How My Ex-Girlfriend's Abortion Saved My Life
When I fell into a bad situation, abortion was the safety net that helped my former partner and I out.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons
The war on abortion is not an abstract or symbolic war. It's real. Last week's attack on a Planned Parenthood in Colorado was just one of countless violent incidents aimed at abortion providers over the years since the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling legalized the procedure. According to statistics compiled by the National Abortion Federation, since 1977 there have been eight murders and 26 attempted murders of abortion providers and their assistants, 42 clinic bombings, 186 incidents of arson, and thousands of other incidents targeting clinics and doctors.
This is terrorism. Politically motivated violence against civilians meant to scare lots of people, and shape their actions. The list of victims of this kind of domestic terrorism is long. It includes those who work in the abortion industry. It includes women who want to access their right to an abortion. And it includes men who are involved with those women. Yes, men have a stake in this debate. I felt that acutely when I got a girlfriend I was close to leaving pregnant. Let me tell you the story.
It was a couple of decades ago. We lived in New York. I was a twentysomething writer. She, a very bright, pretty twentysomething girl. We were living together but by this point, our relationship had already begun its downward spiral. The first year together was thrilling, but six months into living together, I could see it wasn't going to work out. There was too much fighting, and while I know couples fight, the frequency and intensity of our battles was just too much for me. I think we both knew it wasn't going to work out, but like most couples who reached that realization, we didn't break up right away. We kept hoping against hope, kept trying. But before the year was over, we had both moved out of the apartment, fleeing on the same day as if it were the apartment, too, that we had to break up with.
The story really starts six months before we fled, in the middle of our argument-filled annus horribilus. She got pregnant. (We knew we weren't right for each other but we still wanted each other.) After months of drifting apart, we'd suddenly come to a major fork in the road of life. I was terrified.
I've always felt that family is critical to building kids into strong, productive adults. I would not be who I am today if not for growing up under the watchful eye of two parents who'd wanted me, planned for me, and loved me. Parents who loved each other. The relationship I was in was never going to be that. It was not going to lead to a lasting family. We needed to split up—it was inevitable. But when she got pregnant, we faced the possibility of being stuck together forever.
She told me on the couch and I remember feeling scared for my life. It was as if the words came out of her mouth and I was suddenly staring down the barrel of a loaded gun. But she just told me that she was pregnant—she didn't say anything about what would come next. I could tell she wasn't sure what came next. She knew that things were bad between us, but she didn't take the idea of getting an abortion lightly. It was a brief conversation in which much more was inferred than actually said. And we retreated into our respective corners.
For the two days after, I felt as if I was falling backward through space with no way to stop myself. I felt powerless. And I didn't feel like I could say anything without coming off like an asshole. And because our relationship was so bad, I didn't have any trust or love built up to make my opinion really matter to her. This was entirely her decision, which meant the shape of the rest of my life was in her hands. My future was out of my control—all the work, all the planning, all the decisions I had made in an attempt to build a life could be upended.
I had always said I would never be one of those guys who live apart from their kids. My father's daily presence had meant so much to my life, and I felt I had to give that same paternal stability to my kids. But now everything was up in the air. What if she wanted to keep the kid and raise it without me, screw you, goodbye? Or what if she wanted to keep the baby in an attempt to hold onto me as a boyfriend, allowing me to stay close to my child at the cost of enduring a broken relationship? Add to all that the fact that at that moment in my life, I was not ready to raise a child, not even close. We were surrounded by bad options and she alone would choose which one we would take.
The number of unintended pregnancies in America is very high. According to a report by the Brookings Institute, "nearly half of all pregnancies in the United States are unintended." The study finds that American taxpayers spend over $12 billion a year to help those with unintended pregnancies—through Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Plan (CHIP), the government spends about $6 billion on women delivering those babies, and another $6 billion to take care of them when they're infants. And children of unplanned pregnancies are more likely to drop out of high school, setting themselves up for a host of other problems and challenges.
I remember the night Susan finally sat down on the other end of the couch—we weren't really touching each other much any more—and said she wanted to end the pregnancy. I exhaled like never before. I felt like a gigantic iceberg in my path had suddenly melted away. I could see a future I wanted because we were not going to have to live with the mistake of sleeping in the same bed after we knew we weren't going to make it as a couple. And no one else would have to live with that mistake, either. I felt like I got back the power to shape my life.
A few years later I met another woman, fell in love, and got married to her. Through our first years of marriage we had many productive conversations about children and our readiness for them. And then one day we talked, and together decided to pull the goalie. She was pregnant a day later. We were both thrilled. I went to all of her doctor's appointments with joy, excited to watch that boy grow inside her.
I remember watching my son wriggle around on a 3-D sonogram, and right there in the doctor's office it dawned on me just how very human an unborn baby is at that early stage. At that moment my long-held belief in abortion rights was shaken—my belief system collided with life. Now that I could see the humanness of an unborn baby how could I support the termination of a pregnancy? It was something I had to think deeply about.
Eventually I looked at my wife and her growing belly and I realized this: How could I tell her what she can or can't do with her body? How could that be right? The first time, I had known instinctively not to tell the woman what to do, and she was someone I was growing to hate. Now I was standing beside someone I loved, knowing I couldn't ever tell her—and by extension, millions of women like her—what to do with her body. I re-committed myself to my pro-choice views because I believe in, as Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote, "a woman's autonomy to determine her life's course."
Seven in ten women who get abortions are mothers—meaning that the vast majority of abortions are performed on women who, for emotional, temporal, or financial reasons, want to maintain the family they already have. It makes sense, then, that sociologist Richard Florida found that the higher a state's abortion rate, the lower its rate of divorce. Unplanned pregnancies can be a blessing, but they can also put tremendous stress on a family.
And over the long-term, 95 percent of women who have abortions do not regret the decision to terminate their pregnancies, according to a Harvard Medical School study. If, over the long-term, women who have abortions are overwhelmingly comfortable with that decision and if they almost unanimously don't think they've made a mistake, then who am I to say those women are all wrong?
I thank God that when I fell into a bad situation, abortion was available as a safety net, allowing me to stay on the path to building the strong family I have now. People who have children when they're prepared tend to be better parents, which leads to stronger families, and their best chance at raising adults they can be proud of.
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