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Abortion has always been with us

By Amanda Marcotte
Tuesday, September 9, 2008 4:31 EDT
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Christy Hardin Smith has challenged bloggers to talk on a personal level about choice, something I’ve done before, but I feel I should take on the challenge again to encourage other bloggers—male and female—to do it. Because putting a human face to these issues helps. Also, Christy was brave enough to talk about her abortion, which was a tragic event for her and my sympathies are with her.

I have the pro-choice movement to thank for my great luck never to have had an abortion. Not that I feel lucky because I’m avoiding the judgment of assholes, because most of them assume the worst of me anyway, so I doubt I could sink lower in their esteem, nor do I care. But if it wasn’t for the hard work and willingness to get arrested for the cause of justice, it wouldn’t be so easy to mosey into a doctor’s office and walk out with a pill prescription to keep you from getting pregnant. Or into a grocery store/out with a box of condoms, if that’s what you need. Contrary to the paranoid claims of anti-choice nuts—some of whom are populating the comments section at the LA Times—no one thinks abortion is fun or a great way to pass the time. Prevention is a big deal, because surgery sucks. Especially for me. I get queasy when my blood is drawn, and having a tooth filled gave me a full 24 hours of anxiety. Even minor surgery is a nerve-wracking proposition.

But honestly, enough about me. I’m obviously boring. What I find interesting is contrasting my blessedly boring zero set abortion history with what you read about in histories of the feminist movement. You read books like Susan Brownmiller’s In Our Time: Memoir of a Revolution, and the sections on consciousness raising about abortion are startling for one very banal reason—the sheer amount of abortion. Women in these meetings in the late 60s and early 70s often recite having 3 or 4 or 5 or more abortions, and at ages a lot younger than me. There’s reason to believe that in the generation before that, abortion was a major form of birth control, probably the primary one. Leslie Reagan’s history of abortion reconfirms this suspicion—she describes a world where abortion was as common as it was illegal, and women just simply went to midwives to get it taken care of, and men simply turned a blind eye, assuming that termination was a woman’s business. It’s a chilling reminder of the lives that I and most of the women reading this would have if it weren’t for reproductive rights activists fighting the good battle. It makes perfect sense that abortion, while illegal, was an everyday part of life in an insufficiently feminist society. Contraception was irregular and difficult to use. Men felt entitled to sex from their wives and girlfriends on their own timetable, and that might not include time to prepare a diaphragm or the ability to say no during the fertile periods of the month. And that’s assuming you were educated enough to know how to tell if you were ovulating.

So what motivates me is a little different than what motivates Christy to care about this issue. I’m acutely aware of the life I’m lucky enough not to have had. Even setting aside the issues about independence and freedom from violence, there’s just the basic freedom from having someone muck around my cervix, doing grody stuff to it on a regular basis. I’m glad we have choice, because women in the past didn’t really have any. When they simply couldn’t have babies, their only choice was an ugly choice—abortion, and under dirty, painful, unseemly circumstances.

Interestingly, one of the commenters at the LA Times accused me of being stupid because I want abortion to be legal. Presumably, I don’t know how to use contraception, according to his logic. I’m sort of perplexed by people who make this argument, and have to assume that they have a really weird idea of how frequently most people have sex. Because most people have sex over 100 times a year, and the more, um, transactions you have, the higher the chances of error. But I suppose if it’s a really rare event for you, on the level of a lunar eclipse, it’s hard to imagine how you’d have much of an error rate at all.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
 
 
 
 
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