Reflections on Abortion
Sat Feb 5 15:29:20 2000
I am wondering at the moment - can pro-life (so-called) and pro-choice (so-called) women, and men, ever really engage in any meaningful dialogue? As a woman who has had two abortions, who regrets those decisions (so-called) very deeply and know that what was done in abortion was not wise or good or loving, to anyone concerned - and while obviously knowing and understanding all the reasons and pressures that exist around abortion that enable it to happen to women who do not truly want it or believe it to be good or right - as that sort of woman, I always SAY that I am open to other views. Not open to accepting them, but opening to hearing them. But, I wonder, is that really true? I realise reading some of the posts on the support boards that I actually experience feelings of anger and offence when a woman says she feels OK about what she did. Because there was so much agony involved for me in those decisions, because I experienced it all so deeply, I feel some feelings of bitterness, if that is the word, about women who seem to take the ethical issue all so lightly, who act as though there is no ethical issue involved. I would not be offensive or confrontational to them personally - such conflict is futile and helps no-one - and I like to think I am fluid in my thinking, can examine issues reflectively, but essentially I feel tired of the moral superficiality of much that is said around abortion. It seems to me a very deep and a very serious question: are we justified in taking life? What are the consequences of that if we do so? It's almost like the story of the emperors new clothes - no-one dares declare the king naked... So few "dare" say, from a position of humanity and compassion and wisdom, that abortion is just plain wrong.
I felt moved and oddly comforted by something I read written by a lady called (I think) RoAnn. She had not had an abortion but had experienced rejection and pressure when she was pregnant. She said she was very pro-life but her attitude was compassionate and loving towards women who had had abortion. I felt so moved by the vision of her struggling to keep her child when all about her were abandoning her, moved by that courage - yes, oddly, since it was the courage I myself was unable to find at the time. And something in me felt healed, somehow, to hear someone just saying that they supported life. And this is nothing to do with guilt or punishment - it is coming from a whole place in me, not a fractured, neurotic place.
So, I wonder - is there any true meeting ground on this?
Sun Feb 6 02:39:27 2000
It's not really a question of it being upsetting too me. All of this is upsetting. Because I feel upset does not mean I can't stay with it, that I have to run away.
But the truth is that there is this divide. To state it very baldly - and in a way that is probably going to upset, again, some people - I feel that a group of women have been and are sacrificed for the sake of another group of women. In other words, legalised abortion which some women say they "want" and "need" is the means by which abandonment of other women, who neither want nor need abortion, occurs. So we have legalised abortion. And one group of women suffers under that. And maybe you will say, Jilly, that you too have suffered and that you are still "prochoice" - you still grieved your babies, yet still would not wish them to be in life. I cannot understand. I just cannot understand.
And some people will say that we just must make sure that only women who really choose abortion should have it, that we make sure that there is informed consent. And probably there is something in that, but it just isn't going to happen, is it? The abortion clinics have a vested interested in promoting abortion and in not being truthful about what is really involved. Women who are pregnant, particularly those who have not had a child, will not be able to understand properly what is at stake or what is involved; it is all so unreal at that stage. This gets us into the very complex waters of the "psychology of abortion" and the dynamics of just what happens and why, so I'm not going to go into that here. Suffice to say that if you give people this freely available "choice" many people are going to take it who feel that they have no other option, because support is totally absent for any other option, but who do not "want" the option of having their own child destroyed.
Either one supports and welcomes and takes seriously all life, or one does not. I have come to feel there is no middle ground, not really. If abortion is condoned by society, women will be abandoned to it. If abortion is outlawed, that serves as a protection to vulnerable women - but does not suit, of course, those women who "want" and "need" abortion, who don't have much depth about the matter, who do not become tortured and tormented by having been involved in the taking of life. So - the question becomes which group of women we want to help. The unborn beings are, of course, totally out of the picture. They are invisible nothings.
Sun Feb 6 14:05:10 2000
I felt sad and rather misunderstood, categorised when I read your message - and I take my part in the responsibility for having created the atmosphere of a slanging match when I spoke out of all the pain and anger about how one group of women are sacrificed to the other. Perhaps (probably?) you felt the same about what I had said - misunderstood, categorised. It is the problem with this oh-so-emotive topic which goes so very, very deeply for people.
I am not criticising you directly. As you say, I do not know you or the circumstances of your life - as you do not know mine - and I genuinely feel a lot of respect for the creative way in which you have used your experience and your pain to create this forum for women. If I say that I feel mystified by your position, it is not, actually, meant in a personally attacking spirit. I genuinely feel confusion about what you are saying, would like to understand it more, perhaps, but feel unable to enter into it. You speak of having choices: I do agree with you in some sense, but do not feel that we can have those choices at the expense of others, if it involves destruction of life. Like you, I am a vegetarian. You feel that it is not appropriate to take animal life; I am confused about how you differentiate between animal life and human life. I do not wish to engage in these mean-spirited, uncompassionate exchanges that one so often encounters in this area - but sometimes the depths of my emotions speak, not the more balanced, rational, reasoned view that I might take about not wishing to create disharmony through my perspective - another form of violence, after all.
Abortion was incredibly, deeply wrong for me. There is, as there always is, a story behind that, an individual set of very complex and deep-rooted "reasons" as to why I was able to do something that I find morally and emotionally abhorrent. So I am in a curious position, I suppose, and find it difficult to exit from my own depth of struggle with what happened to me. I do believe abortion is an inadequate response to a crisis and I do know, as you do, the deep distress and damage that it causes some women. On those grounds alone, if not the wider ethical one, we should be concerned, very concerned about abortion.
I acknowledge that the area is complex, full of greys and not blacks and whites. But somewhere I do have the rest on the understanding that what happened to me caused so much suffering and chaos and mayhem because it was not a wise or beneficial course of action, ultimately. I do not see it as a relative issue. But there is so much paradox around all this because I also feel uncomfortable, deeply uncomfortable, with the standard "pro-life" position, which I feel is often hopelessly out of touch with people's realities.
I'm so rarely accused of being shallow and judgemental that it came as something of a shock!! Judgemental, perhaps, yes, out of my own pain. I wanted to say what I said and I said it. Now, perhaps, I am more inhabited by the more usual desire to be reflective, not emotive and angry. But the anger is there - at the profound abuse that I experienced abortion to be, at a world that welcomed and supported neither my unborn child nor me as a mother. And I wanted to be that, wanted to give that love as a woman, express all that tenderness and nurture. I did not want the cold steel of the abortion clinic. So it is a sad story of external betrayal and self-betrayal - and maybe I could let it rest more if I did not see that same story being played out for many other women. And men too, I think...
Well, deeper we go into the mire (=swampy mud, in case that's another British term; do you know G. B. Shaw's joke that American and Britain are two nations divided by a common language?). So much to say - so little space to say it in and the knowledge that really one cannot change another person's views, however much one explains or clarifies or attempts to persuade. People's views evolve and change but they do so only from an inner conviction.
We can believe all sorts of strange things, believe whatever we want to believe (that sounds like I'm again trying to insult you; I'm not, but I am making a point that to me is valid) but what interests me personally is the truth. Of course we all say that, we all say that we want the truth and claim our particular view as the truth - but I would say I am interested not in faith or dogma or the teachings of a church, but in my own lived experience and in my experience of the way things are, in nature and in life. Of course one can debate endlessly where life begins and so on but for me that is not the truth of the thing, it is only people's opinion about it. You speak of spirituality. Abortion has been the most massively damaging experience for me, spiritually. I won't go into details on that - but suffice it to say that being involved in the taking of life has clouded my mind with grief, remorse, suffering and has changed my being and personality, transforming me from someone with a large capacity for love into someone who is so traumatised I cannot form relationships with a man and have difficulty even in my female friendships, of which I have quite a lot, through the traumatic responses of hypersensitivity, withdrawal and so on and so forth. Now, I am not saying that to evoke sympathy - every woman here has a terrible story of pain to share and I am hardly unique. But I am saying it because there is a clear equation, really very, very simple: because something unwise, unloving, foolish and ignorant happened (Christians would say "sinful" perhaps), there was this suffering, this inner damage. If spirituality is about anything it is surely about our capacity to connect with, love and serve our fellow humans. Of course nothing is ever completely negative or wasted, and even such an experience of loss and damage and pointless tragedy can be put to use - principally, for me, through the fact that it connects me with the many, many people in our world who have suffered pointless tragedy through violence and injustice.
There is not so much difference between Nicole's experience and a story like mine. That may surprise, even shock you. But I too loved and connected with my child. And aborted because of this notion of suffering - the notion that my child would suffer if born in difficult, unstable circumstances. However much I understand, obviously, this compassion that wishes to avoid suffering, I now feel it is something of a false compassion - this is so long and complex to go into but very briefly it is connected with the fact that often the suffering we are so afraid of is simply our own inability to cope with the notion of suffering and then we cannot judge the suffering of another. And much more to say, but I have not the time nor in a sense the inclination to say it all here.
It is easy to caricature people's views in this arena. I would I am sure be as guilty of that as anyone else. But I do not say things like "abortion is murder" or associate with traditional pro-life groups. Life is one, indivisible whole and I make no distinction between any form of violence, do not justify it in one case and condemn it in another - although certain situations are of course agonisingly difficult. I will say, and have done in real life on a few occasions, to anyone who asks and to any pregnant woman who is considering abortion that I could not advise or recommend that. Such solidity and commitment to life actually gives some of us a tremendous feeling of affirmation. I know many women who have had abortions and for whom it has been no great trauma, no big deal. Some women do regard it as a "right" and as a convenience. Again, that takes us into such deep areas to do with sex and responsibility and freedom and so on. As you know...
On the subject of morals...
Your tolerance and openness, despite your own convictions, are admirable. However, I feel I want to say that "pro-choice" arguments are bound to have a different effect on me than on you - it may seem to you that I am being labelling or unjust (in fact, I did not say people who did not think that abortion was unjustified had no morals - I do not believe that; what I said was that women who justify their abortions often, not always of course, but often, do not seem to feel very deeply about what happened or what was involved) but I have experienced abortion. While I in no way diminish the pain and rejection you went through during your pregnancy, and how it has affected it, there is a level of anger, almost on a psychic level I should say, for the group of women who do suffer after abortion that is, for me, the feeling of having been through a profound abuse such as being tortured or raped. Very seriously this is so, I am not using emotive language. So when people justify what I have experienced as profound abuse, this anger emerges. I am not attacking Jilly personally - I wouldn't see her as characterising the kind of thing I am talking about. Catherine
To Jilly and everyone else who is interested
To Jilly and everyone else who is interested in this life-changing, painful subject of abortion:
I read what you said about how important you feel it is to separate the "big issue" from the healing issue. I actually agree with you. I do not in any case feel any urge to say to a woman who is suffering that she has "done wrong". What must be obvious to anyone who has listened to women suffering after abortion - and I really emphasise that word, "listened" - is that those feelings of guilt emerge time and again from the woman herself. Not in every case; some women, perhaps, deal with their experience by justifying it, saying it was the responsible and the right thing to do. In many cases, the abortion decision may well have been taken from a desire, at least partly, to act responsibly and to do the "right" thing. I feel that the tragedy is that what may have been done in circumstances of fear and ignorance and pressures from a desire to avoid suffering, usually on behalf of others, is nonetheless an act that involved the destruction of life. And there is something within us that feels horror and remorse at that, after the event.
This is nothing to do with guilt or blame. This is nothing to do with such slogans as "abortion is murder" or with getting lost in some fanatical rant about women who have abortions being murderers or some such. There is a way of feeling that something is wrong that is not based on false moralism or judgementalism. I do believe, yes, that abortion is wrong - but it is wrong because, in my understanding and experience, something within us wants to love. To separate a woman from her child, violently and traumatically, before birth cannot in my eyes be an act of love. I get angry because I see so much being shoved under the carpet in the name of "choice" - what real choice did so many women have? A woman's choice is often to have her baby. And, in the name of so-called abortion rights, that choice is not supported. And the consequences of abortion can be so damned crippling, so traumatic. And it takes such courage to heal to the extent that one can, and such courage to keep addressing the issue that is so surrounded by shame and secrecy. As many women here know.
I do feel that the point I made before is valid. One group of women will suffer under legalised abortion, another will not. Some women do want and choose abortion. Their experience is so far from my own that I cannot really relate to or pronounce on it. I know very well that some - many? - women are not going to suffer agonies of torment or guilt over their abortion decision or the ethical ramifications of it. I have no wish or motivation to try, uselessly, to make them feel guilty, to open them up to the place in themselves that feels sadness at the destruction of a child and at all that that symbolises of innocence and love and creativity. Why should I? I can live only my own life, be responsible only for my own integrity. Part of that integrity, though, is being able to say that I do not think that the legalisation of abortion was right, in the deeper sense in which I am trying to talk about right, and that it did remove a vital protection from vulnerable women. And men, too, in a sense - because men now feel they have no say in the matter, that it is all up to the woman and her choice. Some men abandon women to abortion; some suffer because their child is aborted and there is nothing they can do about it. I want the freedom to say what I am saying without belonging to a group or a campaign or labelling myself "pro-life", although I suppose most people would say I am. Above all, I want to bring compassion to this. I value compassion really highly, or I hope I do. Sometimes I lose it and anger just takes over, anger at the abuse that was abortion. In my experience but, just as importantly, in the experience of so many other women.
I have rambled on and don't know if anyone will have had the patience to read this... I am just trying to say that I do oppose abortion, having lived through the horror of it, but that I want to do so in a way that is truthful and sensitive. If I fail, that is because I am, like you, vulnerable at times to my strength of feeling on the matter. Sincerely, Catherine
Sat Feb 12 09:58:37 2000
I understand a lot of what you are saying, too - except the part about some people not seeing abortion as the destruction of life, which I don't understand. My point about the legality of abortion connects with the point you are making about it not being enough just to make abortion illegal - this I agree with, deeply. And I do not see that it is in any way on the cards that abortion could be made illegal again - certainly not in Britain; I don't know about in certain states in America. What I am trying to say is that the legalisation of abortion changed attitudes to pregnancy, to the value of human life and abandoned some women to not being supported. I grant you that women have always been abandoned in pregnancy and that just changing the law, even were it possible, is just skimming the surface. I agree very much with you that it is people's hearts and minds that need to be broadened for true support to be given during pregnancy. I agree very much when you say that each new life should be a blessing. The fact that it is not takes us very deeply into the human story, into the things that we put value on (mainly material) which are simply valueless in reality, while the things that are truly important we ignore or destroy or do not nurture. My conclusion is unlike yours in that I do not see that the legalisation of abortion has truly helped women, although some would undoubtedly say that it had. I just wish more of us would come together to say what we are saying - instead of all of us being locked away in little islands of shame and secrecy...
For me, I think the issue is more about one of responsibility than anything else. There is a human life involved in a pregnancy - and that is an enormous thing. Some people feel it is enormous, others do not. If one sees abortion as a serious act that involves the taking of life one is going to have a different attitude towards it than if one decides to say that it is somehow not a human life involved and that one has in any case the "right" to decide what to do with it. For me, that it emerges from a societal convention or fashion; it does not emerge from the deeper truth of things. So maybe if people took responsibility for the taking of life in that situation and said, "OK, yes, this is what I am doing and I take responsibility for that" - everyone, woman, man, doctors, clinic staff - then maybe I would feel less frustrated and less alone, sometimes, in what I am saying. I do not really separate abortion from war, say, or the death penalty - those are also socially decided conventions that contravene a deeper reality. There is no "punishing God", in my understanding, but we do, some of us at any rate, suffer very much when that reality is contravened. The maternal instinct in women goes so very deep and I think we play around with it at our peril.
I think I did what I did for all sorts of reasons, not least of which is that I was trying to avoid suffering to others and myself, avoiding what I perceived as the suffering of my child - and because the psychological impact of not being supported in pregnancy went very deep with me, as it does for many women coming from troubled childhoods - but I never said or believed that what was happening was not the destruction of life, was not serious. I do not see how this can be chopped up and divided, that what is true for one is not true for another; human life is human life, full stop. And if we really connected with that reality, I think we would welcome children with love into our world. But that is another world from this one, I do realise that. Just as a world without poverty, injustice, cruelty, oppression is another world from this one. But we have to fight for justice, fairness, equality, despite it all, don't we? I know you want to do that. So do I. I accept that what I say emerges from my own sense of how things are, how life is - and yes, much of that is reflected by my spiritual understanding. But I really do feel that this is not based on dogma or obscure faith but simply on the way we are as humans. In other words, something in us wants to love, as I said before.
Rambling again, I think - I have never encountered any subject like this, where words slip and slide, where I can never quite follow so many trains of thought or feel that I can adequately express what is on my heart and mind. I wish this were a world that had welcomed me and my child - maybe it comes down to as simple and as naive a thought as that, in the end. Because I felt much love, much connection to my grounded self and my higher self through pregnancy, and because abortion did me no good at all. Catherine
What these organisations say
I had a look at these two websites. And felt gripped by emotions that I have felt every time I encounter this "abortion debate". Two sides locked in battle, telling partial truths, or telling only their side of the truth, which is patently nothing to do with the nature of truth itself. It also raises selfish feelings of wishing I had never had anything to do with any of this, never had an abortion, left all the dilemma and the mess to others. But that is not how it is or was, so it is useless to wish for such a thing. I was coerced, by people and circumstances, into having two abortions that I neither wanted nor needed. The ramifications on every level have been horrendous. If I were alone in that maybe I would just shut up and live with my bizarre, unique suffering - but I know I am not. I know how many other women have abortions that they neither want nor need, in the deeper sense of need, because no support is offered to them or to the life within them. Abortion becomes the symbol of hopelessness and despair, in a world that is saying nothing else is possible. A woman just has to go and have this mutilation of her body done as a way of clearing up all the problems that surround the pregnancy. This is called doing the "right thing" and it is called her "choice". Sometimes it is a free choice. Sometimes women do not suffer regret or guilt or grief. I do not know what to say about this situation it is so far beyond my understanding.
But this is so long, so involved, so never-ending this so-called "debate". All I know is that abortion is so often like a bed under which all manner of dust and rubbish is swept. The problems are not addressed, but the pregnancy is terminated. This is supposed to be reflecting deeply about what really happens in many abortions? I am almost amazed to see that these "pro-choice" organisations actually support this situation. A couple of quotes from the websites Jilly referred to:
"Clearly, the half of US women who will have abortions is overwhelmingly the half that is in real trouble, mainly the trouble of poverty."
Nothing is said further about the "trouble of poverty". This is just presented as a self-evident argument for abortion.
"Women have abortions for different, and multiple, reasons. Study after study has shown that in many countries of the world, women who have abortions would have continued that pregnancy if circumstances had been different."
I don't feel I even need to comment on that.
"There is no doubt that having an abortion is, for many women, traumatic and sad, for some even tragic, but that does not mean it should not be legal and safe, nor does it mean that it was not the right decision for them."
This makes me really angry! So some women have to undergo what is for them a tragic decision - no explanation of this "necessitated abuse" is given, it apparently just has to happen and just has to be called the "right decision". I think we should allow the women who do feel it was tragic to say for themselves whether it was "right" or not.
And then, in contradiction to the above, I found the following:
"Women may feel normal psychological reactions similar to postpartum depression for a few weeks because of hormonal changes following abortion."
A few weeks!!! Tell the women on the support boards that.
This is not supposed to be some exhaustive critique of what they say - obviously I have quoted selectively and pretty well at random. I am also not interested in getting into some "counterargument", as if the pro-life lobby were somehow the haven of total truth, compassion and wisdom. But it was just so obvious to me reading this stuff that these people just have an agenda, and everything then gets twisted to suit the agenda; sure, some pro-life people will do that too. I just want intelligent, human, creative debate about this - some hope??
Reprinted with permission from Abortion News & Discussion Board and the permission of the author.
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