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"Just a Bunch of Cells"?

I became pregnant for the first and only time at the age of 22. I was a Senior in college and had just begun studying for my comprehensive exams. The father, with whom I thought I was desperately in love, was my boyfriend at the time. He was a medical student (although he claimed to be a physician) and he had been through the abortion experience before. His attitude toward abortion was very clinical, i.e. the fetus was, prior to about the end of the first trimester, nothing more than a collection of cellular tissue, with no more significance than a hang nail.

I seized on to this image of the fetus as "Just a bunch of cells." (I had never had an opinion on abortion and sometimes I even wonder whether I had allowed myself to become pregnant just to force myself to develop an opinion.) This image of a fetus lends itself to the belief that the fetus is a mere tumor-like extension of the mother which can be excised with a minimum of trauma in, and disruption of, one's daily routine. I believed that this view was the "correct" view, the scientific view. To an individual without a moral foundation, this approach seemed perfectly reasonable and rational.

When I first announced to my boyfriend that I was pregnant, his reaction was: "We'll take care of that. No problem." I'll never forget it. I naively accepted this response, even though deep down I was crushed because he didn't even ask me what I wanted to do. I never pursued the subject further. Within 2 days of finding out I was pregnant, I made the arrangements for an abortion at a local women's clinic. My friend offered to accompany me there because my boyfriend had a flying lesson the day of my abortion and "couldn't make it." Again, I took this without exhibiting anger, but deep down I was seething (at myself for being such a fool in so many ways, and at him for not caring).

I recall telling my friend and her husband, who were trying to conceive at the time, that, I couldn't see the point in bringing an unwanted child into the world, that the financial burden would be catastrophic, and that giving up the baby for adoption after carrying it for 9 months would be too emotionally traumatizing. These seemed like good reasons to abort. In retrospect, I was probably just too damned scared to tell my mother, who was never comfortable discussing sex on any level.

The abortion itself was awful. The doctor used a suction method, which, if I hadn't been in such an emotional stupor, would have shocked and horrified me, but it only made me slightly uncomfortable. I valiantly maintained my original clinical description of the fetus as a collection of tissue. I buried whatever fears and misgivings I had.

In fact, the staff at the clinic assumed, rightly or wrongly, that each woman there knew unequivocally that she wanted an abortion. There was no opportunity to discuss or reflect whether abortion was the right option for each woman.

For years my abortion had seemingly little or no effect on me. I just didn't think about it. Whenever the subject came up I felt uncomfortable and pushed it out of my mind. I would never admit that I had had one. Then I met my fiance.

We debated the abortion issue on and off for months. I had told him at some point that I had had an abortion, and although he thinks abortion is morally repugnant, he never rejected me for having one. I always brought up the right to privacy- it's-a-woman's-body arguments. He would counter that those are just smoke screens for the real reasons women abort: (1) selfishness (they don't want to be tied down); (2) lack of a sense of responsibility (they refuse to accept the consequences of their acts); (3) they don't want to accept the fact that they are female with female reproductive organs, i.e. they would rather be men; (4) they want to do whatever they want to do, whenever they want it; and (5) they ignore that there is in fact another life inside them, not a fork, spoon, or zebra but a human life. Small. Tiny. Microscopic. But all the data are there for a full-grown human. Even the classic viability argument doesn't hold water when you realize that an adult will be just as dead as an aborted nonviable fetus if denied food and water long enough.

If one is honest, one must admit that abortion is not just a question of a woman doing to her own body whatever she wants. It's much more than just a privacy issue. There wouldn't be a debate if that were the case. There are in fact two lives at issue, one with a voice, the other too small to speak. (Compare this with the issue of suicide. That is clearly an example of a person doing something to his or her own body, but it hasn't generated the same degree of controversy because it involves one life, not two).

In short, the only other person affected by my abortion is my fiance. He's really the only other person with whom I've discussed it at length. I mentioned it to my brother just recently when we were discussing abortion in general. My brother's theory is that in early pregnancy--just when he couldn't say--the fetus is devoid of a soul. That's what makes the critical difference in his mind, the presence or absence of a soul. The only other person's opinion I care about is my fiance's. He's understanding and forgiving, but would never tolerate my ever considering another one. And I wouldn't.

I haven't done enough to deal with my abortion. Writing this is somewhat cathartic, but it is not sufficient. I believe I need to discuss it more openly with more people. I haven't done so yet because I am obviously not proud of it. If it didn't bother me, I'd probably be bragging about it, or at least not trying to avoid the subject. I would have mentioned it to my mother, but I doubt I would never do that.

The abortion itself only made me feel somehow uneasy about the issue. I never felt at home 100% with the decision to abort. Sometimes, I must admit, I feel very selfish and think that I probably would never have gone to law school if I had had the child. But then, I immediately berate myself for thinking that way, because I know deep down that there would have been a way to be a single mother and a law student at the same time--if I had really wanted to do that. More than anything else, my abortion has driven home to me just how difficult the decision is, and just how complex the issue is.

What has really changed my life is my discussions about abortion with my fiance. He has sort of forced me to face up to the real issues involved and to realize that most, if not all of the reasons I gave for having the abortion were just smoke screens for the real reasons: fear, selfishness. Those are pretty lousy reasons to abort a life that hasn't ever hurt anybody.

Reading the Washington Post's coverage of the pro-life demonstration in Washington D.C. brought one thing home to me clearly: the "pro-choice" group will never respond positively to any religiously-grounded arguments. They will counter with, "Get your rosaries off my ovaries." That reaction is understandable, given that religion and anything that smacks of it is not only foreign to them, but distasteful. Any talk of morals falls on deaf ears, at least when doing the "right" thing requires sacrificing one's unfettered lifestyle.

I think the better approach to dealing with pro-choicers is to couch the abortion issue in terms of civil rights (turn their own arguments against them). If the fetus is a human life, which no one can rationally deny, then it would be a denial of the natural right to life, which one of the basic tenets of this country. This is a very simplistic outline of a possible counter argument to the pro-choicers. It requires much more thought and fine-tuning to be effective. I'll be working on it.

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