Three mothers tell their own tale of how abortion changed their lives…for the better.
Lucy was 18 when she had an abortion.
“It was the ‘bad’ kind,” she says. “The kind you have because you just don’t want to have children, or because you were irresponsible. You know, the slutty kind.” She got on with her life and thought about it every now and then, occasionally wondering if she had made the right decision. Last July, Lucy, who now lives in Norfolk and is 31, gave birth to a little a boy, Ezra. In becoming a mother, she says, she finally laid to rest those sporadic demons. “Since having my son, having gone through that process of pregnancy and childbirth and child care, I have never been so absolutely certain that what I did all those years ago was right.”
Lucy is not alone. Despite a rising anti-choice sentiment across the UK, where this story is being reported, there are a number of women for whom parenthood only strengthens their resolve that access to abortion must be safe, legal and guilt-free.
Emily lives in Devon with her partner and two daughters, aged three and one. She has a third daughter, Ivy, whom she painfully chose to abort at 23 weeks when she was diagnosed with hypoplastic left heart syndrome. The prognosis was poor. Assuming Ivy survived birth, she would have had open heart surgery in the first week of life. Assuming she survived that, she would have needed surgery again at six months, and if she survived that, then again at three, and so on.
Emily says: “Ivy was a baby. She was perfect in every way, down to her tiny fingernails and her eyelashes. She had my partner’s feet in miniature. When she was born, she tried to breathe. We held her till she went still and told her we loved her, and that we would make the most of this life and never forget her. That was my choice.”
Nadine Dorries debates plans to bar abortion providers from giving advice to pregnant women
Not long after Emily returned to work after losing her daughter, Conservative MP Nadine Dorries, who has repeatedly tried to limit access to abortion services during her time as a politician, tabled an amendment to the 1967 Abortion Act that would strip abortion providers of the right to counsel women. The loosely worded bill threatened to land the role of counselor in the hands of religious or anti-choice groups.
Emily says: “I was driving home listening to the radio and was so furious I had to pull over and cry angry tears. I could not believe that there were people out there who dared to feel they had the right to take that choice out of anyone’s hands. ”
Thirty-year-old Julie had a very strict Catholic upbringing. These days she is an atheist, pro-choice, and married with a son (8 months) and a daughter (3). When she was at university she got pregnant by accident and miscarried at six weeks. During the two weeks she knew about the pregnancy she was terrified of having the baby but also realized very quickly that she was unable to have an abortion.
She says: “I felt like I would be killing a baby, and I just couldn’t consider it as an option. But I believe that a mother’s job is to do what’s best for her family, especially the child she’s carrying, sometimes the best thing is a termination and the mother should have that option.”
Abortion services are under attack in the UK like never before. The conservative majority of the coalition government are pushing through Nadine Dorries’ amendment regardless of it being defeated in parliament, and aggressive American anti-choice group 40 Days for Life have shipped their brand of campaigning to a new shore and began picketing abortion clinics at the beginning of Lent, filming women going in and out and handing out wildly inaccurate information.
While those who genuinely believe abortion is murder and those who believe it is unfortunate but sometimes necessary are never going to agree, the popular discourse on abortion misses the fact that the stories carry on long after a woman leaves the clinic, and that terminating a pregnancy can be a foundation stone for building stronger, happier, more together lives.
Emily refuses to dress her experiences up in any coy language.
“I did kill my baby,” she says. “I chose to have Ivy at 23 weeks and to watch her die in my arms because for me, that was preferable to continuing with the pregnancy. She would have had a life, just not the life I wanted for her, or for me, or for my partner, or at that time, for the possible future brothers or sisters she might have.”
And if she had chosen to continue with the pregnancy, chances are she would have lost a baby or a child at a later date than she did, something she considers to be considerably harder than losing a baby pre-birth. She doubts very much she and her partner would still be together, or that they would be living in their dream house in the idyllic Devon countryside, or that they would have the two daughters they have now.
“It’s too crazy to think about,” she says. “I’d not be me. I say that was the hardest choice I ever had to make but really, in the moment, it was one of the easiest. I knew as soon as we had the full facts that there was no way that I would put my baby through the treatment. I’ve never doubted that we made the right choice, not for a second. And that is the truth.”
Lucy says she had always considered her abortion a selfish act. At the time, she was rarely able to make it through the day without having an alcoholic drink, she was using drugs regularly and was “indescribably miserable and confused.” When she found out she was pregnant, she went to the pub, drank a double vodka, smoked half a pack of cigarettes and stayed out all night taking speed. In retrospect she thinks that perhaps she wasn’t so selfish after all. She knew she wouldn’t be able to stop drinking or using drugs throughout the pregnancy.
“So I had a choice,” she says. “I could bring a child in to the world – a very unwanted child – who would start life physically damaged because of my inability to care for it in the womb, and would move through life emotionally damaged because of my inability to care for it when it arrived. Or I could choose something else, to end the pregnancy, get myself straight, go to university, get a masters degree, fall in love, buy a house, have a child who is so adored that some days I feel like the love flows out of me in giant waves. If I had continued with that pregnancy when I was 18 it would have destroyed many lives.”
Julie’s first pregnancy was exactly the opposite experience. Even though she didn’t want a child, she was unable to drink or smoke, do anything that might harm the fetus in anyway and still holds with her a guilt that she miscarried because she didn’t want to keep it. When she fell pregnant with what would become her eldest child she obsessively researched the phases of gestation and fell in love “with a child, not a potential child” and began to believe that the 24 week time limit on is horrific. Yet during her third pregnancy, the one that would produce her second child, she planned to attend a pro-choice rally.
“To me I was exactly the right person to be there, saying ‘look at me, I’m pregnant, I love my children but I’m still pro-choice.’ The conservative right and the Catholics like to paint women who terminate pregnancies as morally, emotionally and intellectually weak. I could never have terminated a pregnancy myself, but I believe I should have the right to, and I will publicly stand with women who have had to make that decision. I will also stand against anyone, politician or religious zealot, or both, who thinks that religious dogma is an appropriate basis for lawmaking,” she says.
Lucy says that if she could have gotten to the same point in her life in a less awful way then of course she would choose that.
“But I did what I did and I’m fine with that. No one is pro-abortion, no one wants to actually do it, but sometimes it is the best option. I’ve spent a lot of time mired in existential crises and trying to rationalize it and eventually realized that we decide who lives and dies all the time. We make conscious decisions to have a baby; that someone knew should not exist. We send people to war to die. The death penalty sends innocent people to their graves every year. We have people die from famine or drought or brutal regimes and we allow that to happen. We decide that our grandma or uncle or best friend has reached such a point in their illness that their quality of life is too diminished and we quietly ask the doctor if they can up the morphine dosage. It’s just part of the way stuff works. We can call upon Fate or God and be a victim of circumstance, or we can engage with it, choose our lives, the course of events that are best for ourselves and our families. If you don’t like it, so be it, but no one has the right to interfere with those choices. I now consider my first true act as a mother was realizing that I was in no position to become a mother. In a sense I am proud of that and it gives me confidence that I am making the right choices for my family now.”
Image: The Guardian, zeevveez, Medill DC, Elvert Barnes