A Complex Choice: Is Anyone Really "Pro-Abortion"?
By Sharon Shapiro
“Jesus doesn’t love you!”
“Don’t kill your baby!”
The protestors, armed with loudspeakers, gathered on the lawn of the Catholic church next door to the abortion clinic. As Molly parked her car, she took note of the security guard—a hefty man observing the scene from inside a completely fenced-in area, gun in hand. Though she knew he was there for her protection, he only added to her already growing fear.
Molly quickly learned that here in a small town in the Bible Belt, it is hard to escape the strong opposition to abortion. Though Robert, her boyfriend, stood by her side, Molly found the comfort she was searching for as the clinic’s escort approached the car.
The woman put her arm around Molly and began speaking in a hushed tone. The escort did not say much of anything, just simple nothings like “let’s walk together” and “when you get inside, you can sit down.” But to Molly, these words were not nothing. They were the most valuable things she could possibly hear at the moment.
Despite her nervousness about going inside, Molly knew what she had to do. This was not a decision at which she arrived lightly.
Molly distinctly recalls the moment she knew that something strange was happening to her body. Standing in the kitchen washing dishes in the pizza restaurant at which she worked, she began to feel light and energy pouring through her body.
Soon, she and Robert began to notice other peculiar behaviors as well. Molly began drinking beer or mixed drinks at every meal and eating meat daily, both of which were out of the ordinary considering her mostly-vegetarian diet. Around the fifth week of her pregnancy Molly says she was almost sure she had conceived, and by seven weeks she was positive.
Her relationship with Robert was already two years old, and during their time together Molly had used a couple methods of birth control. She started out on the pill, but eventually stopped taking it because it was negatively affecting her hormones. That is when Molly, who always had been interested in alternative medicine, began to take herbal contraception remedies.
When Molly, who was 23 at the time, knew she was pregnant, she says, "at first I was very clear I wanted an abortion.” A number of factors led Molly to this reasoning right from the start. She doubted Robert’s ability to be a good father at the time: he had a daughter when he was 17 but had signed a paternity release and was clear about the fact that he could not be a father again until he met his daughter. Molly also did not feel as though her family or friends were in a place to support her and a child. And, perhaps most of all, she felt too young to be a mother.
“At this time in my life, I had very little money. I was working as a nanny and a pizza-maker, and I just knew that that lifestyle was not right for me. I felt like a teenager still,” says Molly, who describes herself even now as relatively immature—“29 going on 23.” At this point, Molly had quit college after a couple years and a few courses of study and was experimenting with careers, trying everything from dishwashing and work as a nanny to carpentry and landscaping.
Molly also felt that giving up the baby for adoption was never a viable option for her, as she does not think she could ever let someone else raise her child. Support from her family and friends, a number of whom had made the same decision, helped Molly feel comfortable with the choice to end her pregnancy. In fact, Molly recalls a time when she was 15 and her cousin told her that she was the only woman in the family who had not had an abortion. At the time, this seemed crazy to Molly; why would she ever need to have an abortion?
Molly knew that seeking an abortion extended beyond her family circle: almost half of all pregnancies in the US are unintended, and of these pregnancies 40 percent end in abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute. But she had fallen into a common trap, thinking she would never be in this place.
According to Lisa Dunne, center administrator at the South Jersey Women’s Center, which offers contraception as well as abortion, one of the biggest misconceptions about abortion is that people think it’s a decision only other people face, until they or a loved one has to make a choice themselves.
“The need to make a decision to terminate an unwanted pregnancy is not something that discriminates. It’s an equalizer. An unplanned pregnancy can happen to women of any background,” says Dunne.“There is no one set of women who has an abortion—it’s all of them.”
Women who make the choice to abort their pregnancies span different religions, socioeconomic levels, and ethnicities. Given current rates, the Guttmacher Institute projects that one in three American women of reproductive age will have an abortion before age 45.
Despite the comfort she had in knowing she was not alone, by the time she actually had to make the decision, Molly began to have doubts. As the hormones started to take over and she felt her body changing even more, Molly began to feel an intense rush of power. And with this power came the notion that anything was within her ability, even raising a baby on her own.
However, deep down Molly knew that having an abortion was the right decision for her at the time. After all, if she was barely making enough to feed herself, how could she support a baby too? It was not that Molly didn’t want to be a mother—she did, and still does. However, like 66 percent of women who have an abortion and say they want to have children when they are older, in a better financial situation, and/or in a relationship with a supportive partner, she didn’t want to become a mother until she adequately could care for her child. She says that the time just did not feel right to her.
“I felt like I needed to know that I had health insurance, a good doctor, and money, a home, and food, and none of those bases were covered. I didn’t even have very good income, maybe like a hundred dollars a week,” she says. And with that, Molly joined the 75 percent of women who cite being unable to afford having a baby as a reason for abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Like Molly, 42 percent of these women have incomes that fall below the federal poverty level, which is $10,830 for a single woman without any children.
So Molly trusted her gut and made an appointment at a local women’s health center.
As the escort helped her past the rows of protestors and into the clinic door, Molly began to regain confidence. She felt sure of her decision. Inside the clinic the walls were covered in posters depicting everything from pregnancy and what to do if you feel alone to sexually transmitted disease awareness. After she walked in, the staff came to help her by showing her to the couches in the waiting room and providing her with the paperwork she needed to complete. From the clinic escort to the help from employees inside, Molly is still amazed at the care and support she received.
Typically, abortion clinics take great strides to provide their patients with superior service and health care. Jennifer Moore of the Cherry Hill Women’s Center in New Jersey says that one of the most important things the clinic can do for patients is to ensure that each woman gets the care and support she needs and feels that she is making the best decision about her pregnancy, regardless of what that decision might be.
“We really stress the goodness of people making a complex decision,” says Moore. “Virtually every woman who walks in the door is a good person making a big life decision, but they don’t always feel that because there’s a lot of stigma from the outside.”
A sonogram confirmed that Molly was seven weeks pregnant. The technician printed out an image of the sonogram screen and handed it to Molly, who tucked it away for safekeeping. Because her pregnancy was still in its earliest stages, Molly was eligible for a medical abortion. In contrast to a surgical abortion, this method is not an option after the ninth week of pregnancy because the medications work best earlier in the term. The medical abortion involves two steps: first, a doctor administers one of two drugs to a woman and then she takes a second drug within the next few days.
In 2008, about 25 percent of abortions that occurred before nine weeks were medical abortions, the Guttmacher Institute reports. A medical abortion can take longer than a surgical one—it can take anywhere from one day to a few weeks for the pregnancy to terminate depending on when the woman takes each of the drugs—but it is a good choice for people like Molly who don’t want to have surgery.
For Molly, who took the first pill at the clinic and the second one later at home, it took one day. She describes the pain she felt after the second pill as blinding, causing her to dissociate from her body. But she found immediate support in Robert, who stood by her side the entire time, even missing his best friend’s wedding when the cramping worsened. Molly says she knew the abortion had worked when she began bleeding and “birthed the embryo.” Women like Molly who have a medical abortion and choose to take the second pill at home are required to return to their clinic or doctor’s office for a follow-up visit to ensure that the abortion was fully completed.
“I’ve not been pregnant again. I think you could say maybe I learned something from that first time; it’s really not that pleasant. People think that some women might like to go back for abortion after abortion, but I think the reality is that contraception is harder than it seems and that probably very few people actually ever want an abortion; it’s just a better option sometimes than pregnancy,” says Molly.
But not everyone agrees with Molly. Abortion is a divisive political issue and has been since 1973 when the US Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade that prior cases protecting privacy in family issues and the 14th Amendment right to personal liberty include a woman’s right to end her pregnancy. Abortion and women’s health care have recently made their way to the forefront of political debates with President Obama’s Affordable Care Act and its contraception mandate becoming highly contested issues in the 2012 presidential election.
Those opposed to abortion share the view of Suzanne Ward, director of education and public relations at Georgia Right to Life (GRTL), who contends that the 14th Amendment also guarantees the right to life for all human beings and that abortion is trampling on the rights of unborn human beings. According to Ward, the goal of GRTL is to “restore respect for all human life” through education and dialogue on relevant issues. Ward and GRTL represent the 47 percent of Americans who believe that life begins at conception and thus that abortion should be illegal.
Each state has its own laws governing abortion, and a number of states are limiting the cases in which abortions are legal. In March 2012 Georgia, where Molly now lives, passed a law making abortion illegal after 20 weeks except in “medically futile” circumstances such as when a pregnancy is “incompatible with sustaining life after birth.” Referred to as the “fetal pain” bill, because its proponents argue that a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks, the new law is similar to laws already in place in seven other states, including Alabama and North Carolina.
Ward says that a lot still needs to be done to protect the unborn, asserting that approximately 97 to 98 percent of abortions are done “for convenience.” However, the National Abortion Federation reports that it is a myth to claim that women have abortions for selfish or frivolous reasons. The federation says that its research shows the decision is not an easy one and is typically based on several factors such as finances and readiness. Many women, Molly included, feel they are making the most responsible decision in waiting to have children until they are better suited to raise them.
Abortion is an extremely polarizing issue, with Americans split evenly on either side. The labels “pro-choice” and “pro-life” have made their way into common vernacular and so has “pro-abortion.” Though Ward says she does not use this term lightly or typically, it is a label that has been used by conservative politicians and appears on the American Life League website.
Both Dunne and Moore believe that the term “pro-choice” is more appropriate because neither would support forced abortion or even abortion in every case. According to Moore, the term “pro-abortion” misses the point of the pro-choice movement altogether, which she says is really about the fact that all people should have control over their reproductive health care and the ability to make a decision without feeling scared or ashamed. Dunne says that she is “pro-woman” because she is also “pro-family” and part of being pro-choice is believing that no one can make a decision but the woman herself.
Another “pro-woman” aspect that clinics embody is helping their patients avoid future unwanted pregnancies by discussing birth-control options. Molly says she especially appreciated the clinic helping her find a new form of birth control. But better contraception practices aren’t the only things she learned from her experience. “I learned that I really do want to be a mother. I wasn’t really sure about that before, and I realized that that is a part of how I see myself in the world, as a family person,” she says.
But back in 2006, Molly felt that she still had a lot to do before she could become a mother. Principal among these goals was learning how to support herself so that she would be able to support others.
A great deal has changed for Molly in the six years since she had her abortion. About two years later, she and Robert ended their relationship and moved to separate cities. Robert moved out west, and Molly’s path led her to Georgia. Here, she began painting and working.
Molly has her first full-time job working in the health industry, a position she has held for two years. Now that she can support herself, she is beginning to support others by tending to a farm in her backyard. Though she has started small with the farm, she says she is ready to support a child.
Although she thinks she could be a mother now, Molly says she doesn’t regret the decision she made six years ago. But she does think about it. “I look back maybe daily and I think about the time in my life when I was pregnant and I didn’t want to be. . . . I feel really thankful I made the combination of decisions that brought me to this place,” says Molly. Still, even six years later, she keeps the sonogram picture, partly as a postcard from her past and partly as a bookmark for her future.
Sharon Shapiro is a senior at Emory pursuing a double major in Journalism and Political Science. She has interned at various news outlets including Fox 29 in Philadelphia and Atlanta magazine. Her writing has been published in Atlanta magazine and on several technology and business blogs.