I’ve always been pro-life, but I’ve also never been in the position to have to put my stance to the test, and I am a life-long learner. I think there is so much merit in listening to the other side–in learning WHY people have abortions, in hearing from doctors who have abortion. It’s not about changing your mind–though maybe it will–but being not only more informed when you argue your side, but being more compassionate. Abortion is such a fraught issue because it always, always, involves human life–the life of the mother alone, regardless of where you stand on if life begins at conception, etc. It’s easy to think in black and white when it comes to abortion, but as we all know there are so many shades of gray in these issues.
When I came across the book “You’re the Only One I’ve Told: The Stories Behind Abortion” by Dr. Meera Shah, I knew I wanted to read it and review it. I’m not one of those people that avoids hard topics. We learn by pushing ourselves. With abortion, it’s important to hear FROM the people impacted by it. Part of what drew me to this story was that it was told through the stories of these women (and a non-binary person and a male partner of a woman who had an abortion) and centered on them, why they had their abortions, the impact it had on their lives, etc.
First, as a bit of review, I think there is merit in reading this book and the way it is set up, but the author is clearly very gung-ho about abortion access and liberal politics related to that. It is in the whole book. She tells the story of these women based on interviews–as opposed to them writing essays themselves–and constantly infuses it with politics, related laws, other anecdotes, and that sometimes makes it confusing.
But I did learn a lot from this book–both good and bad. Here were my take-aways as a life-long pro-lifer who also considers herself a compassionate person.
There were many instances of multiple abortions
I didn’t keep an exact count, but what shocked me throughout this book was how many of these stories were about women having multiple abortions. Sometimes for different reasons–there were a few women who aborted due to not being ready for a child at one point, and aborted due to medical reasons later–but multiple abortions nonetheless. Many of them, unfortunately, were due to a continued lack of access to birth control of sex education. I’ll get more into that later, but I think the statistics on 1 in 4 women having an abortion in their lifetime might be skewed by some of these instances of multiple abortion. As a pro-lifer, I was under the impression that at an abortion appointment, doctors asked about your methods of birth control, but that’s clearly not enough to help prevent unwanted pregnancy. There are many reasons for this–financial impediment to birth control, cultural taboo, abusive home environments, etc–but if we want to really help women and prevent abortion, we have to figure out how to find a way to help women who have an abortion once from finding themselves in the same situation again. No one “wants” to get an abortion. We know this. No one sets out as a child putting that on their bucket list–but what can society do to help them not end up in the same place again?
We need a word somewhere between abortion and miscarriage
Several of the stories in this book revolve around women who have an abortion due to severe medical issues with the fetus–trisomy 13, spina bifidia, and other medical issues that, according to the doctors, will result in a short, painful life for the child.
Being pro-life, you often hear “what about in the case of a fetal deformity?’ and I, for one, think that’s a valid question for many people. I, of course, don’t support abortion in the name of ending Down syndrome, etc, but I think it’s a valid question for parents to think about the survivability of the fetus–both in the case of the health of the mother and the health of the child.
But what hurt me is the shame some of these women felt when they had to say they had an “abortion” when delivering dead or dying fetuses. There has to be a word, somewhere between abortion and miscarriage, for these situations. I’m not sure what it is, but it’s hard, in a world that is so “yay” or “nay” on abortion, to find a way to talk about women who deeply wanted a child but decided not to let it suffer for its one hour on earth. If you disagree with the idea of aborting a fetus with severe abnormalities, I’m not here to argue with you, I’m here to say that those women are mothers who need our help and they don’t need shame.
Maybe if abortion truly just culturally, in our society, meant the “deliberate termination of a pregnancy” without any context (positive or negative) it would be easier, but the stories in this book showed me that it’s going to continue to be an issue. It also got me thinking about the on-going opening up about celebrity miscarriages (a positive for the world, I think, to open up about how unfortunately common miscarriages can be) and how many of them, perhaps, were decisions to have a medical abortion due to fetal health issues, but they use the word miscarriage instead of abortion to avoid being shamed or judged.
How can we help these women feel supported and loved and give them a chance to grieve the child they lost without buying even more into the “pro choice” and “pro abortion” divide?
Birth control and sex education should not be cultural or taboo
I’ve always been the kind of pro-lifer that is very pro-birth control, but the stories in this book really hammered it home. If you’re having sex and you’re not using birth control, there’s a high chance you’re going to get pregnant. Denying teens and even adults (especially in this book in the case of cultural groups) access to birth control is not stopping them from having sex–or stopping their husbands from having sex with them, in many instances.
This book features people from a lot of different cultures–many of them children of immigrants–and I was blown away by the (frankly) ignorance of some parents when it came to sexual education for their kids. I get it, no one wants it to happen, but that doesn’t mean it won’t. Not preparing your kids for safe sex just means they’ll have unsafe sex, not that they won’t have sex.
You can argue left right and center over sex education in schools, but we know that, unfortunately, there’s not equal teaching at home. We know that birth control can be a great equalizer when it comes to socioeconomic status, especially since so many people have abortions because they cannot afford to take care of a child.
How can we as pro-lifers work to support a society that helps educate people about safe sex? How can we help those who want to be on birth control get on birth control so they don’t end up having to seek out an abortion? How can we level the playing field so that sex education isn’t something only certain people are privileged to have?
The world can be an awful place. Does abortion make it better?
The women in this book opened up not only about their abortions, but about some life circumstances that were really, really rough to hear about. Sexual abuse, abusive relationships, controlling parents, poverty, et cetera. Sometimes those experiences–whether the current reality of it or ramifications from it in the past–led them to have an abortion. Some of the stories in this book saw the abortion as a way out–a way out of staying with an abusive man, or out of poverty because they could finish school or keep their job, etc.
That, to me, sucks. The world is an awful place–there are some awful people in it–but we should have a way to help women besides telling them that abortion is the way out. For some things, maybe in some instances, it was for these women. But what else failed them–how did society fail them by not giving them a way to report their abusers safely, not giving them a support system, etc?
Abortion felt to many of these women like the only option. I want pro-lifers to think about why? It’s hard, if you haven’t been in those shoes, but I think that’s the power of books like these–they put you in those shoes, if just for a minute, and ask you to think about the bigger societal issues that feed into abortion, not just the act of abortion itself.
How are you going to work to make society a better place–a place where women won’t feel like an abortion is their only way forward? Will you help single mothers by babysitting so they can go to work? Will you write to your legislators about extending SNAP benefits? Will you be an adoption attorney who helps simply the process for those in need? Will you report abuse when you see it?
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