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anti-choice

Feminism

invasions of space: pro-life advocates and the buffer zone

benchby Farzi

One morning, during my second year in graduate school at Liberty University, the sun was bright, my hopes for the day optimistic and buoyant as I rounded the corner to the university’s main campus– and what I saw shook me. Even as I stood in line at Starbucks, then settled myself in the writing center, I couldn’t shake what I’d witnessed. My mind would flash back to that scorching-hot moment, and my breath would catch mid-sentence with the pain. People spent all day asking me what was wrong when I’d suddenly cut off, close my eyes, and try to cringe my way back into the moment.

The next morning, they were still there.

Picketers.

Holding signs.

With graphically violent, gut-wrenching, disturbing, horrifying, and vomit-inducing pictures.

Pictures of “abortion.”
(trigger warning)

I had to drive past them every day for a week. Every day they would scream at me in my car as I’d do my best to ignore them, to not look them in the eye. I would have to fight with myself for every single second of the rest of that day not to break– not to start weeping in front of a student, or in my office.

The first day they arrived, they tried to hold their demonstration on Liberty’s campus, but the university refused and then issued a very public statement that their presence was not approved by the college, and that the university disagreed with what they were doing. Instead, they stood just outside the private property– on a road that almost every single university student had to use in order to go to class and their jobs. I had to pass them every single day.

And, as the week wore on, as I had a panic attack every day from try to hold back the memories, as I thought what it would have been like to have needed to get to a clinic. What would it have been like to drive through a wall of people waving those signs and screaming at me, running in front of my car? What would it be like to try to get out of my car, with people taking pictures of me and shouting that they’ll find out who I am? What if they tracked me down and started calling me at my house? What if they made death threats? Threats that were serious– because some of them had actually carried it out?

The next week, when the pro-life group I was a part of asked me to drive them to the Richmond clinic, I said no. Even if I knew that this group didn’t do any of that, that all they did was sit in the car outside the clinic and pray and occasionally hold a sign saying “God loves you,” I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t be a part of a culture that even in its mildest forms is there to guilt and shame women.

~~~~~~~~~~

The Supreme Court is hearing a case from Massachusetts regarding buffer zones around women’s health clinics (I use that term instead of the more inflammatory “abortion clinic” because these clinics usually offer a host of free or cheap care for women who couldn’t otherwise afford it, things like breast exams). Since this process started, I’ve watched pro-choice and pro-life advocates on twitter and in comment sections rage at each other, and I can feel the same rage simmering inside of me.

I’ve seen what the people who want to eliminate any sort of buffer zone do, first-hand. I’ve heard, over the past few years, what seems like countless stories from escort volunteers and women visiting the clinic. They face a barrage of hate and vitriol, sometimes daily. Clinic workers and volunteers sometimes fear for their lives.

And it both breaks my heart and infuriates me because as well-intentioned as most of these picketers and protesters probably are, what they’re doing– it’s wrong. They lie and manipulate, they threaten and demean. Their tactics are not intended to demonstrate love, or compassion, but to intimidate and frighten, to guilt and shame. And while there are most likely many pro-life advocates who are just as repulsed as I am (after all, I was repulsed by it when I was still pro-life), there are whole organizations like Army for God and Operation Rescue who use bullhorns, loudspeakers, scaffolding, semi-trucks . . . and spend hours screaming at people that they are “worthy of nothing but disdain,” who upon the murder of a physician say things like  they are “mass muderders,” that their hands are “covered in blood,” and “We must continue to expose them in our communities . . . at their offices and homes, and yes, even their churches”– this, when Tiller was slaughtered the day before inside his own church.

This is not something that any Christian should be a part of. This should be a method, a culture of violence and rage and hate, that Christians loudly condemn. This should be universally decried, not something that many of us support.

EDIT: please read my comment policy before you comment. Personal attacks will mean you will be blocked.

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.

Feminism, Social Issues

ordeal of the bitter waters, part five

mother and baby

I puzzled over yarek naphal for days– I dug through commentary after commentary, through lexicons, through concordances, through history books– and what I found was frustrating. Of the people who bothered to remark on what yarek naphal meant, most seemed comfortable assuming that “thigh to rot” was a euphemism for miscarriage– but no one said why. It was usually a short phrase, perhaps a sentence, and then the commentary would move on to explanations why this ritual appeared in Numbers. Exasperated, I ranted for a bit on twitter, and one of my amazing readers, Jennifer, directed me to some resources I am ashamed to say I hadn’t thought about.

She gently pointed me in the direction of Judaism, and told me that I was likely to find answers there that I was unlikely to find elsewhere. And she was right.

When I first started researching this passage in Numbers 5 in Judaism, I was incredibly overwhelmed. Many of the websites I was visiting assumed you had a basic knowledge of Judaism– which I did not. I had to familiarize myself with terms like Tanakh and Torah Shebictav and Mishnah.

So, I started reading what the Mishnah (the written record of rabbinic oral tradition) had to say about Numbers 5. This ritual, known as ‘The Ordeal of the Bitter Waters” in Christianity, is referred to in Judaism as the Sotah (“Errant Woman”). One of the first things that was consistently pointed out is that the Sotah is a specific type of ritual very common in ancient Middle Eastern cultures– the “divine ordeal.” Western culture is most familiar with the “divine ordeal” in the form of ordeal by cold water— commonly used in witch hunts. However, what is curious about the Sotah is that this is the only time that this form of ritual appears anywhere in the Tanakh. There is no other form of “divine ordeal.” It is also significant to note that the Sotah was discontinued, and there are no concrete records of it ever being performed.

However, the startling thing that stood out to me was that in translations by Jewish scholars– people who are steeped in the culture that I am wholly separated from– the way they translate yarek naphal is as “discharged uterus” (this is also how it appears in the NRSV). And what I discovered is that this is because there is a linguistic connection between “thigh,” “belly,” and the feminine genitals. Yarek, in other places in the Tanakh, means “place of procreative power“– for both men and women. And naphal is actually closer to “fall,” but it is connected to violent death, to wasting away, and to failure.

The linguistic connections in yarek naphal paints a picture of something either dying or wasting away in a woman’s uterus.

This picture clicked with me in an epiphany a little while later as I was reading Half the Sky. In it, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn spend a lot of time talking about the global maternal mortality rate, and one of the primary reasons for it: fistulas. Specifically, obstetric fistulas due to obstructed labor. Nicholas and Sheryl spent time in Africa, in hospitals dedicated to helping women with this medical problem. They tell the stories of many women who have fistulas, and the medical care that they desperately need.

But, as I read, something struck me. When they described the horrific plight of these women, they described these woman as surrounded by shame and ostracism– because their thighs are literally rotting away. For the women who survive, they are shunned by their families and communities because of this. It is not an image that I, as a modern American, am at all familiar with. I’m barely even aware of maternal mortality (although America’s rate is the same as Iran, Bahrain, and Hungary, and close to Saudi Arabia and Turkey)– but, it is an image that would have been common in the ancient middle East– and in 1611 England, when the translators chose the phrase “thigh to rot” for yarak naphal.

I had an answer of sorts– the Sotah ritual, if the woman was guilty, would resort in any pregnancy being aborted as well as a lifetime of barrenness.

As I continued reading about the ritual and Hebrew perspectives on it, the question that I’d been terrified to face, the question what does this mean about God, slowly faded, and I realized something that’s continued to help me in the few months since then.

I was afraid of Numbers 5 because I didn’t know how to face a God that would command that. I didn’t know if I could continue believing in a God that forced abortions. To me, that’s the only thing this passage could mean; God had created a ritual that forced abortions in order to prove a woman’s guilt.

But, as I explored the “ordeal of bitter waters,” I began to view the ritual through a different light. My perspective grew, and I attempted to see Numbers 5 not through the eyes that I’d been given as a child– the eyes that saw a holy, righteous, wrathful God ruthlessly punishing disobedience– but through eyes that see God as a mother-father trying to protect her children from themselves. Something Rabbi Riskin wrote nudged me in that direction:

Judaism emerged from the Middle East, where jealousy is rampant and women are often considered the chattel of their husbands. A jealous husband can easily persuade himself to harm the wife whom he suspects of adultery. I therefore believe this trial of the bitter waters provided a marvelous psychological ploy to protect the woman from a husband’s wrath.

This was an idea I started encountering everywhere I went. In a culture almost completely dominated by patriarchal jealousy and the belief that women were property, this ritual could have been instituted to give women a concrete, unassailable way to prove their innocence. Husbands could not divorce their wives on the grounds of some nebulous suspicion that she’d been unfaithful– he’d have to prove it in front of God and men. A woman could agree to the Sotahknowing that she was innocent, and be supported by the kohen, the priests of the Tabernacle, and G-d himself.

But . . . now I felt truly rudderless. There’s no truly pro-life stance anywhere in the Bible. Between the story of Tamar; passages in Isaiah and 2 Kings that declare “their women with child shall be ripped up” and another in Hosea that God will give them “miscarrying wombs”; the fact that pregnant women aren’t counted twice in the census; that there’s only a fee for causing a woman to miscarry instead of the usual execution for murder . . . none of it adds up to a “biblical” position on a-fetus-is-fully-human-with-rights that pro-life advocates say that the Bible “clearly” has.

All of this led me away from thinking of “pro-choice” on purely religious terms. I had to look at it as a citizen, as a part of my culture, as a voting woman who would either have to take a stand on this issue or melt away into the shadows.

Feminism

ordeal of the bitter waters, part four

mother and baby

I stared at what I’d typed into Google. The blinking cursor was silent, patient, waiting for me to hit enter.

Verses in the Bible about abortion.

Blink. Blink. Blink.

I didn’t know what I was about to face. I knew I was about to wade chest-deep into pretty intense pro-life territory, a place where I would be jumping at shadows, wondering how much of what they said would be misrepresentations or merely misconceptions. But, I wasn’t looking for their argument– I only wanted to know where I needed to go looking. Finally, I hit enter, and started digging through the websites, writing down every single reference I could find. Eventually I closed out of the screen, shut down my computer, and started reading.

Over the next few days, I had sorted everything into patterns. First, the Bible seemed to be silent about abortion, which wasn’t initially a problem. The Bible isn’t comprehensive, and it’s not unusual for it not to talk about issues that seem vitally important today. Arguments were made from a variety of ideas:

Human beings are made in the image of God (Genesis 1, James 3, Acts 17). This is an important idea for the pro-life movement, because it’s the primary motivation for being pro-life. The imago dei is what makes human life sacred. The imago dei, not sentience, is what separates man from beast and makes humanity special. We are the children of God, made in his likeness. And while the doctrine of imago dei is one of the doctrines of Christianity that I cling to tenaciously– it is one of the most beautiful ideas in my entire religion– it doesn’t necessarily answer the question I had about conception.

Children are to be valued (Psalm 127, Matthew 18, Ephesians 6). I was familiar with this argument primarily from my research into Natural Family Planning; their stance toward anti-contraception is born in this concept. They value the lives of children and believe fervently, earnestly, that children are a gift, a blessing . . . but again, all of this is merely a rhetorical connection– and a fragile one at that. It doesn’t answer the question when does life begin?

There is life, even in the womb (Psalm 139, Psalm 22). These were the verses I was intimately familiar with. David, the psalmist, uses the image of himself in his mother’s womb in his poetry. But, as a student of literature, I had to ask the question: is a metaphor used in a poem enough? And what did these verses actually say? They were usually a testament to God’s fore-knowledge, in a similar sense that David also uses the metaphor of “the foundations of the earth.” And, again, I wasn’t denying that there is life, whatever it is, in the womb.

And none of these verses talked about identity, or personhood, or being-ness, but about what God knows. I realized that the fact David had chosen this metaphor was significant. He chose something so deeply mystery, a miracle beyond the comprehension of ancient civilization, to talk about what God understands, but he did not. The miracle of life being created in the womb has been one of the constant images in ancient religion; it was a process held as sacred and enshrined in idols, altars . . . He didn’t understand it anymore than I did, and that was why the metaphor was so poignant, why it mattered. It was beautiful, this metaphor, because of the not-knowing; David was trusting God with what he knew he couldn’t understand.

It took me a few days to grapple with all of these things, and I was left with just as much confusion as when I’d started. Months went by, and I was ready to give up entirely, when this showed up in my facebook feed in July:

In other words, this potion of “bitter water” will have no effect if the woman has been faithful, but if she’s cheated on her husband and gotten pregnant, it will rot her body and cause her to have a miscarriage. Whether or not you believe in this sort of black magic, the people who wrote it clearly did, and that tells us something about their worldview.

I couldn’t sleep that night.

At first, I didn’t even know what the hell the author, Adam Lee, was talking about. The concept that there was a passage in the Bible that not only allowed but mandated abortion was so utterly foreign to me I couldn’t- couldn’t— wrap my brain around it. And it wasn’t because I’d never read this passage before– I’ve read the Bible all the way through at least a dozen times, thanks to my fundamentalist upbringing. I’d never heard a sermon preached on Numbers 5, that was true, but I had to have been aware that this passage existed.

How did I miss this?

So, I went back and read the verse he cited in the version I would have read it in before:

And when he hath made her to drink the water, then it shall come to pass, that if she be defiled, and have done trespass against her husband, that the water that causeth the curse shall enter into her, and become bitter, and her belly shall swell, and her thigh shall rot: and the woman shall be a curse among her people.

That was a really big difference from the version Adam Lee had cited, which used the word “miscarry” instead of “thigh shall rot.”

So why did some versions translate this miscarry? How accurate of a translation was this? Was this passage talking about a woman becoming barren and diseased (which . . . still problematic), or was it talking about God– or the “bitter waters”– causing an abortion?

The first thing I did was write letters to all of the organizations that had decided to translate it miscarry, asking what their linguistic support was. The only organization that responded at all was Biblica, and they didn’t offer any evidence or support for their decision.

It was obvious I was going to have to look for answers on my own. But, I was going to have to do it with the handicap of knowing next to nothing about Hebrew (outside of a single semester in college and sleeping on Strong’s Concordance every night as a child). It didn’t take me long, however, to find that the words that were going to be my primary focus were יָרֵך נָפַל  (yarak naphal), שָׁכֹל (shakol), and יָצָא יֶלֶד (yeled yatsa). And the question I was going to have to answer was: Why did the man who wrote Numbers use yarak naphal in Numbers, when supposedly the same writer used yeled yatsa in Exodus? Or why hadn’t he used shakol, the word used in Hosea? Why yarak naphal? And what does yarak naphal actually mean? Does it mean “miscarriage”?

There was also a question I didn’t want to ask. But it was there, pressing, throbbing at the back of my mind, beating in my heart. If it does turns out that this passage is talking about God causing an abortion– what am I supposed to think about God? If an unborn baby is a fully human person, and God is willing to kill that baby just to prove a woman is adulterous . . .

I had a lot to lose.

Feminism

ordeal of the bitter waters, part two

mother and baby

For this series, I’m going to be monitoring the comments a little more closely than I ordinarily do. I haven’t gotten any comments that I’ve needed to moderate, yet, but I am discussing an incredibly charged issue. I will not tolerate any personal attacks– on me or anyone else.
Also, I am not really writing this series to convince anyone. This series is about my story
— the road I traveled that brought me to this point.

For a long time– years, actually– I was in a very similar space to many of you. It’s a place that is beginning to fill with people who are searching for answers and realizing that there aren’t many. So, I used to exist in a sort of limbo where nothing quite makes sense, but somehow it feels the most honest and the most compassionate. It’s an in-between place where your hearts can grieve over a tragedy, but still see the necessity for women to have access to safe reproductive medicine. Being willing to protect the reproductive rights of women, all while believing that abortion is morally wrong. Politically and legally necessary, but still wrong.

The interesting thing about this place is that there is a huge spectrum. No one is there for exactly the same reason, and the gray is constantly shifting. When I first entered that space, I was there because I had my first glimpse at the harsh, broken reality.

For most of my life, I believed that almost all abortions were wrong– evil, actually. The only exception– the only one— was in cases where the pregnancy threatened the life of the mother. Only then was it acceptable. Only then. Exceptions for rape and incest weren’t even on my horizon– after all, why punish an innocent baby? It’s not his fault that the father was a rapist. Two wrongs don’t make a right, and the words would come out glib and blithe while I confidently flipped my hair and turned up my nose at women who would murder their own baby.

But then I came staggering, bewildered, into the gray place. Because, at the time, I didn’t have the word rape for what had happened to me. The only thing I knew was that the thought of having my fiancé’s baby terrified me for reasons I couldn’t explain. I could not have his baby. I could not. And I didn’t understand why. But, in those weeks, before I either miscarried (most pregnancies fail in the first few weeks) or was merely late, I came to understand that there were probably thousands of girls who were so frightened they could barely breathe or eat or sleep, and I could no longer judge them– because I was one. It took me years to understand that one of the reasons why the thought of carrying my abuser’s baby frightened me beyond reason was that he was also my rapist.

And that’s when I understood that being pro-life and advocating for the rape exception was wrong.

Because, if I’d lived in a system where you have to prove you were raped? I wouldn’t have been able to do it. I didn’t even understand that I was raped– and, even if I had, that would have meant going through the excruciating, traumatic process of reporting him. All of that would have had to happen before I could have even called a clinic. And the thought of living in that world . . . it sickens me.  And when I first stumbled into the gray place, one of the first things I discovered was that, in 31 states, rapists can sue for custody of the child— and they frequently do this in order to get the woman to drop criminal charges. If she doesn’t take him to trial for raping her, he’ll surrender all legal rights to the baby.

My eyes were forced open, and the reality I’d been denying all my life came crashing in. None of what I’d been taught to believe was as clear-cut, as black-and-white, as it had been given to me. There were reasons– desperate, horrible reasons– for a woman to need to end her pregnancy. I understood that, had felt it in a way that now, when I try to remember what those weeks were like, I can barely breathe and all I want to do is cry.

I wandered deeper into the gray when I started reading the stories of women who had terminated for medical reasons. I had come into this place believing, with all my heart, that it was all right– even merciful– to terminate a pregnancy if it threatened the mother’s life. It never occurred to me how untenable that position was, or what it revealed about what I believed about unborn life. But these stories brought that piece of me into the harsh light: there was a sliver inside of me that already knew that an unborn fetus was not the same thing as a full-grown human being. I had accepted that, in this worse-case scenario, it is morally acceptable to terminate a pregnancy, and I had made that decision because I believed that a fetus did not have the same rights as a mother.

But I read stories, like this one, and my heart broke. Because these mothers didn’t see it that way. They wanted their precious babies, to cradle them in their arms and smell their skin and touch their fuzzy-soft hair. But they gave them up, valuing them as life unlived, because of a diagnoses that meant their child would live in constant, unending pain. And what I’d always believed– that God is in control, and he created that little baby with all its medical problems — that belief was crushed under their grief. And they didn’t decide to terminate their pregnancies because it would eventually result in their own death: they ended them because they loved their baby, and were trying to do the right thing, the best thing, for their child.

So I stepped further into the gray. I decided that I could no longer accept any of what the pro-life/anti-abortion movement wants to accomplish. They seek to reduce access to contraception– even though that raises the teen pregnancy and abortion rates. They believe that a rape exception would be all right– but living in that world would be heinous and terrifying. They want to ban any abortion after 20 weeks outright, with many laws having no exceptions for any medical reason.

In short, they want Ireland.

Ireland is a pro-life advocate’s dream.

But, Ireland is being forced to come to terms with the real-life consequences of its policies. Tania McCabe, pregnant with twins, died in 2007, because doctors could not legally terminate her pregnancy. Savita Halappanavar died in 2012 from sepsis, because the doctors had to wait until the fetus’ heart had stopped beating in order to perform the procedure. And, today, lawmakers in Texas, Ohio, Nebraska, North Carolina and others are pursuing the same type of legislation that killed these women.

So, I became politically pro-choice.

But, morally, I couldn’t bring myself to embrace it.

That changed when, after years of struggling, I turned to the Bible for answers– and what I found unraveled everything I believed.

Feminism

ordeal of the bitter waters, part one

mother and baby

trigger warning for rape and abortion

My heart was in my throat, my fingers floating over the refresh button on my twitter feed. I was curled up under a gigantic down-alternative comforter, huddled under the half-tent I’d made on the floor of my bathroom. Hours went by as I watched what was happening– the strikes, the interruptions. In the last few minutes I joined with thousands of other voices shouting and screaming, a cacophonous din stretching over the internet, across twitter mentions and live feeds. Together, we watched the underhanded attempt at deceiving an entire country of watching people.

The next day, we celebrated. We declared “We Do Not Sit.” We’d spent the night standing. It didn’t matter that we all knew what would happen, that all of that would swiftly be overturned, and the voices screaming into the night would be silenced. We’d stood. For that single day, it was . . . almost enough.

~~~~~~~~~~

I’m pro-abortion. Pro-reproductive rights. Pro-choice.

This is not something I’m revealing flippantly. I’ve been wrestling with whether or not to even write this series for weeks now. I started writing about these ideas back in February. I took the time to explain my stance toward hormonal birth control. I’ve believed, for a long time now, that the most common rhetoric of the pro-life/anti-abortion movement is at best misleading, but that most of the information commonly available to pro-life individuals is, much of the time, outright deceptions.

This isn’t a recent development. It started over four years ago, now. It started when I was raped. It started when I realized I was over two weeks late. It started the day I called the Crisis Pregnancy Center, frightened and desperate, and the woman on the phone implied that I was a slut and I deserved whatever happened to me. It started when I called Planned Parenthood, and she said the words “whatever you decide you want to do, we will help you get there.” She told me about helping me apply for assistance and aid, about adoption, about my optionsall of my options. And I realized that at least part of what I’d always believed had been a lie.

Over the next few years, my views began developing. My perspective developed nuance. I accepted the confusion I felt about all these ideas as something I would struggle with; I decided I could live with the tension, the uncomfortable gray.

But, even through all of these subtle changes, I remained staunchly pro-life. I began thinking that maybe it wasn’t my place to campaign against what another woman wanted to do, but for me– well, I couldn’t budge on that. I believed that a zygote was a baby, and removing it was murder. I even joined the pro-life advocacy group on my grad school’s campus. I became friends with other pro-life activists.

And then, one day, someone asked me if I could drive them to Richmond so they could sit outside the abortion clinic.

I squirmed. “I . . . I’m sorry. I can’t.”

She nodded affably. “Too much work that weekend?”

Do I say anything? Do I just let her think that? That would be the easiest thing. “Actually . . . I don’t really agree with that.”

“With what?” She stopped, turned to face me, her stance becoming aggressive.

“With sitting outside the abortion clinic. Oh, I know you don’t do anything crazy,” I rushed to add. “But I’m not comfortable with the whole thing.”

“Oh.”

She defriended me on facebook. When I saw her around campus, she wouldn’t look me in the eye.

Later, in the private facebook group, the principle leader called one of the women he’d seen going into the clinic on Saturday a misogynistic slur. I called him on it– and was immediately and viciously attacked.

I left the facebook group. I stopped participating in any of their events.

I stopped calling myself pro-life.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

At this point, I started reading everything I could get my hands on — in dead earnest. I started reading Natural Family Planing blogs– so many now, everything I learned about NFP and all the various methods is one gigantic tangle I still can’t quite sort out. I learned about a completely different approach to being pro-life– a way of seeing procreation as something beautiful and sacred. I began appreciating the earnestness in the dedication of these men and women, who saw a part of the divine in the act itself.

I read about women who were feminist and pro-life, who argued from an interesting perspective on history– and even though I couldn’t quite bring myself to validate their arguments, I liked that they defied the “norm” I’d been taught my entire life: that all feminists are selfish baby-killers.

And I started researching what it meant to be truly pro-life. I asked myself what it would look like if the pro-life movement were actually life-affirming. Would that look like pacifism? Could you claim to believe in the sacredness and dignity of all human life and allow the death penalty? Could you advocate for the rights of the unborn while completely ignoring the desperate needs of the born? What would it look like to bring balance to these issues? I started finding whole organizations who were dedicated to advocating for federally-mandated maternity leave, for legal protections for pregnant women and working mothers. I found people trying to educate others on what women who also want to be mothers face in our world today– realistically, not just the cozy, rose-gold suburban middle-class vision I’d been handed as a child.

I saw people asking the question: how can we help mothers when so many of them are the sole provider? What can we do to make sure their children are clothed, and fed, and healthy, and educated?

All of it made me hopeful.

But then, one day, I read Numbers 5.

And everything fell apart.

Feminism

how I learned to stop worrying and love the Pill, part two

pill

Put in incredibly simple terms, hormonal birth control works thusly:

Step 1 : it prevents ovulation.

“Ovulation,” for the uninitiated, is when a mature egg is released from the ovary and become available for fertilization. “Prevents,” in this case, does not mean that the pill stops the egg from peaking its little head out of the ovary. It prevents because no egg develops to maturity. Simply put, there is no egg to come out of the ovary in the first place. This is one of the most important parts about hormonal birth control options, and something no one seems to pay attention to.

This is also the most important part for me. PCOS means that I get too many cysts developing at the same time, or they never stop developing, and I never experience a menstrual cycle. Ovarian cysts are normal– an ovarian cyst is where the egg matures. Hormonal birth control works to treat PCOS because it does not allow ovarian cysts to develop. An additional part of this process is that even if an ovarian cyst develops, there’s another chemical block in place that stops an egg from forming inside of it.

No ovarian cyst, no egg, nothing mature enough to be fertilized.

But, in the exceedingly rare case (if it wasn’t rare, it would be useless as a treatment for PCOS) where there is a cyst and an egg is developed, we move on to–

Step 2:  eliminate the possibility of fertilization

This is pretty straightforward, and it comes in two steps. The progesterone in hormonal birth control options thickens the cervical mucus– makes it insanely more difficult for the sperm to reach the egg, which is already difficult– and it makes the egg harder to fertilize. So, even if a cyst develops, and if an egg develops inside of the cyst, and IF the sperm makes it up through the thickened mucus and all the way up the fallopian tube, when it reaches the egg, it’s going to have a hard time fertilizing it.

At this point in the process, the possibility of an egg being fertilized is so vanishingly small it’s not even really worth talking about, but I’m a-gonna, because it’s where the pro-life movement starts lying their little tooshies off.

“Supposed” Step 3: prevent implantation

At this point, the egg is a zygote, which is just the technical term for “fertilized egg.” For a lot of people this is where “conception” happens (which, problems), so this is where people start thinking that hormonal birth control is Just the Most Evil Thing those Evil Doctors have Ever Invented.

The most frequent term you’ll find in information about how this works is that the uterine wall is “hostile” for the egg. This is a misnomer. The uterine wall is exactly the same as it ever was, just  thinner (hence, lighter periods). There’s no study that shows that the uterus becomes “hostile”– in fact, the scientific studies show that hormonal birth control options do not alter the uterine lining in any significant way except for making it slightly thinner, and are incapable of contributing to zygote failure (which I’ll explain).

This is the part where the pro-life movement lies. Because, at this point, they claim that this where the Pill murders babies. Literally starves them to death. Because it takes a baby (zygote), and then refuses it the opportunity to grow. It never grows, the woman’s body never receives the signal that she’s pregnant, and then the uterus expels the zygote and the uterine lining: therefore, MURDER.

Ok, folks, this is where I have All the Problems.

Let’s talk about the zygote, the supposed “great red herring” of the pro-choice movement.

The zygote is a single-celled organism, which through mitosis goes through stages (blastocyst, then embryo). Over fourteen days, it has to develop into an embryo, and the embryo has to develop the conceptus in order to attach to the uterine lining. The uterine lining, at this point, must transform from the decidua to the placenta.

Hormonal birth control methods are incapable of terminating a viable pregnancy. They are designed, in an unbelievable number of unnecessary steps, to prevent fertilization from ever occurring. Not by turning the uterus into a baby-killing machine. That’s patently false, and a bald-faced lie. If a woman’s body develops an egg, the uterine lining is unchanged. If there aren’t enough of the synthetic hormones present to prevent ovulation, there’s not enough of the hormones present to affect the uterine lining. If there’s no egg, then the uterine lining is thinner, possibly, and that’s the only real difference.

It’s a complete misunderstanding that in the case of supposed “breakthrough ovulation” that the uterine lining is still thinner. It’s not.

Here’s what the pro-life movement also refused to discuss:

All the medical studies I could scrounge up reveal that 60, 70, maybe 80% of all zygotes fail to implant on the uterine wall, when the woman is trying to conceive and is not on hormonal birth control.

Let me say that again: as many as 80% of all “babies” never implant in the uterus completely on their own.

For those that do manage to make it, another 30% don’t survive the first few weeks.

Let’s do the math again: 72% to 86% of all zygotes, which the pro-life movement refers to as babies,diewithout any outside interference whatsoever. When a woman is not on the Pill, zygotes fail.

When a woman is on the Pill, there’s rarely ever a zygote, and when there is one, it faces the exact same rate of zygote failure as a woman who isn’t on the Pill. The upside? When a woman is using hormonal birth control, there are less zygotes. Somewhere in the ballpark of 98% less zygotes.

Let me make this more clear: if zygote failure is “murder,” and hormonal birth control options drastically reduces the number of zygotes, the number of failed zygotes (i.e.: “murder”) is also drastically reduced.

Tell me again how the Pill is evil?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

*Edit*

I wanted to include some information I have that might clarify my basic argument in this post: that hormonal birth control options don’t interfere with implantation. I’ve already made it clear that hormonal birth control doesn’t make the uterus as “hostile” place for the zygote, but I thought it might be helpful to explain why, biologically, this is so.

A menstrual cycle is just that: a cycle. It goes through three steps, or stages. The first is the follicular phase, where the uterine lining is thin. Thin, in the same sense that it is thin while a woman is on hormonal birth control. It is not capable of of allowing the conceptus to attach.

However, part of the ovulation phase is that ovulation releases a trigger for the uterus to begin the luteal phase, where the lining becomes thicker and the conceptus is able to attach.

If a woman on the Pill ovulates, this releases the hormonal trigger, and the uterine lining thickens because it enters the luteal phase. If she does not ovulate, the uterus does not receive the trigger, and the uterine lining remains exactly the same as it ever was.

You can read about this on wiki. Seriously.

Feminism

how I learned to stop worrying and love the Pill, part one

pill

When I was fourteen, I was diagnosed with Poly Cystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). To cut a very long, and a very awkward, story short, hormonal birth control (also known as “the Pill”) is the only known treatment for it. It’s not a cure, but it works to mitigate the suffering for a lot of women who suffer with PCOS. But it’s the only treatment [edit: occasionally, blood sugar problems can be a part of PCOS, but not always, in my case it is not], because of how it works and what it does, but I’ll get to that in a bit tomorrow.

I had to start taking it at fourteen– the doctor said that if I wanted any chance of ever having children, I would need to take the Pill. And even then, she warned me, I’d probably still need to have a full-blown hysterectomy before I was thirty. If I didn’t take the Pill, everything would get continually worse and I’d need to have multiple surgeries just to keep it under control.

So, I went on the Pill, and I took it faithfully for the next three years. It got my hemorrhagic cysts under control, even though it continued to cause persistent nausea and daily headaches that could blow up into migraines at a moment’s notice.

I also didn’t tell anyone, not even my best friend, that I was taking it.

When I started college, I was faced with a pretty significant dilemma: how was I going to hide taking the Pill everyday from roommates and suite mates? My solution was to put the pills into a regular prescription bottle, but that only worked for about a month, until I got my prescription in the mail. Then I had to figure out ways to get the Pills into the bottle and then hide the packaging– it had my name all over it, so I couldn’t just throw it away anywhere. I got pretty creative, coming up with means to hide what it was.

The fact that I was worried about people finding out about me taking the Pill every day should tell you something. What in the world was I expecting them to think?

Well, for one thing, I was absolutely positive that if someone who didn’t know me very well found out about it, they’d just assume that I was a slut. And secondly, if the administration found out about it (which was not outside possibility, they cared an awful lot about intimate details concerning their students), if something happened, my character would automatically be in question. They’d be suspicious about me.

Because I had PCOS, and was taking the Pill to treat it.

But, I knew that having a “legitimate” medical reason for taking the Pill wasn’t going to change the way anyone had already decided to perceive me. If they found out I was taking it, I knew they would label me a slut, and there would be nothing I could do about it. I was on the Pill– it would be all the proof they needed.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A whole bunch of years later, when I’d figured out that I didn’t give a damn about idiots who would judge me for taking the Pill, I was talking to a woman about some of the pain she’d been suffering. During the course of our conversation, I realized that she probably had PCOS, and when I asked her about it, she agreed– that’s what the doctor had diagnosed her with. For her, it had caused her to lose her job, and she’d been hospitalized several times because of cysts rupturing. The pain had caused her to miss church, to constrain her to her bed for days on end.

I asked her what the doctor had suggested for treatment, and her response was that he’d given her pain killers, but she was trying not to depend on them too much.

“You aren’t on any medication?”

“There’s not any real medication for this, though.”

“There’s the Pill,” I blurted out. “It can help.”

She stared at me, her eyes widening in horror. She leaned in close, and dropped her voice to a whisper, even though we were in my house and the only people around were friends. “You mean, the birth control pill?”

I nodded. “Yes. I’ve been on it for years.”

Again, silence, and her wild eyes boring into me. I watched her think about what I’d said, and I watched terror form. She was completely horrified by my suggestion. “Oh my goodness, no, I couldn’t. I just couldn’t. That would just be so . . . wrong.”

It was my turn to be horrified.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I should make it clear that this wasn’t in my fundamentalist church-cult. This was from a woman who had grown up in “regular” Christianity. There was nothing extreme about the religion she’d been surrounded by. It was all pretty typical, run-of-the-mill Baptist stuff. And she was still so horrified at the very idea of taking the Pill that she refused to even consider it as an option, even though it is the only medical recourse for her condition.

This is One of the Many Reasons why I have a Serious Problem with the Pro-Life Movement.

Because, and not to put too fine a point on it, they lie to people, especially women. They have spread so many lies for so many years that when a woman could take the Pill to treat a medical condition, she won’t, because the only thing she knows about the Pill is poppycock and hogwash.

So, I present a Crash Course in What the Pill is, For Realsies.

First, the Pill is a really limited concept of birth control. There are so many different kinds of birth control, including Natural Family Planning (NFP), barrier methods (condoms, sponges, vaginal condoms, diaphragms), vasectomy,  tubal litigation. For hormonal birth control, there’s oral contraception (the Pill), hormonal and copper IUDs (intrauterine device), Depo-Provera (the “shot”), OrthoEvra (the “patch”), and now things like the NuvaRing.

Some of these are long-term, like the shot or an IUD, lasting from a few months to a few years. The patch and the NuvaRing last for the month, usually. You leave it on or in, and take it off/out for a week to have your period. The Pill you have to take every day, which is a bit of a nuisance.

All of these methods work a little differently, but the one that the pro-life movement has spread the most lies about is hormonal birth control, so I’m going to focus on that tomorrow.

Feminism

I was pro-life until I needed an abortion, part 1

I counted.

I counted again, more slowly, sounding the numbers out under my breath, tracing my finger over the boxes in the calendar.

I’d never thought to keep careful track of this, but I was becoming more and more sure by the second. Each breath I couldn’t inhale without pain crushing my ribs, each ticking heartbeat I could feel fluttering in my fingertips, each swallow I could barely get past my tightening throat told me the truth.

I was late.

Oh God, oh God oh God ohGodohGodohGodohGod.

No. This . . .

This wasn’t happening. This could not be happening.

I looked in the mirror, but the woman I saw sobbing, silently, wasn’t me. This wasn’t happening to me.

~~~~~~~~~~

To this day, I have never felt  terror like that. Not when John* was raping me for the second time, not when he hit me, not when he left me two months before the wedding heartbroken and destroyed. I’ve been frightened, scared, nervous, anxious. I’ve had numerous panic attacks, but nothing, nothing, compares to the absolute terror I felt when I thought I might be pregnant. I was late, and I’d been fairly regular for over a year. John had attacked me a few weeks before that, and I knew enough to know what that could biologically mean.

In that time, I felt like a ghost . . . or a shell. I had already become what I now describe as a “non-person” inside of my head– I had given up any rights I had to my identity; I had sacrificed my very being on the altar of my relationship with John. But that week . . . that week was hell on earth. I had no idea what to do. I couldn’t even go get a pregnancy test to know for sure, because there was no way to hide that from my parents. I felt trapped in a too-small cage, with no way out. In brief snatches of clarity I knew that my parents wouldn’t disown me if they found out, but I also knew what they, and what I would be facing.

I’d be an outcast– forever. There would be no coming back from being the Unwed Mother– for me, or for my parents. My college had strict rules about “this sort of thing,” and I knew they wouldn’t let me come back and finish my degree. I’d have to start over, and starting over at a different college meant starting from scratch since my college wasn’t accredited. Plus, where was I supposed to get the money for that? No, any dreams I had for a college education would be over.

I knew there were Crisis Pregnancy Centers I could go to– I could decide to take the baby to term and then give him up for adoption . . . but that meant John would know.

That, more than any other thought scared me more than anything else. What if his crazy, insane parents got involved and decided they wanted it? What if he felt that he had to do the “honorable thing” and marry me, right away, in some Hodge-podge shotgun wedding? I’d be married, to him, and I had no concept of divorce, especially with a child involved. Having a baby would mean being attached to John for the rest of my life.

After I’d been late for another five days, I googled Planned Parenthood.

At that point, I knew what I would do. If I was pregnant, I knew I had about seven weeks to make it into a clinic and ask for the abortion pill. I would tell one friend just to make sure in case I got sick, and . . . that would be the end of it. No one else would ever have to know, except me. As for me . . . even knowing everything I did about abortion, even knowing that I would be a murderer, I would still do it.

For the first time the phrase “There is always a choice. You always have a choice,” was laughable. Ridiculous. And wholly untrue. Not for me.

~~~~~~~~~~

Six days later, I rushed to the bathroom, breathless. Could it– I saw the bright crimson evidence, and felt everything drain out of my body, all at once. I sank to the floor, staring at the stain in my panties. I couldn’t breathe, because I knew if I started breathing I’d start sobbing, and I could not even begin to come up with a way to explain that to my parents. I stared at the spot, and the bloody tissue in my hand, until those two blotches of red were all I could see.

In that moment, I couldn’t even thank God, because God knew what I had been ready to do, and he would never forgive me for it.