I had an abortion in the bad old days. In New Zealand, in the early 80s, I had to be seen by two doctors (had to have an internal examination from two doctors, this is after a pregnancy urine and blood test) before they would confirm I was pregnant. Then I had to have ‘counselling’ – the name does not begin to describe the intrusive questions that were asked. And each appointment meant another wait. In the end I had an abortion at 7-8 weeks, when I knew from the moment of conception that I was pregnant (I just did, ok?), when I always knew I didn’t want to be pregnant at that time, when an earlier abortion would have been preferable, better for me physically and emotionally, and less costly.
(Yes, the man and I were idiots and it was all our fault and we should have been more careful – and how few of us can say otherwise? How many of you have thought, time after time when you had unprotected sex and didn’t get pregnant “Phew, that was lucky!”). I also knew – from that moment, that at nineteen, halfway through my university course, the first in my family to go to university, the first to have made the big leap, with a sister who kept her baby and was married at 16 (and had been left by her husband the year earlier, leaving her, at 24, with four children aged 8 and under), having a best friend who had her baby ‘adopted out’ (as we used to say) and was still in abject grief about it – I knew, from the start, I couldn’t keep it. I had very clear role models showing me the only other two options weren’t for me.
And I did think of it as a something. It was not nothing to have an abortion then, it was not nothing at the time, and it’s not nothing now. And I was sad about it at the time and I’m still sad that it had to happen, that I screwed up and got pregnant when I didn’t mean to (with a young man who certainly didn’t mean to be a dad), but I do not regret it. I have written about the infertility I experienced after chemotherapy for breast cancer. And yes, I do see the irony there. (Is that irony, or just painful? I know some people would say it was what I ‘deserved’, and I hope, in that case, that they have lived utterly perfect, mistake-free lives themselves.) But I still know it was the right decision.
I was a working class girl on the way to maybe, hopefully, making good.
I had seen what difficulties my sister had been through, keeping her baby at 16.
I had seen my friend’s utter despair over the baby she had had to ‘give up’.
Having an abortion was – and still is, in retrospect – the right thing for me to do. (And let’s not be coy with ‘termination’ here, we all know what we’re talking about.)
I did not believe then, any more than I do now, that an over-populated world that does not feed and adequately care for the children already in it, needed another unwanted child.
And those extra weeks I waited while being put through the system, those extra weeks I went through having to be seen by this doctor and that, having to be (badly) ‘counselled’, were damaging to me and they wasted time and money.
Those of us who went to Catholic schools know well enough the stages of the embryo and foetus, I knew what I was about and I did it intentionally and sadly, and still thought it was the right thing to do. It was. And it would all have been far less time-consuming and resources-wasting had it been done the way it is now. The way Dorries and her new plans are trying to take from us. If, at nineteen I was old enough to be a mother, I was certainly old enough to decide not to.
Do I regret it? No. As a Buddhist do I think it was nothing? Certainly not. But I do believe that soul/spirit/whatever word you like, chose me. For 7-8 weeks. Just as I think the soul/spirits of the embryos I had made before chemo damaged (and saved!) my body chose me too, for a short time. Just as the baby my wife miscarried chose her, for a short time.
But my experience tells me for sure that offering more ‘counselling’, making women wait longer before they can have an abortion, involving known anti-abortion groups in that counselling process will do more harm than good. Earlier abortions, especially drug-induced rather than invasive physical procedures, are better for everyone involved (they also cost less, and it surprises me that politicians who are so keen to cut so much right now that might support families, seem to be interested in creating a more lengthy, costly and protracted process). Anything that makes that waiting time longer for the woman involved, will be damaging, both physically and emotionally. Far from protecting women emotionally, Dorries’ proposals seek to damage them further.
So – what to do?
I’m not sure, this seems to be happening so fast it’s almost a fait accompli, but it might help if we were out about our abortions. Just as I’m always calling for all LGBT people to be out, and all those straight people who’ve had ‘one gay experience’ to be out (what a difference that piece of honesty would make!), I think we women who have had abortions need to come out. And the men who wanted their partners to have abortions, or were relieved when their partners had abortions, also need to come out. All of you with children now, who had an abortion when it wasn’t right for you to have a child, need to come out.
Dorries is cited as saying that 30% of women who’ve had abortions have suffered mental problems. But so few of us are out about it, how can she possibly know? Time for more of us to step up and tell our own truths, so we can stop her pretending to speak for us.
Yes, this is a very scary coming out. Yes, there are absolute nutters who would want to attack us, who may attack us. There is an idea that this is a shameful secret and should be kept so.
It’s fraught and complicated, not least because it’s so very personal. It’s certainly not black and white and yes, it is a bit scary. A lot scary. But we fix things by facing our fears, by being honest; we make change by being honest. And we are far more numerous, and far more sane about our choices, than Dorries and her stories would have the media believe. So perhaps now is the time to stop being so secretive. To stop behaving like we have shameful secrets and be open?
That’s my story – what’s yours?
links for more info :
Laurie Penny in the Independent with more about the actual politics of the bill.
There’s loads out there, but this is happening fast. Get on it, sign the petition, email your MP. And if you agree with me that it would be useful for all of us to stand up and be honest about our experience of abortion, then please, stand up.