Because I had an abortion . . .


IF THE opposing sides on Buffalo's Main Street were polled this week, something I chose to do 20 years ago would go by two labels. Pro-choice advocates would say I paid a gynecologist-obstetrician in my college town to perform a legal abortion during the first month of an unwanted pregnancy. Pro-life people would probably call me a baby killer.

There is something odd about seeing that paragraph in print, that group of words with information I have not shared with many people -- indeed, that I have withheld purposely on any number of occasions in the 20 years since I made that choice.

I was a college junior when I became pregnant. Roe vs. Wade was a year from reality, but I lived in a state where abortion was legal. I discussed my options for a week with friends and a trusted professor (who, interestingly enough, was pro-life). My boyfriend had no financial support to offer, so the doctor's bill, like the final decision, ultimately was mine alone. What minimal emotional support he lent evaporated later that month. We would have made miserable parents.

Having had an abortion hardly qualifies me as an expert on the topic, of course. Yet it does render me a fascinated observer of what has turned into an ugly, galvanized shouting match that pretends abortion is simple: right against wrong, percolated into a few catchy slogans with accompanying hand clapping or finger pointing. But abortion is too complicated to fit on a bumper sticker.

Because I had an abortion, sometimes I feel like a failure for what I "let happen." I think of myself as less brave, less worthy than those women who, faced with unwanted pregnancies, chose adoption. Where my choice was expedient, theirs was selfless.

Because I had an abortion, it is easy for me to get temporarily lost in words about the rights of the already born. I take a certain refuge in lecturing about abused and neglected children. It is so easy for me to point my finger at them, away from myself.

Because I had an abortion, I am cynical at all the hype about "loving babies" and "saving babies." It seems a cruel joke to pretend we are a country that values our children, or that any one of us can presume to make procreative decisions for another.

Because I had an abortion, I get impatient with the notion that women choose to have one capriciously. ("Let's see, I could go to the movies, go shopping -- or maybe I'll have an abortion today.") I recall each step to the door of my doctor's office, grateful that there were no strangers screaming at me, kneeling to block my way. I often see myself in the faces of the scared and humiliated women who run the gauntlet into those clinics today.

Because I had an abortion, I flinch at the term "baby killer." Pro-life forces might say, "If the shoe fits, wear it." If intellectually I reject the jab, emotionally it hits its mark. Every time.

Because I had an abortion, it is easy for me to be silent. In that, I know I am not alone. In the 20 years since my decision, I have never met another woman who, in the course of a friendship, a professional relationship or a casual acquaintance has ever said, "Once I had an abortion."

So perhaps, for what it is worth, it is time to say it aloud. In 1972, on a Saturday morning in October, I chose to do something that was personal and complicated. Like any choice, it had ramifications. Those belong solely to me.

I sat in a doctor's waiting room that day with two other young women who were there for the same reason. Strangers, we said nothing to each other. In my memory, we all look terribly sad.

The angry words in Buffalo make me think of them. I wonder if they, like me, went on to a career and marriage and children. And for precisely those reasons, perhaps they have been as silent as I, figuring no one would ever guess.

Or maybe, tired of the rhetoric and the shouting, afraid that the choice we had may be whipped away from our daughters or those we love, or simply strangers in a waiting room, they too have begun to tell their stories. The quiet, complicated stories of choice and all that comes after.

Lisa DeMers Hummel writes from Timonium.

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