Lynn Beisner got pregnant when she was very young after a fling with a guy she didn’t love. She planned an abortion, but miscarried instead. You can call her lucky, but because she chose abortion, you should still call her a slut and a murderer, she says.
Recently a group of pro-choice women decided to come out of the abortion closet—to put names, stories, and sometimes faces to the statistic that one in three women under the age of 45 have had an abortion. They are telling their stories and collecting them at the website I Had An Abortion.
I admire what these women are doing, but I wonder if they are unfairly bearing the brunt of a burden that more of us should share. It feels wrong, somehow, that some women are exposing their lives, their difficult choices, while so many of us get to skate by.
Here is the simple truth about abortion: who has them and who doesn’t is more a matter of luck than morality, and more of fortune and socioeconomic advantage than virtue. I have never had an abortion, but that is a matter of sheer luck—not anything that I did particularly did right. And I believe that I am like a lot of other women. Many of us have had sex in situations that by all rights should have created a pregnancy, but for whatever reason, we dodged that bullet, or we got pregnant and miscarried.
I suggest that in support of the courageous women who have written their abortion stories, we should start telling our stories of abortions averted only though luck. By telling our stories, we would be saying: “If you want to call the women who have had abortions sluts, you are going to have to call us the same thing. We engaged in the same sexual behaviors. And if you are going to call women who have had abortions murderers, then you will have to think of us as murderers whose crimes were foiled only by twists of fate.”
To get the ball rolling, I feel I should tell you about the time I nearly had an abortion.
I got pregnant several months after I left Bible college. I had been through a traumatic first sexual experience, and found myself reaching out to old friends and family. The day after Christmas, I called my former boyfriend from Bible college, a guy named Todd. To my surprise and delight, he told me that he had left the seminary program as well. He had a job and was renting a small room near campus. I invited him to come over for dinner, and he ended up staying the night, and the next night, and the night after that. He left early the morning of New Year’s Eve with a promise to come by to see me after my friends and I got back from watching the ball drop. I waited up all night for Todd’s call. By the next morning, I suspected something had gone terribly wrong.
One of the reasons Todd and I had never worked out in Bible college was that he had a tendency to just disappear, to run away when he got angry or his feelings hurt. I began to suspect that his departure from the Bible college had been nothing more than one of his infamous temper tantrums. Sure enough, when I showed up at his rented room, I discovered he had moved out New Year’s Day.
One day in late January I decided to buy a pregnancy kit. I was two weeks late for my period, but that wasn’t all that unusual. My periods were completely irregular. So even as I bought the test I told myself that the odds of my getting pregnant were extremely slim, and that even if I was pregnant, the chances that a home pregnancy test would show it were next to nil.
I was pregnant. A week later, my doctor confirmed it with a blood test. He also informed me that the medications that I had been taking for depression when I got pregnant could cause birth defects. I went off the medication and wavered about what to do. I saw myself as having three options: an abortion which my religion would allow because of the possibility of birth defects (right to life was softer back then), having the baby and raising it alone, or giving it up for adoption. For either of the latter two options, I would have to tell Todd. So I called the college and told him I was pregnant.
Todd asked me what I wanted to do, and I mentioned the option of abortion. He said he would support me in that, since we had a sanctioned reason to abort. But he also talked about us getting married and raising our baby ourselves. I had no idea what to do. Todd’s recent abandonment had not made me feel optimistic about a life with him. He asked if I would meet with Dr. Simon, the college’s pastor to discuss it and I agreed.
I had always liked Dr. Simon, and I considered him a friend. I was therefore shocked beyond belief at the contempt with which he treated me. He had been talking with Todd and his parents and now suddenly I wasn’t a young woman who had, along with Todd, made a mistake. I was the evil seductress who was trying to lure their angel Todd away from God’s plan for his life. Or I was lying and trying to trick Todd into marrying me. Dr. Simon, Todd, and his parents hadn’t figured out which of those nefarious plans I was up to, but suddenly I was a perpetrator and Todd was a victim.
We met in the church’s conference room, which was positioned at the front of the church behind a stained glass window. Todd and Dr. Simon showed me to a seat facing the window—the one seat in the room where a shaft of red light from the window would bathe me in scarlet. I remember thinking as I sat there that if I ever wrote the story of my life, I would need to omit this scene. It would be too filled with perfect literary metaphors for it to be believable.
Dr. Simon started off by explaining to me how much I had already damaged Todd’s work for the Lord. And it was quite clear that I was not a suitable wife for a pastor or a missionary. However, Todd had agreed to do the right thing and marry me. I would need to place myself under the leadership of an older woman. I would not be allowed to speak to any of the men of the church until they were sure I had recovered my godly spirit. The wedding would have to happen quickly, though, so that we could pass off our child as a honeymoon baby. I had a week, maybe two to prepare a wedding. “Don’t even think of trying to wear a white dress. You can have a few flowers, a nice dress, and two or three friends plus family. We can do it here at the church next Saturday.”
Something clicked in my head as I stared into the red light. I was getting an opportunity to try on the role of scarlet woman thanks to that window and the terms delivered by the sanctimonious shit, Dr. Simon. If I married Todd, I would never know if he loved me or if he was just doing his duty. I was almost certain Todd would never feel lucky to be loved by me.
“Dr. Simon,” I interrupted him, “There is just one thing. No one asked me if I wanted to marry Todd. You are all just assuming that I do. “
There was an awkward pause. I think Dr. Simon expected Todd to get down on one knee. Instead, he just sat there looking confused. At last, Dr. Simon asked, “So are you willing to marry Todd?”
“No” I said, and I began gathering up my things. “Whatever happens, whatever I decide, I will do it without you, Dr. Simon. And Todd, I will probably do it without you as well. If you want to be part of this decision, you’ll need to give me some space. For the next three days, I am going to pretend I am not pregnant. I am just going to live my life as I otherwise would. On the fourth day, next Monday, I will call you, and tell you which direction I am leaning.”
I went home that afternoon and made an appointment for Monday at the abortion clinic. I had not made my final choice, but I was leaning that direction. I spent the next couple of days cleaning my small apartment, ignoring the phone, and thinking.
On Sunday, I took a walk through an antique mall. In one shop, I found a cradle made of beautifully crafted wood. It was filled with tiny crocheted bonnets, sweaters, and beautiful blankets. For a moment, as my head filled with gauzy romantic dreams of motherhood, I wavered badly. But then I looked at the price on the layette, more than two weeks of my salary, and read the small sign on the cradle which said it was no longer considered safe for actual infants. I realized there was a world of difference between the romantic idea of a baby and an actual infant child. I left the shop 100% sure of my decision; I was having an abortion the next day.
On my way out of the antiques market, my back began hurting. By the time I got home, I was bleeding and cramping badly. The next morning I kept my appointment at the clinic. But I was there only to confirm that the miscarriage had been complete.
So, you see, I made my choice, and it was an abortion. The only reason I didn’t have one is that the pregnancy was one of the 30% of all pregnancies which end in a spontaneous miscarriage. So if you are going to call a woman who had an abortion a slut or a murderer, you will need to count me one as well. But you should know, I rejected the scarlet woman label when it was being beamed straight through the window of a church and being delivered by a man of God. You won’t have much luck getting me to take it now.