Why the Abortion Debate is Like a Bud Light Commerical

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Sometimes our minds must take a back seat to our bodies.  No matter what we may want to accomplish, no matter our mental and emotional potential, if our bodies are ill or injured, we are at the mercy of our physical experience.  I have learned this lesson—quite painfully, at times—both as a self-contained person and as a mother, incubating, feeding, and caring for the bodies of my children.

This week, I have been reminded of the lesson again, not by my own body but by my daughter’s.  She has been ill, and both her life and mine have pivoted for days around her pain and our attempts to diagnose and relieve it. The energy it has taken to nurture her through this illness is comparable to the energy it took to grow her body in mine, to feed her body from mine, and to teach her body to be independent of mine. Our bodies have been connected since she grew within me—a connection that has caused me both pain and joy, and has challenged me to grow in ways I wouldn’t have believed possible before becoming pregnant.

Such is motherhood.

Motherhood requires a woman to set aside her own needs—not permanently, but unexpectedly and often—to  meet the needs of her child. This necessity can lead you down a slippery slope of abandoned needs—you walk away from the work that is integral to your sense of self, or the rest or exercise or recreation that your body needs, to care for your child who needs you right then—and sometimes you forget to return to yourself.  But if you don’t meet your own needs (and each woman must define for herself what that means—in terms of work and play, friendships and intellectual stimulation and exercise and rest), you can’t completely meet the needs of your child.  Plus, you get really grumpy.

Such is selfhood.

As I have been experiencing this difficult and stressful week, in which I’ve been (sometimes unsuccessfully) trying to balance my own needs with my daughter’s, the question of how we draw the line between a woman’s body and her potential child’s (eventual) body has played out rather dramatically on the national stage. In Mississippi, there was an initiative on the ballot (Initiative 26) that would have defined a fertilized egg as a person. The ramifications of this initiative were frightening in their scope—from allowing the death of a woman with an ectopic pregnancy (which couldn’t possibly develop into a child) to outlawing contraception.

I am deeply relieved—like relieved on a cellular level—that this measure was defeated.  It was unreasonable to the point of ludicrousness, and it was recognized as such and dismissed.  But it is an extreme example of a far more mainstream debate—if (and if so, where and when and how) we should mandate that a mother’s body take a back seat to the developing body of her potential child.

In my opinion, this debate—the “pro-life” vs. “pro-choice” debate—has all of the conversational acumen of a Bud Light commercial (Tastes Great!  Less Filling!).  The conversation around motherhood and selfhood has devolved to the point where we are standing on opposite sides of a line, yelling slogans at one another.  We take our positions, hold our signs, and yell about a woman’s rights and a developing child’s rights, as if everything in the debate could be boiled down to one or the other, as if the two aren’t so deeply interconnected that, nine years after having a child, you have a week or a month or year in your own life that pivots around your child’s body. And as if the decision to carry a child to term doesn’t take those years into account.

Oh, we know this, about the interconnectedness.  About motherhood, and bodies, and brains, and sacrifice.  We know it.  We just don’t talk about it.

For example, I’ve noticed that rarely, if ever, do you read or hear this as part of the abortion debate:

Setting aside one’s own needs for the good of another—sacrifice, altruism, love in its highest and truest form—is sometimes easy as pie, when you love someone the way you love your child.  But sometimes, even when you love someone the way you love your child, it can be emotionally and physically crippling.  I can’t imagine how difficult this kind of altruism would be when you never wanted the child in the first place.  And the ramifications of not meeting a child’s needs—emotional, mental, and physical—are enormous for the growing child, and for the adult that child eventually becomes.

Why, when discussing bringing children into this world, do we never talk about what it takes to raise a well-adjusted child?  Why don’t we ever talk about parenthood? (Which, by the way, includes fatherhood—something else that never seems to enter the conversation.)

It seems to me that any real conversation about pregnancy and abortion and contraception and sex and blastulas and fetuses and eggs and uteruses and vaginas (but so rarely, if ever, penises and sperms) should include a conversation about motherhood.

Let’s talk about not just the nine months of pregnancy—the discomforts of which are numerous and not to be discounted—but about the eighteen (or more) years full of potential weeks like the one I’ve just had.  Weeks where your smart mama brain has to take a back seat not to the needs of your own body—which are probably going to assert themselves soon in the form of stress and backache and who knows what all—but the needs of your child.

Motherhood is not for the faint of heart, mind, body, or soul.  It is also not for the uncommitted.

If a woman is forced to have a child against her will, she’s likely to be fairly uncommitted. Maybe even downright resentful.  I sure would be.

And that, my friends, is why, even after becoming a mother and fully understanding the emotional and physical ramifications of abortion, I am still pro-choice.

Not because I’m anti-life, but because I’m pro-life.

I fully respect those on the other side of the fence—we are, after all, talking about a potential life.  If we can all agree that life is precious, and that children deserve the best of who we are and what we have to offer, that’s a place to start having a real conversation.  One that includes not only selfhood (for both the mother and child), but motherhood.

3 thoughts on “Why the Abortion Debate is Like a Bud Light Commerical

  1. femalevoter says:

    Excellent article and perspective, but you have forgotten about adoption as a choice for mothers who are not willing or able to make the 18+ year commitment. That child does not have to die in the womb when there are many who would care for that child in a loving home for the rest of their days if the mother would be willing to bring them into the world first.

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    • Elizabeth Hall Magill says:

      Thanks for your comment. You bring up a great point, and I do think that should be a part of the discussion. If the issue has become “mother against potential child,” this position would state that the mother must undergo a pregnancy, willing or not, and suffer that nine months–but at the end of that time she is free. I have considered this possibility, and I see some problems with it, aside from the knee-jerk “pro-choice” position of the freedom of a woman’s body (which I do think needs to be considered–after all, not every pregnant woman will hold a religious or ethical value that says she must carry a child to term because life is of God, and not everyone–myself included–would see an abortion early on as equivalent to a late-term abortion). Here are the other problems I see:

      1. How are we to enforce a healthy pregnancy in a woman who doesn’t want to be pregnant? What if she abuses drugs or alcohol? What if she is the victim of rape or domestic abuse? (Some men actually hide birth control from their partners, or coerce or force sex without protection.) What if she refuses to go to her medical appointments, take her folic acid, get tested for gestational diabetes? And do we have the right to force her to be pregnant for nine months, to follow all these rules (not to mention spend the money involved, particularly if she has no health insurance)? Part of what frustrates me about the “pro-life” side of this discussion is that none of these questions are addressed–the practical details are flung at a woman’s feet, and she is left to handle them on her own, from conception forward. Most women who have abortions have them because they cannot financially or emotionally handle pregnancy, birth, or childrearing–if we enforce pregnancy, are we going to help with the rest? So far the answer has been no, or silence.

      2. How are we going to connect the dots for adoption of all those unwanted children? Will there be enough parents for them all?

      3. Some women simply will not undergo a forced pregnancy, period. They will get back-alley abortions, and they will die. This is the sticking point for me, and the reason I have always been pro-choice–not because I think it is a fabulous option, but because I recognize that it is a necessary option, and if it isn’t legal it will happen illegally and under horrible conditions.

      These thoughts just scratch the surface, but I think they are worthy points of discussion, and I certainly understand the impulse to want to avoid abortion—I don’t think abortion is a pretty solution, but I think, in some cases, it is the only reasonable one.

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  2. Elizabeth Hall Magill says:

    Ah, and one last thought: I do believe in putting limits on abortion, and providing adoption as an option for pregnant women who don’t want their children but have passed the line we define between dividing cells and a viable infant. One reason I believe in making this distinction (cells vs. infant), aside from the physical differences, is that it is possible that some pregnant women might have more moral reservations about bringing a child into the world and giving it up than they would about not bringing the child into the world in the first place. Women, in other words, should be trusted to make decisions about their bodies and potential children according to their own moral code, not someone else’s. That said, it makes sense to me to provide a window in which to make this decision, and after that window closes to determine that it is simply too late, because the developing fetus is no longer a collection of cells but a viable infant. This is some of the “gray area”–and there is much of it–that needs to be covered in a substantive discussion of abortion.

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