How Many More Tears? – A Pro-Choice Lament

(This post is cross-posted over at The Abortion Gang blog, a fantastic space for unabashed reproductive justice activists – check out their awesome content!)

There are days as a pro-choice activist that I close my computer, go sit down on my bed, and cry.

Truth be told, there’s nothing the anti-abortion movement can do that really surprises me after eight years of doing this work. I know how it feels to have “baby killer” screamed menacingly from across the parking lot and to wade through protesters with gruesome signs to give a speech about sex education. I know what it’s like to hide my trembling hands in my pockets and look calm and resolute for the cameras as I evacuate a pro-choice meeting because of a bomb threat. I’ll never forget what it’s like to cry with a room of advocates, gathered to celebrate a woman’s lifetime of service to the movement, after learning that yet another doctor had been gunned down for trusting women.

I know the more political ins and outs, too. I know that after the anti-abortion movement figured out that America really is a pro-choice nation and it would be harder than they thought to overturn Roe, they turned to chipping away at access state by state. TRAP laws. Parental notification and 24-hour waiting periods. Legislating the denial of access to reproductive health services for poor and military and Native women. The list goes on and on.

So no, I’m never surprised anymore. But that doesn’t mean that each and every time, it doesn’t make me overwhelmingly, incredibly sad.

The particular instance that set off the waterworks recently was hearing that Louisiana became the 13th state to pass a law mandating ultrasounds before abortions – paid for by the woman. This one stipulates the ultrasound must be performed even in cases of rape.

This is a favorite tactic of the anti-abortion movement and a cruel, ridiculous one. No woman chooses abortion lightly, or comes into a clinic without a list of reasons why this is the right decision for her life and situation. It’s a tactic that, based on the anti-abortion rationale that preventing a woman from having an abortion is a win, simply doesn’t work – showing a woman an ultrasound beforehand doesn’t make her change her mind about having the procedure. Given that, it seems these laws serve little purpose beyond traumatizing women and making them feel guilty.

That there is the difference between anti-abortion activists and me: there is a real, living, breathing, feeling woman behind every choice that’s impacted by these victories in the name of a fetus.

This time, the woman is a rape survivor in Louisiana. Her violation has replayed in her mind and in her nightmares since it happened. When she finds out she’s pregnant, she cries. She cries because there is a physical manifestation of her assault to go along with her emotional bruises. She cries because she wants to be a parent or already is but this is not how it was meant to happen. After more tears and prayer, she makes an appointment to have an abortion, scrapes together the money, and goes to the clinic. Shielding her face from screaming protestors outside, she makes her way in, where she’s told the law says she has to look at her rapist’s spawn on a screen. When she sees it, she’s thrown back to smells and sounds and feel of the day she was assaulted and she cries some more. This woman has the procedure and goes back home. She doesn’t regret it – there’s no way she could have raised a child born of that horrible violence. But now, an image of exactly what a man’s penis forced inside of her created plays along with her nightmares, forever burned in her mind.

I may sound dramatic. It may piss you off that I’ve given a hypothetical situation before this particular law has even been put into effect. Fine. Real women are impacted by these laws every day and for some their lives are never the same.

It’s not for these women that I cry but with them. I cry because the onslaught is never ending and I’m afraid that I will be surprised someday soon by yet another tactic to control women’s reproductive decisions that will kill some and harm many more. I cry for the anti-abortion activists whose lack of empathy will be foisted on the women in their lives and ones they’ll never know because they don’t see them as human enough to know what’s best for their own selves.

I don’t cry for too long. I get up, write this post, and get ready to go to a fundraiser for an abortion access fund. If I can’t wipe away that rape survivor’s tears the least I can do is make sure she doesn’t cry because she can’t find the money for an abortion she wants and deserves.

Scientists say that we’re the only species that cries due to emotion. I just wonder how long it will be before our tears can be used to prove, for once and for all of time, that women are human too?

23 Comments

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23 responses to “How Many More Tears? – A Pro-Choice Lament

  1. Shirley

    Many years ago I had to have an ultrasound to document and measure an ovarian cyst. The woman who was performing the test was uncaring and rough. When she determined that a vaginal ultrasound was necessary to get a clear picture I was surprised. (after all, this wasn’t my first time facing surgery for a grapefruit sized cyst)

    The vaginal ultrasound was rough, painful and very very difficult. I left the room feeling as if I had been violated by this woman. I can only imagine what this type of ultrasound would do to a woman who had been raped and was seeking an abortion to rid herself of the cells inside her that shared the rapist’s DNA. As I understand it, at least one state requires a vaginal ultrasound prior to an abortion.

    This is truly heinous and morally incomprehensible. We need people like you to keep fighting and keep crying. Your empathy is what fuels your resolve and that is worthy of holding onto.

    Please know you aren’t the only one out there fighting and crying.

    • God bless you for your tears! I feel all womens pain & shame with a vaginal ultrasound. It is soooo invasive and the last thing a rape victim would need or want. For the US gov’t. and other organizations to involve themselves in this part of a woman’s life is abominable and should just not happen. It should be a womans’s choice, and not an easy one. A woman must live with this choice for the rest of her life, with the thoughts, maybe nightmares, so no one else needs to be involved, nor judge.

      evelyngarone.wordpress.com

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  2. Shelby,

    Your tears remind us that these horrible laws cause real pain, and not just for the woman who must choose an abortion. It is a gift to feel as deeply as you do and a gift to express it. You remind us of why supporting the pro-choice movement is not really a choice; it is an urgent necessity. Thank you.

  3. Too much bad faith in your characterizations of the anti-abortion movement. Most people I know who are anti-abortion are so because they believe the fetus is a human being, and as such deserves protection. Defining what is human is a tricky proposition. Like you, I err on the side of the sentient, conscious person who can feel pain – unlike an early-trimester zygote or embryo whose “humanity” is almost entirely potential (late-term abortions, which involve a fetus whose only substantial difference from a newborn is location, are a different matter – as Roe v. Wade attests, but that’s another disccusion). Furthermore, even if it were ethically desirable in the abstract, I don’t think abortion ban would work; it would only lead to more maimed or dead women (banning what are essentially private practices, be they abortions or sex acts or drug use, never works).

    But perhaps because I once thought differently, or perhaps because I know so many on both sides of the debate (including people who have had abortions, and people who have led pro-life organizations) I am really uncomfortable with vilification of one side. I don’t know any anti-abortion people who take the position out of misogyny (indeed, some of the ones I know are women). One must engage with an opponents’ ideas if one wants to overcome them; and while there are doubtlessly lots of jerks out there who will greet you only with hate and scorn, there are also a lot of people – including those troubled by the issue, but not actively anti-abortion – willing to engage.

    I’m also a bit uncomfortable with the term “rapist’s spawn” as there are people who are BORN out of rape, and they aren’t horrible people because of what their parents did. The issue is not how the pregnancy arose, but whether or not the result is a human being, and thus entitled to human rights. You and I would say no. Someone else might say yes (which is why pro-lifers who say that they’re “against abortion except in cases of rape and incest” make no sense, though their illogic may be motivated by humanitarian impulses). That’s the issue that should be addressed.

    Overall, this is a well-written post and certainly not overcome by resentments or gross generalizations. Indeed, the very fact that it’s largely reasonable and persuasive is why I felt it necessary to bring up this point. (Had it been a purely partisan screed, what would have been the point?) You have an interesting blog here; keep up the good work (I was brought through by the wordpress homepage).

    • I believe that the characterization of the anti-abortion movement is in part correct. The extremes are what tend to mark a whole group– in this case, the extremes are the picketers, the ones who are motivated by misogyny, and those who do bomb pro-choice events (or threaten to). The ones who rail for the life of a zygote, but kill an adult.

      There are plenty of reasonable people who are anti-abortion, people who are not given to rampaging, or violence. They are not the minority, but they get less attention, so they are considered to be less representative of their movement.

      I’m in the category of people who believe it should be up to the woman, and being pro-choice does not mean you’re into murdering babies. Both sides have their point, but the “pro-life” extremists are a lot scarier than the “pro-choice” extremists.

      • Fair enough point here. Unfortunately, these days it always seems to be the “extremes” who get the attention (nature of the beast, I suppose), so the abortion debate is hardly unique in that regard.

  4. galafinite

    I cried along with you as I read your post. As a pro-choicer myself, too often I allow myself to be overwhelmed by the sheer rage that grips me in the face of those who don’t feel that my life and future is as important as the potential life and future of the cells inside my womb. Your post stopped the anger, momentarily, and allowed me to come face to face with the underlying sadness that it springs from.

  5. This is exactly why I’m pro-choice.

    No, I don’t know that I could have an abortion. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t, mostly for emotional reasons. But I’ll be damned if I’ll accept a law saying I can’t, or that I have to jump through hoops.

    Too many women I know have been raped, one is too many, but I know more than that. More than one of them got pregnant. One chose to keep her baby, because she believed even a baby created in violence should be raised with love. Two decided not to, because they didn’t need that reminder, didn’t want to see that child and feel their love was tainted. They deserved the choice.

    So yes, I’m with you. And yes, I’ve cried over the laws that say what a woman (or girl) can and cannot do with her body. I also wonder sometimes why in so many ways women aren’t seen as human (except when it’s convenient).

    Now, I think I need to stop reading your blog at work, before I start crying here.

  6. Thank you for having the courage to speak out and respond to this.
    That story is so heart-breaking, and I feel devastated and hurt along with that poor woman.

    A really like the hypothetical situation to analyze abortion that from my fiancee’s ethics class:
    Lets say you were walking down the street one night, carefree and as happy as can be, and suddenly you are mobbed by a group of angry musics fans. They knock you out, tie you up, and drag you away.
    When you wake up, you are sitting in a room, tied to a chair. Sitting beside you, and connected to your body with medical tubing is a weary-looking man. One of the attacking fans explains to you that this man is a beautiful musician, who is also a horrible anemic and will die if you do not agree to sit by his side and provide a constant blood transfusion for the next six months.

    Are you obligated to do so?

    Now, that sounds gruesome, and none of the preceding portion of the argument is applicable to the conception process, except for in cases of rape. But, the end the point is the same — are you obligated to make drastic compromises and jeopardize your own health so that another human being may live?

    Personally, I don’t believe that the fetus is alive until it has nervous function, which is fairly far along into pregnancy. But, as to the argument over abortion, I find that irrelevant in my own view.

    The same people who are protesting a woman’s ability to choose are often the same people who are contesting birth control and safe sex education. The latter is especially infuriating in a world where years of statistics have proven that abstinence-only education is not effective.

    The problem with the anti-abortion argument is that there seems to be this preconceived notion that a woman is obligated to carry a child to term. I’m sorry, but for as long as women have been getting pregnant, women have been having abortions. We just had different methods of doing it.
    I believe that the body is sacred. I believe that pregnancy is sacred. If pregnancy is forced a woman who is not ready for that or who was brought to that change in her life forcefully (i.e. rape) it is no longer sacred. Regardless of the availability of adoption, pregnancy still leaves long-lasting marks and changes on and within your body.

    A woman’s body is sacred (as is a man’s), and if we spent half the time teaching both sexes that from a young age, instead of arguing about the morality of abortion or birth control, I believe we’d see fewer teen pregnancies, and we wouldn’t be seeing a new generation grow where one out of every five girls over 15 has a sexually transmitted infection of some sort. But, instead, our media is overloaded with sex as a medium for peddling EVERYTHING. People of both genders are taught that their bodies are centers of sin. Also, they’re taught any act of intimacy before marriage (and some afterward) are crimes against God, instead of teaching when sex is appropriate in terms of age and emotional maturity. (I don’t know how things were for anyone else, but for me, sex was somewhat of a “coming of age” ritual when I was in high school.) Of course, none of the recent rise in teen pregnancy and STIs falls back on system. It’s just “bad parenting” and “lack of religious morals”. Some of which may be true, but in such large numbers? Well… those speak for themselves.

    So much of the anti-abortion front, as I have experienced, is just against the upsetting things they have to look at that they don’t want to. More than once, I’ve seen sign-holders protesting and asking women to “Chose Life!” in front of my local Planned Parenthood. But, if you ask them how they are helping teen mothers to pay for their expenses or raise their children, they have no answers. Or, the all-avoiding “Well, they can apply for Medicare”, even though Medicare is currently locked down in this state due to the IMMENSE number of people out of work. They just want to be comforted that the statistics are out there saying that most of America has a white picket fence, a wedding ring on their left 3rd finger, a partner of the opposite sex, and 2.5 children that they’ve concieved with only their married partner. It doesn’t matter if the family’s functional. It doesn’t matter what the quality of life is like. If those facts were at all important, why was it illegal to beat your wife, but completely legal to rape her until 1975? And even past then, it’s still considered a “lesser crime” in many US states, and can only be prosecuted if the rape is accompanied by assault.

    But the Pro-Life movement is not an attack on Women’s Rights and Freedom. They just want to save babies. Despite this, I very rarely hear the Pro-Life argument without one of those above pitfalls mentioned in the same breath.

    • dreams, you make a lot of good points here, particularly the inability of pro-life right-wingers (the two terms are not synonymous though they overlap to a great extent) to countenance a social safety net which actually help reduce abortions. American politics are a hodgepodge and I can never make sense of why the cards fall the way they do in terms of ideological alliances – I think it has more to do with historical coincidences (in the case of the bizarre Religious Right-free market libertarian alliance, a mutual antagonism – for different reasons – with countercultural values) than any intellectual consistency. Look at the fact that at the time of Roe v. Wade, it was President Nixon who welcomed the decision, and Democrats like Jesse Jackson and Al Gore who proclaimed that they were anti-abortion.

      Anyway, I have a profound ethical disagreement with you vis-a-vis the musician example. I think in a contest between life and liberty, life must trump. Among other things, liberty is contingent upon life. Mitigating this on the abortion issue are two factors: one, of principle, that like you I’m not comfortable comparing an early-stage embryo to a person, and two, of pragmatism, that even if abortion were banned, it would just go underground with worse results all around. If there were some sci-fi scenario whereby the embryos/fetuses could be removed and then implanted elsewhere and allowed to finish gestation, that would be the way to go, as long as we’re describing outlandish hypotheticals…

  7. Jesus Von Einstein

    Not so sure the killing of a human fetus should be taken as lightly as you suggest, notwithstanding the right anyone might be deemed to have to control their body.

    What if neuroscience can prove beyond reasonable doubt that the fetus feels pain when killed {I know you don’t like no frills language like this, but even if we deem it allowable – it is killing} – your sentiment about tears stops then, right? Would it be ‘up to the woman’ to decide if, for example, the fetus receives pain medication?

    apart from being prima facie nonsense on your part, it shows that underneath your *own* rhetoric, you’re afraid of coming face to face with the reality of abortion. The pro-choice has politicized and therefore distorted a complex issue every bit as much as the pro-life crowd.

    Keep preaching though – not seeing any merit to the other side’s argument does wonders…

  8. Jesus — I find it ironic that you scold the author for “preaching”, when you yourself bring no facts to the table.
    As a matter of fact, in all states except for those offering part-birth abortions, which I, myself, am opposed to, science DOES prove that the fetus cannot feel pain. The nervous system is not developed within the first trimester. Actually, this addresses your point quite nicely:
    http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1566772,00.html

    Most states do not offer abortions within the first trimester, and it takes a fetus roughly 5 months of development to develop a pain response.

    And how, precisely, have you come face-to-face with the reality of abortion? Has someone you know gone through it? Did you sit with them through that decision? Did you ever know someone on a personal level who poisoned themselves or suffered severe physical damage in an attempt to end a pregnancy illegally?
    What do you feel the reality of abortion truly is?

    • Jesus Von Einstein

      Ah, Djinn – best to stick to pseudo-Celtic ‘magick; ni Cheilteach thu, creidim.

      Do you think asking ‘how [I] feel the reality of abortion truly is’ is even a sensible question?

      We part ways ab initio, then.

      My thinking in the matter doesn’t sound in sentiment, nor, madam, do I wish to litigate with someone determined to cherry-pick ‘evidence’ why ‘pain’ is phylogenetically and hence neurodevelopmentally early.

      http://www.abortionfacts.com/online_books/love_them_both/why_cant_we_love_them_both_14.asp#By 8 weeks? Show me!

      The trickier question is whether/when a fetus has something like a conscious experience of pain – indeed, we might ask if newborns do. however, all the hallmarks of a pain/stress response are indicated pre-natally. This would seem to shift the burden of persuasion to the abortion on demand crowd, I think.

      But when you couch the matter in terms of “rights” rather than facts, and balanced interests, all logic soon leaves the debate.

      Is mise le meas,

      JvE

      • What exactly are you referring to by psuedo-Celtic magic? If you’re referring to my spiritual practice, which is in no way Celtic based at all, it’s very sad that you feel the need to take a poor pot-shot at my religious beliefs. But regardless, that is completely irrelevant to this discussion.

        It’s impossible to “cherry pick” evidence by simply taking reputable studies and presenting what they have found. It’s also quite laughable that you would accuse me of that, and present, in contrast, a site full of completely biased information most of which is from 1980. Since then, here is another article addressing developments since that page’s sources:
        http://news.discovery.com/human/fetus-pain-abortion-law.html

        Which actually supports the fetal pain argument, but again, like I said, not until after the first trimester, at which time most abortions are illegal.
        There was also a journal article written about this in the American Medical Association in 2005, confirming the 20 week pain receptor approximation. The title was Fetal Pain: A Systematic Multidisciplinary Review of the Evidence.
        In answer to your question, there is no scientific evidence that the fetus has a conscious reception of pain before the third trimester.

        The only sense in asking you what the “true reality of abortion was” was in sheer curiosity of why it made sense for you to ask the author the same question in your original comment. Apparently you have no conception of what that “true reality” is, so I was just curious as to what you expected her to be aware of.

        But, you’ve made my point quite nicely for me, thank you. You approached the debate armed with only a caustic attitude and severely slanted facts. I may side opposite from you on this argument, but I can at least approach my need for evidence from non-biased source. If the other side has a point, I’ll concede that. Which is why I oppose partial-birth abortions. It may do good for both sides of the story to operate more on fact rather than bias, and we may finally get something out of this debate that could help people suffering through this decision.

  9. Moviemano — That’s fair.
    See, I hold it more as a quality of life issue, especially in the case of rape victims. In my opinion, the quality of life of a full-grown woman should come before that of an unborn child. In quality of life, I’m addressing a woman’s right to not spend the next nine months of her life with a growing reminder of a violent, traumatic event in her history.
    Now, that’s obviously not the case with every aborted child, but how many people arguing the other side would chose to sit there with that man for all six months? How many of those people who say “Not me!” would tell a mother who became pregnant against her will that she must keep that baby? It’s an extreme situation, and yes, morally questionable, but so is this debate in the eyes of many people. It’s just something to think about…

  10. I like this post. Personally, I’ve always been an open liberal, but secret pro-lifer. Mainly because I’m a hard-core advocate of being smart about birth control.

    It hasn’t been until a recent event that I’ve appreciated the value of choice. I’m also a teacher and I as much as I value life and children- no one should ever HAVE to go through with a pregnancy that they are not prepared to deal with.

    I’m not proud of what happened to me, but I have no regrets and the only reason I feel any guilt- is because I’m supposed to. Every abortion has a story behind it.

  11. Correction…

    “Most states do not offer abortions within the first trimester, and it takes a fetus roughly 5 months of development to develop a pain response.”

    That was supposed to say “do not offer abortions beyond the first trimester,…”

    Sorry for the spam.

  12. I hate abortion to my core because I feel how can a choice be right if you are canceling out anothers?

    I wonder how many children have to go without that special friend because they’re life was cut short due to some “choice”.

    To me pro-choice is similar to those who though slavery in America was right.

    In time we will learn that just because you can not speak, that you can not move, that you can not see or if you can not be seen, heard, or felt that you have a choice as much as somebody who can.

    Those babies or “fetus” has a heartbeat just like me. So where is their choice to live?

  13. megahammermaniac

    What makes me crazy about the abortion issue??? That an awful lot of people who are anti-abortion ALSO seem to believe that WOMEN are the cause of all immorality in this world!!!

    When every pre-sexual person in this world has the awareness of the consequences of engaging in sex (not only of pregnancy, but also of emotional issues they may not be ready to handle, and STI’s) AND every penis-endowed human has the mental, emotional, social, ethical, and spiritual maturity to treat all women and men with respect, then I’ll be ready to say there’s no need for abortion.

    My ideal world couldn’t exist, however, until we make science-based sex education available to all who need it. Is sex eduction really that terrifying that we’d rather debate the value of one life over another rather than taking the actions that would PREVENT anyone needing to make a choice in the first place?

  14. Chris

    No woman chooses abortion lightly. Ever. Thank you for posting. And for standing firm.

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