation that any woman might find herself in at some point no matter what she has right now.

Philip I said...

Obama's middle name will rescue America.

bint alshamsa said...

That's an interesting post, Philip I. I certainly hope that Obama will be able to play a role in putting an end to the clashes between different groups. It would be nice to know that my daughter would be able to grow up in a world filled with more understanding and less strife.

Penny L. Richards said...

Amen. "Incredibly rare" happens every day.

Anonymous said...

I am pro life, however, maybe what needs to happen is that there needs to be stronger guidelines on when it is necessary to have an abortion and when it isn't.

Anonymous said...

We have similar backgrounds. Once i was old enough to have my own choice, I was pro-choice. It's not about being pro-abortion. I'm pro-choice, and I have never had an abortion. I'm sure lots of pro-choice women have never had abortions. Being pro-choice is about recognizing that abortion is not a walk in the park, and most pregnant women struggle before coming to that decision.

Where are these same moral people when it comes time to protest the impoverished conditions and/or absentee fathers that seem to play a role in this decision making process so often?

Monica Roberts said...

I look at the fact that we already tried it the pro-lifers way and once upon a time banned all abortions in this country.

What was the result? Rich women went overseas or to neighboring countries to get them, while poor women were subjected to unlicensed people wielding coat hangers.

If you want to limit unwanted pregnancies, comprehensive sex education starting at the elementary school level is an essential part of that.

dmarks said...

We can be more respectful on terms, however. "Anti-choice" makes as much sense as calling those on the other side "pro-death".

bint alshamsa said...


I am not of the view that every view and every term is deserving of respect. If someone wants to take away our ability to make a choice, then they are anti-choice. If someone advocates for the idea that we should all die, then they are pro-death. Even if someone doesn't particularly like a term, it doesn't that the term doesn't accurately describe what they are doing and the stance they are taking.

Like many other women I knew, I was against women being able to choose to have an abortion. It wouldn't have been accurate to say that I was pro-life because I didn't believe that life should always be preserved regardless of the circumstance. I was for the death penalty and, in cases where a choice had to be made between saving the mother or the fetus, I felt that it was the mother's responsibility to sacrifice her life for the fetus. In fact, I knew women who made that choice and died as a result. And you know what? I felt like they made the only moral decision. I didn't even think that the doctors should try to save both the mother and the fetus if doing so might endanger the fetus. That was my position and it was the position taught to me in the religion that I was raised in.

The language we use frames the debate we can have. My issue with some people--and I wouldn't call them "the other side" because that oversimplifies the dynamic that exists--is that they wish to deny a woman's ability to decide what she can do with her own body.

If someone wants my respect, then they have to do something that I think is worth respecting. Simply having a view isn't sufficient. That view has to be logical and ethical in order for me to consider respecting it.

Plain(s)feminist said...

I think, if we set up rules for "special circumstances," we are also setting up hoops and red tape to stand in the way of women already facing extraordinary challenges. Having an abortion during chemo isn't so simple. She'd probably have to stop the chemo for a few weeks to have the abortion, unless it were a medical abortion. If it were a surgical abortion, it would be safer for her to have it as early in the pregnancy as possible. And having just finished chemo with the support of a loving partner and lots of help and only one child, I can tell you that if I'd needed an abortion and had to have someone else decide whether or not my circumstances were deserving or not...well, that is just devastating and adding pain unnecessarily to someone's life. Not to mention wasting time.

Bint, I really liked this post. These are exactly the kinds of issues that came up in SD during the last two abortion bans, and the response from the other side has often been 1) that there is no medical reason for a woman undergoing cancer treatment to have an abortion, and/or 2) that mothers should sacrifice for their children. Unbelievable.

Plain(s)feminist said...

P.S. Didn't mean to be disrespectful with my "unbelievable" comment. Sorry. I was responding to an earlier comment and didn't read yours carefully or I wouldn't have written that.

I have found that it is experiences like the one you describe that often give people a different perspective on these issues (pro-choice folks, as well).