Feminism, Social Issues

ordeal of the bitter waters, part six

mother and baby

This is the final post in this series. I wanted to thank everyone who’s been reading and commenting for your support and encouragement as I put all of this into writing– very public writing. I also wanted to note, again, that everything I’ve written here is merely my story– I’m not expecting to convince anyone, merely explain why I’ve changed my mind on this issue so totally.

In 2009, the facade of my fierce pro-life beliefs suffered its first crack when I was facing a choice I’d never expected to encounter.

In 2010, I started understanding that many of the beliefs I had were either self-contradictory or dangerous.

In 2011, my eyes were opened to the innate hypocrisy of the “pro-life” movement, which was only really pro-birth and anti-abortion.

In 2012, coming to terms with my culture and society meant that I could no longer support pro-life politics.

In 2013, I put not my politics, but my beliefs under the microscope.

In June, I was held in thrall by Wendy Davis.

In July, I was confronted by the truth of Numbers, Hosea, Genesis, Isaiah, Exodus, and 2 Kings.

In August, I finally came to terms with the concept of potential life, and that is when it finally, finally hit me: through most of my thoughts, my explorations, my research, I was almost exclusively focused on whether or not the zygote, the conceptus, and ultimately the fetus had fully endowed, inalienable human rights . . . and I realized that what I’d been reading from pro-choice women was absolutely, undeniably right in my own life– pro-life beliefs view women almost entirely as a vessel instead of as a person.

Even when I’d been raped and I thought I might be pregnant, I saw myself as merely a support structure for an embryo. I was traumatized by the idea of needing an abortion– how could I do that to this innocent baby? What right did I have to end its life? When my period finally came, I collapsed on the bathroom floor, more relieved than I have ever been, while simultaneously grief-stricken and horrified that I had ever considered an abortion.

That was the belief that had caused me to struggle with this system for years. I believed that a zygote, a conceptus, an embryo, and a fetus were all fully human while simultaneously believing that my rights as a person, my autonomy, did not exist and that my own body did not belong to me but to a growing, developing fetus. As long as I believed that my own rights as a fully human person with inalienable rights were completely subjugated to a potential life, I was incapable of seeing anything about this issue– and these women— fairly. In my own head, I saw pregnant women as less than the developing life inside of her. All the imagery, all the narratives, everything I’d had access to as a young woman taught me to see a fetus in terms of a miracle and the woman creating that miracle as little more than a necessary tool.

That was truly the only thing keeping me from committing to being pro-choice. But, a few months ago, that balance shifted.

I am not a vessel. I am a person.

I am not a procreative tool. I am a person.

I am not my reproductive organs. I am a person.

I am a person, and I am fully endowed with inalienable human rights.

That shift changed everything.

I felt like Saul-becoming-Paul, with the scales falling away from my eyes, and the light more blinding than the darkness had been. This was a revolutionary change in paradigm, and it took two more months to truly come to terms with it, to accept what had happened to me. And, as I walked around in this brand-new world that was terrifying and thrilling all at once, I started understanding what it means to be pro-choice.

For me, it almost entirely boils down to the simple fact that I believe in women. I believe that we are intelligent and capable. I believe that we are fully able to examine the situations of our lives, examine what we need and want, and make up our own damn mind about our own damn decisions– and we do not need a male-dominated bureaucracy that has next-to-no understanding about (and absolutely no personal experience whatsoever) women’s lives telling us what to do about an incredibly personal decision that is really no one else’s business.

I had grown up in a systemic belief that women do not know any better- and are really incapable of knowing any better, so they must have their decisions controlled by the government. Women were making decisions that were different than what we believed was right, so all I saw were characterizations of man-hating feminists and stupid sluts. There was no in between. I had no image of a woman who rationally made an emotional decision based on personal experience and the evidence available. That woman simply did not exist in the universe I grew up in. Women were being constantly manipulated and lied to, and that was the only possible reason any of them could think differently than us.

Becoming pro-choice meant that, for the first time, I saw those women. I got to know some of them. Sometimes, I merely read their stories. I saw women look into the eyes of her precious child and sorrowfully realize that she could not afford to feed him if she had another baby. I watched as women struggled with the fact that if they carried to term, they would most likely find themselves unemployed— and unemployable. I saw women with visions for their future who wanted children but lived in the harsh, bleak reality that women with children are either not hired, paid less, or are given less opportunities than women without children. I talked with women who were afraid of having children because they could be denied tenure. I read the heartbreaking stories of women whose health was seriously threatened by pregnancy. Of women who could not afford going off of their pain medication or their anti-depressants for a pregnancy.

I realized that there are as many reasons for having an abortion as there are women, and it is wrong for anyone, especially a government, to dictate what reasons are permissible and what reasons are not– and the only concessions that the pro-life movement seem willing to make are not the concessions women desperately need.

As I became more familiar with the ethics and morality in the pro-choice movement (not that I’m claiming it’s perfect, it is not), I also became increasingly disturbed by the strict pro-life politics and legislation being enacted all over the country. Even though I had already been convinced that the rhetoric and goals of the leaders of the pro-life movement were dangerous, I started seeing the threat they pose to women’s health care. Up until this point, I largely thought of it as almost harmless. Now, when I listen to men like Todd Akin and Trent Franks, I’m horrified and very, very worried.

Today, I’m pro-choice not because I think that a fetus is some form of “parasitic invader” or that an embryo is a worthless group of cells.

I’m not pro-choice because I don’t care about my faith.

I’m not pro-choice because I value convenience more than life.

I’m not pro-choice because I’m uninformed and haven’t thought through my position logically.

I’m not pro-choice because I’m heartless and lack “natural affection” or some nurturing, motherly instinct.

I’m not pro-choice because I believe in population control.

I’m not pro-choice because I’m racist.

I’m pro-choice because I’m awake and looking at the desperate, broken world around me.

I’m pro-choice because women need to have concrete options and resources.

I’m pro-choice because women are magnificent and brave, and we wake up every morning and go out into a world that wants to crush us.

I’m pro-choice because I believe that women deserve to be understood, and known, and loved.

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  • Thank you for this series.

  • I really loved this series. Thank you so much for sharing it with us.

  • Daisy Dial

    Great series. You should make a book out of it so more people can benefit from your experience and insight.

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  • A very good ending to your journey. I respect your viewpoint. I have to say I agree that it i wrong for the government to put up obstacles to a legal procedure. Pro-life people cheer when yet another abortion clinic is shut down. I also remember that there was a time in this country when contraception was against the law. I remember that gays were arrested simply for being gay–anti-sodomy laws used against them. The less the government intrudes on a legal procedure, the better. I am for better oversight of abortion clinics so that women are kept safer. But you are correct in your assessment that as long as women are seen merely as vessels, there will be no major government effort to try to provide resources for desperate women. I applaud your series.

  • Standing Ovation. That was awesome.

  • Margaret

    well spoken

  • Lovely. A beautiful ending post.

  • Thank you so much for this series. It reminds me of my own journey from calling myself pro-life to pro-choice (although the path was quite different).

  • Joy

    I think this is beautifully written…I could feel your aching on the bathroom floor. But it’s hard for me since, though I’ve had many of the same philosophical struggles as a Christian feminist, I land on the other side of the issue. I don’t believe that abortion solves any real problems. It’s a bandage for a deeper wound. I am not the kind of pro-life that’s simply pro-birth. I am pro-LIFE (peace-seeking, anti-death penalty, etc.). And pro-woman. I too want women (born *and* pre-born) to be understood, known and loved. Vessel is an interesting word, depending on its use. Being a “vessel” for human life is powerful. If it’s growing, it’s alive; if it has human parents, it is human; if it is human, it has value. It’s life, and it’s not mine to take. My continual prayer is that we can press on in our protection of both mother and fetus…that neither’s rights are stripped away. Thank you for letting us read your heart on this difficult subject!

  • It sounds like we came from similar backgrounds, went through similar processes & reached the same conclusion!

    You stated it well when you said, “I believe in women.” I concluded that each woman should have the right to decide the course of her life, whether that includes children and if so, how many.

  • Reblogged this on Diving With Sharks and commented:
    This is a great description of how one woman came to realize that “pro-life” turned women into vessels. Read the whole series, but this is my favorite post. Check out her blog too, She has plenty of great posts on sexual assault, PTSD, and religious fundamentalism

  • Another question that has to be asked: If a woman has an abortion because she feels that economically she has no other choice– she isn’t really getting to choose, is she? Shouldn’t both pro-life and pro-choice people be seeking ways to make it more economically viable for women to actually choose to keep their babies?

    • I think this is an important conversation to have.

      Being pro-choice for me (and for many others that I’ve interacted with) is only one piece of what we believe and what we want. For most of the men and women I’ve talked to, they also advocate for paid maternity leave, for the ERA, for better services for single and impoverished mothers, for better access to birth control… but those ideas, while *linked* to being pro-choice, are still separate and fall under a larger heading of being socially liberal. I think it’s unfortunate that these ideas are considered “liberal” instead of the bi-partisan efforts they need to be, but, unfortunately, in America, that’s the way it is.

      Pro-life people, however, typically tend to be socially and financially conservative, which results in an economic and political climate that is downright hostile toward pregnant women and mothers. There are pro-life organizations that advocate for the same types of policies as what I described above, but they are few and far between and unfortunately are quite distant from being the “core” of the pro-life movement, which is dominated by . . . well, men and women that I find morally repugnant, but that’s a personal feeling.

      When it comes right down to it, the goals of the “pro-life” movement could be more accurately described as “pro-birth”/”anti-abortion” and “we want to punish women for having sex.”

    • You are right, its a false choice.
      More needs to be done – both to enable them to make that decision with more freedom, and to stop them needing to make it at all, by making long-lasting, reversible contraception (implant, IUD etc) available for little to no cost IF THEY WANT IT.

  • Catcat

    Thank you for writing this. My journey was very, very similar, and you articulated this so well. Thank you, thank you.

  • Well done and thank you.

  • brilliant. and states why i am politically pro choice, though (if i were a woman) i could not imagine exercising that choice personally.

  • This was a wonderful series, and I’m so grateful for people like you, sharing your hard intellectual and emotional work so that we have a chance to make our own journeys. Can’t wait to continue reading your work. You are truly a woman of valor!

  • Curt

    Yes, this final post really sums up for me why I’ve taken to describing my position as “Pro-Choices”, not just pro-choice. It’s about giving women the full range of choices that they need and believing that they are the ones who should be trusted to make them, not others.

    In part three, you touched on the topic of ensoulment. This is another aspect which, after I read and thought very thoroughly about, I’ve come to view differently from our modern culture. I no longer believe that the Bible says that we “have” souls. I believe that the Bible says that we “are” souls. The difference is subtle, but important. The soul is more of a quality which we possess, not some sort of ecto-plasmic substance that can’t be touched by science. Hence the idea of “life begins at conception” is really just a superstition about when the ecto-plasm is injected and completely misses the point.

    • Curt, I agree that we are souls (a unity) and do not ‘have’ souls. And I am not sure the difference is subtle; I think it is very significant.

  • A very good conclusion to a very good series. Well said!

  • abi

    YES YES YES. This whole series has been so well written, concluding powerfully but without being confrontational — I think I may even share it on Facebook, where I try to avoid posting anything controversial, if for no other reason than that it portrays insight into how a person can thoughtfully, prayerfully, studiously come to a pro-choice position while being consistent in their faith.

  • LP

    Thanks for sharing! I do think it can be dangerous to decide the morality of something based on specific passages of the OT. Christians in the past used parts of the OT to justify slavery. I think the best way to decide whether something is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ would be to use a general passage like ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’ Check out Rachel Held Evans’ excellent post on this subject. She discusses how pre-Civil War, many people believed that freeing slaves was contrary to the Bible.


    I don’t think we should blame women for having abortions, though. I know two women who were forced out of their jobs recently for taking maternity leave. And so many people have no sick leave from their jobs. How can someone get through a pregnancy without taking any sick days?

    As an adoptive parent, I am so thankful that my child’s birth mom did not have an abortion. It’s so sad to think of my child not being born. I do understand that carrying an unplanned pregnancy through to the end can be very risky (job loss, ostracism from family), and I am so thankful my child is here.

  • I’ve had my own gradual coming to terms with my discomfort with the pro-life movement, especially the leadership and the mindset that devalues women; I grew up pretty much like you, and breaking out of that sheltering is sometimes horrifying, often exhilarating, but…this was a hard one. And yet, I had to acknowledge that I do not, and have never believed that a fetus is a whole person and should have all the same rights, and that does not mean I don’t value life. It doesn’t mean I don’t value faith. It just means I believe potiential for life is not the same thing as life, and for me, if there is a point at which we have to draw the line, it is when a baby draws it’s first breath. I think there is a reason that in the ancient language of the bible, breath and soul are so closely related. But that’s just me. Anyway, thank you so much for sharing, it helped me a great deal to clarify some thing in my own thinking as well, and it’s a beautiful story.

  • This was a beautifully written series. I am grateful for your thoughtfulness in writing it and sharing your journey.

  • Bob Smith

    “I felt like Saul-becoming-Paul, with the scales falling away from my eyes, and the light more blinding than the darkness had been. ”

    The author has manages to rid herself of one inconvenient myth; that pro-life is “pro life” and not just pro-control, that woman are mere incubators for more God Fearin’ sheep.

    I suggest that you go to the root cause of the problem (an assumption on my part because she used the Paul’s revelation on the road to Damascus, a theist position on the god myth.)
    Free your self from the god mythology, which has no basis in reason and evidence, and this entire issue comes down to a possible life from a sentient creature in an unbelievably expansive cosmos. Your choice then comes down to a secular morality, not theistic pronouncements on morality.

    Most people are atheist about all but one god. I just go one god further.

    God – Cant’t find him in on Google or Facebook. Unseen for 2000+ years and counting.

    • Hello Bob– this is the author.

      I realize this will probably make no difference in the long run, but it’s not very mannerly to be so condescending to people who disagree with you.

      You can make the claim that that “the god mythology . . . has no basis in reason and evidence,” but that’s just a claim– and an over-reaching one at that. Religion, in all of its forms– Buddhist, Islamic, Taoist, Christian– can have basis in reason. Just because religious people who believe in a deity are working from different data sets and presuppositions as you doesn’t make their claims invalid. Logic, reason, “evidence,” don’t work in this way. You can use logic and reason to defend a spectrum of positions on a single issue, and just because something is “logical” doesn’t make it absolutely “right”– especially not when it comes to zero- and first-order beliefs and truth claims.

  • I always thought I was pro-choice, but would be pro-life if it happened to me.
    Having had my first child in April, I’m even more steadfastly pro-choice.
    No-one should have to go through a pregnancy she does not want. I was ambivalent about mine (the joys of antenatal depression), and it was also hell on earth for six months.
    I wouldn’t wish that feeling on my worst enemy.
    And Bob Smith has obviously missed finding God on Facebook. I’m a fan of his work there, its awesome (and I’m atheist)

  • Wow. This whole series- it’s fantastic.

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  • So well put. Bravo

  • This issue is best approached from a secular perspective. The primary question that matters: is the unborn foetus a human life, consequently deserving of the same level of protection as any other human life, or is it some lesser thing?

    A) It is not the mother’s body. The foetus has its own unique, human DNA.
    B) It is alive. Per the definition of life:
    “The condition that distinguishes animals and plants from inorganic matter, including the capacity for growth, reproduction, functional activity, and continual change preceding death.”
    C) Therefore, it is a unique, human life.

    All the concerns you mention, whether they deal with the difficulties of pregnancy, which are very real and can be very tragic, or the theological questions, should all be viewed through this starting point: the foetus is a fully human life from the point of conception. This is undeniable in our day and age. Even the late Christopher Hitchens came to this realization, and became pro-life.

    • J. Rachel

      Really appreciated the thoughtfulness and honesty of this series, and I can really relate to the change in thinking you describe.

      These days, tend to find myself thinking along the lines of Eric’s argument, but frankly, I balk at the thought of considering this issue solely from the merits of arguments. (Not saying that is what I think you or anyone else is doing – for sure). Something about that approach feels only partially complete. Children aren’t mothered or brought into this world using logic textbooks or rhetorical exercises and women – weathier and poorer – don’t deal with maternity leaves and (other employer related pregnancy concerns) solely from a place of argument either.

      Additionally, the thought of government making these sorts of decisions for women creeps me out and as of this moment can’t honestly assent to it – and that is a shift “left” for me. And yes, that is not an argument – just a feeling about too much power threatening womens’ health issues (and their lives)…

      Sometimes I wonder if “planned” and “unplanned” pregnancies are the new euphemisms for “legitimate” and “illegitimate”. Children, or potential lives, or zygotes, who are “wanted” – either by society or their parents… may still survive and fare better than those who are “unwanted”, i.e. illegitimate. I realize the legitimacy has more to do with property rights and that they are different concepts, but I wonder if the overall effect of either kind of thinking, from the perspective of children, could be similar? Just something I’m considering these days in different life circumstances than I used to imagine for myself.

  • sisterlilbunny

    You have no idea how much I want to give you a hug right now. I wish I could put into words everything I’m thinking after reading this but I’m at a loss. It was brilliant and excellent and I wish others were able to have this thought process! I’m also saving the following:
    “I am not a vessel. I am a person.

    I am not a procreative tool. I am a person.

    I am not my reproductive organs. I am a person.

    I am a person, and I am fully endowed with inalienable human rights.”

    Right on. 🙂