Before I begin: I am not discussing the legality or ethics of abortion in this post, as that part of the issue is way too politically hot to handle. Instead, I am attempting to define the reasons behind why a woman may choose abortion, rather than choose to have her baby and raise it, or have her baby and give him or her up for adoption.
The “whys” of this decision are often lost between heated debates on whether abortion should be legal and whether it is moral. But I believe that “why” is a very important facet of this issue, and must be discussed.
Worldwide, annually, 40-50 million women choose to have abortions, according to the World Health Organization. Why would any woman choose this dangerous procedure, which could end up endangering her own life as well as destroying the life of her child?
I believe, personally, that the women who choose abortion do so out of shame and fear, because a large percentage of these women have become mothers outside of marriage. As far as society has come in women’s rights, even in America, there is still a stigma against “unwed mothers” that almost refuses to be obliterated. This, I believe, is the root cause for many abortions, if not all.
For these women, their growing bellies are an exterior mark of their “sin,” not unlike Hester Prynne’s iconic “A” sewn on the front of her dress. For these women, this time of bearing life within them, which should be happy, is marred by the harsh judgments of others, often to the exclusion of all other human contact. They may no longer feel accepted by family, friends, religious acquaintances, or authority figures; their very way of life is threatened. “How will I provide for this child?” they might ask themselves. “How will I go on with my life now, when no one will help me?”
In this state of emotional turmoil, then, these women are daily faced with their bodies changing, their pregnancy becoming more and more apparent, and it can build a wall between them and even their closest friends. Any person undergoing such a trial is going to try to seek a way out, to remove themselves from the shame and terror they feel. For millions of women around the world each year, they choose abortion (whether legal or illegal), to utterly remove from themselves the condition which has turned their lives completely upside down, and which has threatened to cut them off from the love and support they count on.
How do I know the inner turmoil these women might be facing? Well, for one, I am a fairly empathetic person–I can all too easily imagine the suffering of others. But I can also speak to a personal experience which brought me a little closer to this type of ordeal than I might have been otherwise.
(This is the first time I’ve talked publicly about this experience, and I’m very nervous about revealing this, but I believe it’s key to understanding my individual perspective on this. I am afraid that others will think less of me for admitting to this event, but indeed going through this trauma made me a much stronger person, and brought me closer to God as a result. I fully admit my fault and part in this event, and am by no means considering myself blameless, but only human.)
My Personal Brush with This Issue
When I was 19, still a freshman in college, I began my first serious romantic relationship, with a young man my same age. He was, at first glance, just the type of guy I’d been looking for–ambitious, hardworking, honest, a very “decent” sort of guy.
Everything he told me about himself matched up to the kind of man I had been searching for pretty much all my life. He didn’t drink, smoke, or do drugs, he had a steady job, he was going toward a college degree, and he had a job plan for when he graduated. He also spoke often of marriage and children, of wanting to settle down and raise a family once he had graduated college. Not only that, he was intelligent and philosophical, and I found I could talk with him easily. He seemed perfect for me, and said many times that he was falling deeply in love with me, as I was with him.
Not long into our relationship, though, he wanted to do more physical things with me. I told him, even on the first date, that I wanted to remain a virgin until marriage, and he seemed to understand. However, he began to ask me to do more minor physical things, which I wasn’t entirely comfortable with, either. When I was reticent, he said that “good girlfriends” did these things for their boyfriends, and that his recent ex had done these things…which implied to me that if I didn’t do these things as well, I would stand to lose the bond we had begun to forge.
It’s important to understand my mindset at this point. I was almost literally starved for male romantic attention at this point in my life. I had been thought of as fat, nerdy, and unattractive by most of the male population in my school, and had been rejected by all the guys I liked. For a man to say that he loved me was a heady thought indeed. I didn’t want to lose my chance with this rarest of men (as I thought of him at the time), just because I wasn’t willing to compromise.
So I did compromise a bit, just on the minor things he wanted me to do, telling myself that I was showing him how much I loved him by putting aside my own wants and needs to please him. He had already told me that he planned to marry me one day, and I had pinned all my hopes to that promise. Since I believed he would eventually become my husband, I was reluctant to tell him “no.”
But the compromises kept getting a little bigger, and a little bigger. Finally, one evening a couple of months into our whirlwind relationship, he became entirely too insistent for my liking, and I finally put my foot down. “Honey, I really don’t want to,” I said.
I wanted to say, “Look, there ain’t a ring on my finger, there ain’t a white dress hanging up in the closet–you ain’t gettin’ this.” I wanted to say that I’d done everything he wanted up until that point, and he was making me uncomfortable, but I was too chicken. I was too spineless to really stand up to him, because I still didn’t want to lose him.
He took this in silence, and then suggested another “compromise.” This one was only slightly less crazy than what he’d wanted to do, but at least I wouldn’t be breaking the nearly 10-year-old promise I’d made to myself and to God to be a virgin when I married. I nodded my assent, if a bit fearfully.
…And about a minute later, I pushed away from him and sat on the edge of the bed, literally trembling. I hadn’t had sex with him, I hadn’t done anything, I knew that…but I had never been that close with a man before, and it frightened me. In my horribly naive mind, it suddenly occurred to me: even with the “compromise,” had I done enough to become pregnant?
Looking back on it, I know that it would have been akin to the second Immaculate Conception if I had indeed become pregnant. I really didn’t do ANYTHING. But I was scared enough (and admittedly stupid enough) at the time to fear it.
So began the longest and most frightening week of my life. I was too scared to tell my parents, too scared to tell my friends, too scared to tell anyone. Before that night, I had been a carefree young woman; was I now in danger of becoming one of “those” girls, an unwed mother? I was absolutely terrified of my future, and ashamed of what I had almost let happen, and ashamed that I had compromised my values so much, for someone who should have loved me enough not to ask me for “compromises.”
During this time, my supposedly loving boyfriend tried to ease my mind by telling me “we could just put it up for adoption.” Easy for him to say; it wasn’t his life and his body that stood to be completely changed by this. He had no idea–and made no attempt to understand–why I was in the state of irrational panic I was in. I was 19 and decidedly NOT ready for motherhood; I knew I was partially at fault for agreeing to the “compromise” in the first place, but it was his fault, too, for manipulating and coercing me into doing things I wasn’t comfortable with. I was angry with myself for allowing such a breach of will, and admittedly angry at him that he had put me in this position and was fairly unsympathetic about its repercussions.
In this thoroughly rattled state of mind, thoughts of “escape plans” filtered through. Abortion, as nauseating and repugnant an idea as it was, promised a possible way out, if the worst had happened. I didn’t want to think about killing my baby, if such a child did exist, but I felt I couldn’t live with the shame and the stares, the judgments and the angry questions; I also feared the loss of my own life as I knew it, to be completely subsumed in the (very poor) raising of my child (I had no confidence in my mothering abilities at all). I thought of abortion in the darkest, most terrifying moments of that week, my very brain cells twisted around by my fear running rampant.
Thankfully, almost exactly a week later, my admittedly overblown fears were put to rest by my own body, to put it delicately. But the furor of the event scarred my relationship with my boyfriend and eventually poisoned it. I resisted further attempts he made to be physical with me, which led to his ardor gradually cooling toward me. In the end, I found out, all he had wanted was sex–it didn’t matter which woman gave it to him. All his talk of marrying me, having kids with me after marriage, picket fences, and “happily ever after” (not to mention his graduating college and having a steady job) had been lies, all means to an end. And I was an easy mark; I might as well have had a giant bullseye painted on my heart.
How This Gave Me Perspective
This event in my life gives me a unique female perspective on abortion. I have never had the procedure done, nor have ever needed it, and God willing I never will. But when I found myself in the direst of straits, I thought about it. I, who values human life in every sense, was overwhelmed with such shame and fear at the very thought of being pregnant before I was socially “supposed to be” that I started seeking ways to cover it up, just like any other human being whose mind is stretched taut with stress.
I believe this very mindset, steeped in shame, is what forces a woman to choose abortion. It’s not a happy-go-lucky decision, like “Hey, I’m gonna go get something to eat on my lunch break and then pop over to the clinic for a quick abortion.” It’s a decision made by a person who is likely in a high state of stress, scared, ashamed, and isolated. It’s a decision made by a woman who feels that her pregnancy would bring social shunning, pointed questions, harsh judgments, and the total loss of her family and friends.
Why Might Women Feel This Way?
You might wonder why, in this day and age, women might feel this sort of fear just because they have become pregnant outside of marriage. I believe that it is largely because of our culture.
Our culture is one which still harshly punishes a woman who chooses to engage in sex outside of typical patriarchally-defined states of being like marriage. An unwed mother is a “bad example” of femininity, a “fallen woman,” whereas a man who has many children outside of marriage might be considered a “player” and a “good example” of masculinity. Even though a child is created by two people (and God, of course), if the resulting pregnancy is outside of accepted social bounds, the woman is always “to blame,” and it is the woman who suffers social shame and eventual exile.
Changing Our Thinking
Sadly, in my experience, the very people who champion the life of the unborn baby are most likely the same ones who will point fingers and make negative judgments about the single mother pushing her stroller in public.
I’ve actually been there to witness a couple of my conservative Christian acquaintances making snarky comments under their breath, about a passing woman whom they apparently knew to have had her child outside of marriage. They noted her un-ringed hand and the lack of a man walking with her, and one of them said, “Ugh, look at that–she just flaunts it like she didn’t sin at all.”
This double standard must be addressed! If we claim to love unborn babies enough to fight for them in moral and political arenas, then why can we not show support to the mothers who helped create these children? Why is an unwed mother’s life considered wasted, useless and sinful, while her child’s is held sacred? I do not and never will understand this.
When we uphold this double standard, we are basically telling unwed mothers, “You can’t abort your child because we think it’s wrong, but we won’t support you, give you any helpful advice, or point you to resources that help you with raising it. Oh, and we won’t be your friends either, because you have sinned.” I’m not saying that every unwed mother is entitled to entourages of cheering fans, dinners of caviar, and fancy cars to ride in, but turning our backs on her is as good as signing her unborn child’s death certificate. If there is no financial way for her to raise the child she carries, and every friend and family member has turned from her because of her pregnancy, what is she going to choose to try to stabilize her life?
If God sees fit to create a child, even if we think it happened in “sin,” even if we judge her as a “fallen woman,” then surely Christ’s compassion should drive us to be at least a little more sympathetic. I am reminded here of John 8:2-9, where Jesus saves an adulterous woman from being stoned, reminding the crowd that they, too, have sin in their lives.
I am a Christian myself, and I have read the Old Testament enough to know that part of our society’s customs and mores concerning women who become mothers outside of marriage come from God’s own Word. But God did not tell us to completely abandon anyone to their sin, either. And from what I understand of the New Testament, Jesus wants us to reach out to those who have sinned and lift them up. God also wants us to care for those who are poor and needy, and many unwed mothers find themselves in poverty because they are too busy trying to care for their children to hold down jobs effectively.
In fact, we are all sinners, and we all have to lift each other up and support each other every day. When we ignore and shove aside any woman who finds herself in this situation, we are actually pretending that we are sinless ourselves. In essence, we are lying to ourselves and to God, pretending that our sin isn’t as bad as hers.
I believe that if we stop thinking of unwed mothers as “fallen women,” and if we stop punishing them socially for a “sin” that took two people to do, then perhaps we might stop talking about abortion altogether, because it won’t be an issue anymore. If we remove the climate of female shame and fear from pregnancy outside of marriage, maybe more of these mothers would feel better about carrying their children to term.
I’m not arguing for or against abortion, because that’s not the focus of this post. Instead, I am trying to define the culture that both ridicules abortion and makes it feel necessary for so many women per year. This is what’s happening–a huge double standard, a huge catch-22 for women everywhere. It’s up to us to think differently about this issue, and see ourselves in these women long enough to empathize and support.