“Should I call it a fetus or a baby?” my stepmother asked over bagels and lox in her sun-strewn kitchen. I was six months into a much anticipated and exalted pregnancy. Still, my pro-choice stepmother was not about to take anything for granted. Faced with the question, I had no answer. I had marched on Washington for abortion rights, volunteered with Planned Parenthood and helped steer women through Operation Rescue gauntlets. Politically speaking, it was a fetus. But to me, it – she – was my baby.
During my pregnancy, I received email calls to action from NARAL and Planned Parenthood about the Supreme Court’s April decision to ban late-term – “partial birth” – abortion. Ordinarily, I would have responded to such emails by distributing fliers decrying the pro-lifers’ use of propaganda and complaining about their terminology. I would have pointed out to all who would listen how few abortions are performed in the third trimester – about 0.08%, or approximately 1,032 per year, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a non-profit focused on sexual and reproductive health. I would have added that most of those are performed because there is a danger to the mother’s life.
But this time, I didn’t do any of those things. Instead, I googled the procedure and scrolled through the pro-life propaganda. And in the photos of the tiny bodies, I could see my daughter. I knew I was being manipulated, but I still cried.
I’m not alone in wavering. I know there are women in red states who are against abortion until they find themselves or their friends in a position where it seems like the best option. And I know that in a city where it feels like everyone is pro-choice-until-the-ninth-month, it can be hard to admit it when In my circle of friends, the conversation is hushed when the topic turns to abortion. we suddenly have some reservations. In my circle of friends, the conversation is hushed when the topic turns to abortion.
I can’t help feeling guilty for having qualms. Some of my earliest memories from childhood involve abortion rights. My mother was an active volunteer for the National Organization of Women and Planned Parenthood. Both my sister and I grew inside our mother’s body, but pregnancy never made her question her convictions the way it has for me. At least once a week, she went to meetings, and I often tagged along. The women there wore dangling earrings and beaded bracelets. They were loud and boisterous and some brought toys for me. I would play with a red bouncing ball one of the women pulled from her purse while they talked mobilization and politics. Sometimes they would enlist me to fold fliers or lick envelopes. Whenever I question abortion, I imagine all those women’s disappointment.
This past October, I crossed from twenty-three to twenty-four weeks’ gestation, marking the end of the period in which abortion is still legal. At that point, my bump had been growing for weeks. We knew it was a girl and I could feel the kicks and flutters inside me that signaled her growing independence. She was all we talked about: Would she have my nose? Her father’s height?
Every day, I hoped for a safe pregnancy and delivery. At each midwife appointment, I was comforted by the gallop of that tiny heart. She was still alive, still strong. I was conscious of the fact that until that point, I could have legally gone to my doctor, set up an appointment and had her removed. I had never put a face on abortion until it was my daughter’s. But at six months’ gestation, the question loomed large: if my fetus is actually a baby, is abortion murder?
When I was young, the topic was intellectual – a conversation about rights and freedom. I was taught that personal morality is fine and good as long as it does not infringe on another’s. And yet: now, do I think life began at conception? Yes. My daughter’s certainly did. The day two pink lines told me she existed, I already loved her.
Of course, she was a wanted, welcome addition. I wish that every baby in this country could have my daughter’s opportunities for life and love. But that is unrealistic. There are many unwanted pregnancies and thousands of reasons why a mother might choose to abort. I cannot make the decision for those women, but I now understand the enormity of it, and what the pro-life side is trying to protect. I may not march on Washington again, but – to quote the ubiquitous bumper sticker sported by Volvos all over Massachusetts – I am “pro-child and pro-choice.” My vote is still the same, even as my heart questions.