Recently, Thought Catalog ran an article by Carl Segall called “Why I Am Pro-Life.” Predictably and respectfully, here is my response to that.
Because you can’t put a disclaimer on being “pro-life.”
Let us please not bullshit ourselves about what “pro-life” and “pro-choice” mean. I don’t want you to implore me to “think about the actual words themselves” when justifying your pro-liferhood. I eat words for breakfast. I over-analyze words the way most people do relationships. Those labels have deep, definite, well-established implications that extend way beyond the original definitions of the words themselves, AND YOU KNOW IT. In a political context, the term “pro-life” indicates the removal of choice from other people. You can’t call yourself “pro-life” and then proceed to qualify that with an explanation about how you really do respect people’s right to make their own choices, but life is so awesome, and you love it, and abortions give you the sads, but you’re not, like, one of those evil, trans-vaginal wand-wielding, “rape babies are God’s special little gems” crazies who want to rule all the uteri. Because you might as well be. If you align yourself with those people with your words (and your vote), then you don’t get to ideologically separate yourself from them. You are the company you keep, bro. Don’t be deliberately, annoyingly ignorant to the connotations of the label you brand yourself with. “Pro-life” is the chosen label of people who believe in reigning over the bodies of others, but staunchly resent any request to actually invest in the quality of life, or education, or people already living.
I believe that Mr. Segall is pro-choice, and possibly feels that his personal aversion to abortions automatically excludes him from the club, sentencing him instead to a tedious life of explaining that he’s “pro-life but not, like, Todd Akin pro-life”. Let’s be clear: “pro-choice” does not mean “pro-abortion,” but in a political, line-in-the-sand, either/or way, calling yourself “pro-life” does mean that you are anti-choice. It does mean that you support imposing someone else’s moral guidelines onto other people’s freedom to decide how to conduct business with their own bodies. It does mean that. Don’t kid yourself.
You can, however, call yourself “pro-choice” and then explain what your choice is. That’s what being pro-choice is about. I’ve never heard of a single pro-choice advocate being pissed off about someone not having an abortion. Pro-choicers get off on maintaining a social and political precedent for the self-determination of the individual as far as their own body is concerned. We love the freedom to have different opinions, so whatever yours is, if it’s not the opinion that our bodily options should be limited, or that our choices about our lives should be judged and managed by someone else, then fuck yes, you may party with us. Welcome to our side of the line. Explain that even if the choices of other people pain you, and bum you out, and make you worry for their immortal souls, you still believe, above all, in their right to choose.
Because I love my son.
And I don’t want to imagine a life for him where any governing body tries to inflict control over the most personal parts of his existence, or tries to limit the range of choices available to him, or someone he loves. I am pro-choice because when I found out I was pregnant, I found myself in the middle of a chaotic, heady turning point in my life, made navigable only by the availability of options. I had choices, and I was able to fully explore and experience the range of feelings that pregnancy brings by considering these options. And now, when I look at my son, I feel no guilt, no pangs of discomfort about the memory of how my first instinct upon finding out I was pregnant was “Holy shit, someone Hoover this life-ruining ball of cells from betwixt my thighs, post haste!” I feel nothing but gratitude and comfort that it was my choice. His presence in my life was not forced on me, and I (like so many people) will automatically resent any direction my life goes if it’s forced on, even if I would’ve chosen it myself. Because having a child is monumentally life-altering, and often not in easy ways, and I believe that, for me, knowing that it was my choice makes the obligation feel like an adventure, erases all possibility of resentment on the difficult days, and generally makes me feel empowered as a parent, rather than diminished as a human being. And if the emotional complexity of the previous sentences don’t quite make sense to some of you without kids, then take that confusion as further evidence that no one should be making important decisions about someone’s life except the person actually living that life.
The existence of my son makes me infinitely more thankful that (for now, at least) we live in a country where women have choices, where abortions are legal, because I can’t imagine having this massive of a decision taken out of the hands of the people whom it affects. The thought that turns my stomach is the idea of a baby whose needs are not met at the hands of a mother whose hand was forced. That is the source of widespread, long-lasting social ramifications, not preserving a woman’s choice to prevent situations like that from being in the first place. Look at all the heartbreaking cases of children being raised by people who either can’t or won’t physically, emotionally, and educationally nurture them adequately, and look at the adults that those kids turn into, and then tell me that abortions are the thing causing the dissolution of the moral fiber of our country. Logic is fun! Try it just once! You don’t have to inhale if you don’t want to.
I look at my son and am not struck with the sadness of the possibility of him having never been born; I am struck with the sadness of the idea of him — or any other beautiful little bundle of needs — being born to someone without the desire or means to take care of him the way he deserves. Babies deserve parents who want them. And people deserve the right to choose for themselves, to create the life for themselves that they want. That is life-positive, and that is pro-choice.
I am pro-choice because I had an abortion.
I was 20, and would’ve made a shitty mother. And now, I am an excellent mother. Abortions… suck. No one likes getting an abortion. It’s painful, and unpleasant, and even the least maternal among us will feel some heavy hits of hormonally-charged sadness. But as a life-loving pro-choicer, sometimes the life I choose is my own. I choose to preserve the sanctity of my life. That’s what my abortion was for me. I could’ve easily succumbed to the culture of guilt surrounding mothers’ “requirement” to be ultimately self-sacrificing to their offspring, given in to some imagined, forced biological imperative to carry a child, and raise it, likely to the demise of my life and all my plans. And I would’ve been a begrudging mom who resented her kid, not to mention the years of experience, knowledge, wisdom, maturity and financial preparedness I wouldn’t have had. And don’t tell me, “Oh, you would’ve loved it! Plans change! Being a mother is so awesome that you won’t care at all about your loss of freedom and autonomy and lightness and ease of movement in the world!” That’s not true for a lot of people. I wanted more for myself, and more of myself for any possible future children. And now that I have a child, and I see who I am now as opposed to who I was back then, I know that my instincts, my priorities, and my choices were spot-fucking-on.
Because of the experiences that aren’t mine.
This is not about me having had a child, or having had an abortion. This is about the fact that I can only live my life, and only see situations through the filter of my own experiences. Being pro-choice is about respecting that other people are living through an endlessly diverse spectrum of experiences, with many filters, conditions, and priorities. Being pro-choice is about believing that none among us has the right to make broad mandates for all based on the convictions and comfort of a few. It is possible to feel absolutely nauseated and sad-faced at the idea of someone having an abortion, and still unwaveringly believe in their right to do so.
Because I want a culture of life, too.
I just want a culture where the lives that are valued aren’t just the ones who can’t speak for themselves. I do believe that the unborn life has value, and should be respected. But I believe that defining what constitutes “respectful” and valued” treatment of unborn life falls until political domain. If it lives in my body, I get to decide. It’s that simple. Creating a “culture of life” has nothing to do with increasingly devaluing people by telling them that they aren’t fit to call the shots for themselves. Truly making a culture of life means investing real energy and time and resources into creating well-education, informed, empowered, sensitive adults who have the most well-nurtured faculties possible with which to make important decisions about their bodies and families.
I, too, believe science and utilitarianism can’t determine our value as human beings. And neither can legislation.
I would be so sublimely excited to sit down with anyone, possibly with a vat of something caffeinated or alcoholic to share, and discuss the physical and spiritual intricacies of human existence. It is a tricky, vague, weird idea to navigate. As someone who has both chosen to prematurely expel a fertilized ball of uterine biscuits, and someone who has gestated the same into a full human babyfriend, I have acquired a hell of a lot more thoughts and feelings on the topic of what constitutes a life, and what our duty in regards to that process is. A hell of a lot of thoughts and feelings, and absolutely no sense of mastery or universal ownership over this topic. I don’t have a fucking clue. Most of us don’t. So if I can experience bringing about human life and still not fully grasp the complexities of that process, I balk at the notion that a bunch of dudes on Capitol Hill have it all figured out to the degree that they can tell little ol’ women like me what the “right” thing to do is. If Mr. Segall wants to discuss hubris and the laughable mastery of the human body, that might be a good place to start.