The idea that a woman can love her own child and passionately support abortion rights should not be a provocative one. But it still is.
I tried for almost a year to become pregnant. I was 33, then 34; not old by any measure, except the very particular one involving fertility. One month before I was going to see a specialist, I took a pregnancy test and watched a faint positive sign appear in the window.
My daughter is now six months old, and every day I realize anew how fortunate I am to have a healthy, happy child. It’s not an exaggeration to say that I can’t imagine life without her.
And every day, I also realize anew just how deeply I support abortion rights.
These are not mutually exclusive ideas to me, but to a lot of people, they are. In fact, situations like mine seem to create particular confusion. Not only was my pregnancy wanted and my health good throughout the entire nine months, but my daughter developed normally in utero. My husband was thrilled to become a father, we were financially stable, and our friends, family, and employers were all supportive. To top it off, we had good health insurance. If you were to make a checklist of the ingredients needed for an optimal pregnancy, I would tick off every box.
Yet it is because I had such an ideal experience that I have become even more strongly in favor of abortion rights than I was before I became a mother. Because even with all the stars aligned, pregnancy was a confusing, emotionally overwhelming, and occasionally downright scary time. I couldn’t have remained pregnant if I wasn’t so convinced of, and so supported in, my decision to become a mother.
The first trimester of my pregnancy coincided with the uproar in Virginia over proposed regulations for abortion clinics and mandatory ultrasounds for all women seeking abortions. I vividly remember having my first ultrasound and staring at the screen as the tech pointed out barely discernible features and organs. How horrible it would be, I thought, if someone forced me to do this for a pregnancy that I needed to terminate.
And in that darkened room, I understood for the first time in a very visceral way that it doesn’t matter if it makes perfect sense on paper to become a parent, or if it objectively looks like the worst idea in the world. Only the woman (and in many, but not all cases, the man) responsible for the pregnancy occurring in the first place should have the authority to decide if it should continue.
This idea, that a woman can love her own child and passionately support abortion rights, should not be a provocative one. But our national discourse about abortion is increasingly dominated by headline-grabbing stories like North Dakota’s recent decision to ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected. While this law, which could outlaw abortions as early as the sixth week of pregnancy, will likely be challenged in court, North Dakota is far from alone in restricting women’s access to abortion care.
During the first three months of 2013, 694 measures addressing reproductive health were introduced around the country; 47% of those provisions sought to curtail abortion access. Kansas governor Sam Brownback is likely to sign a bill that would, among other measures, define life as beginning at fertilization. Abortion clinics in Virginia must now meet the same architectural standards as new hospitals, even though many of the requirements—ensuring a specific number of parking spaces, for instance—have nothing to do with women’s health. Arkansas prohibits abortions from being performed after the 20th week of pregnancy, and has also banned abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected via an abdominal ultrasound (this measure is being challenged in court).
These stories have dominated the headlines precisely because these laws are so severe. But when the conversation is focused on the extremes—on banning abortion before 12 weeks or after 20, on omitting abortion care coverage from state insurance exchanges, on shutting down the last abortion clinic in Mississippi—it’s easy to forget that pregnancy should not be a political issue. It’s easy to overlook that deciding when and whether to become a parent is one of the most important choices that many of us will ever make, and that very few people would want politicians and courts to make that decision for them.
Last year, my mother gave me a button that she’d had for as long as I can remember. It says “Pro-Family, Pro-Child, Pro-Choice.” I keep it pinned to my jacket collar, and most of the time I forget that it’s there.
But a few months ago, my husband, daughter, and I were on the subway. Our section of the car wasn’t very crowded, and across the aisle sat an older man. He smiled at our daughter, and then fixed his gaze on my button.
“I like the message,” he told me, his voice hinting at a Southern accent. And then he gestured to my daughter. “And I like the choice.”
So do I.
Sarah Erdreich is the author of Generation Roe: Inside the Future of the Pro-Choice Movement. A Southerner at heart who grew up in the Midwest, she now lives on the East Coast. Find her on Facebook and Twitter.