by Mercy Becerra Valdivia
Peering over this precipice, I think back and see myself during my senior year in high school: the liberal-minded, intelligent young woman I thought I was. I remember distinctly the day I scandalized my friend when he asked what I’d do if I got pregnant. “Of course I’d get an abortion.” What did he think I was supposed to do? Tell my parents? Right. I was almost out of there, and I knew about too many girls at school who’d dropped out before our graduation. I was going to college, and nothing would get in my way. Only luck spared me from making that easy “choice.”
I’ve thought back countless times and cringed at my childish ignorance. The years have irreparably opened my mind. Curiosity gave way to an insatiable hunger to know more – more about what really happens in a supposedly “safe” abortion, and the psychological and physical pain women have until recently kept silent, more about human fetal development, feminist political theory, and more about the attitudes and policies that have locked those women who are supposedly most in need of “abortion rights” into miserable poverty and disillusionment.
I know now that abortion is not contraception; it violently destroys one human life, stopping one already beating heart. I believe that since 1973, when abortion became legal, our society has left women in crisis with only one “choice.” I cannot defend abortion “rights” because women are ignorant of the repercussions of abortion and the resulting despair, and I cannot agree that these are necessary “choices” for any woman.
I have always believed that women, as all human beings, deserve the opportunity to develop their unique, immeasurable potential. But I’m told the world is unfair, imperfect. I ask why we can’t address the world’s problems without expecting women to accept abortion in the meantime. But I’m told to be realistic, that women have always had abortions. Yet, I know women had always been expected to wear corsets, bind their feet, take orders, be quiet. Those were the rules. The world must change. Whey are we in this bloody stalemate?
Finally, I understand. Abortion forces women to manipulate their bodies and only offers them “liberation” through surgical alteration. Yet abortion has come to symbolize liberation, when other goals such as day-care reform, equitable pay, parental leave, and male responsibility are the ones which will truly liberate women. Abortion violates women, and this scandal is being ignored. Abortion is a hideous vestige of age-old, entrenched prejudices, in the guise of “safe” surgery, isn’t it?
But I’m told SSHHH! Don’t ask these questions. Forget all you’ve learned about human potential and settle for what we’ve got! Just accept Roe’s abortion license, call it a “woman’s fundamental right” and sanctify it as a “feminist” ideal. Don’t ask if the abortion solution may have been a tragic historical mistake. Be satisfied with Roe’s status quo. Be “pro-choice.”
I learn I can justify abortion IF I pretend not to know there are two human hearts beating in very crisis pregnancy. I don’t want to pretend. I learn I can excuse injustices IF I compromise some human’s right. I don’t want to compromise. I learn I can ignore all kinds of hate, violence, and pain IF I just close my eyes and label people. I don’t want to close my eyes. I don’t want to label people.
So I attempt a consistent progressive approach to discussing our national tragedy of unwanted pregnancies and run into daunting obstacles. When I talk about women’s issues at all, some of my friends tell me I’m off the deep end of neurotic madness. When I defend the unborn and claim abortions will never be the solution to structural inequality, other friends tell me I’ve bought into the ideology that refuses to guarantee our absolute “choice.” Every time it’s a struggle to even get one idea across: We CAN speak out for women, men AND their children. A civilized society must protect every human.
I learn so much from my closest friends, some of whom adamantly defend abortion “rights,” but I’m frustrated and speechless when some flatly refuse to acknowledge the humanity of even a 7-or 8-month-old fetus. I try to rip away the shackles of slogans and stereotypes, and not be intimidated by the pressures from both “sides.” It’s painful enough to disagree with people I love so fiercely. I’ve had to choose to think for myself – about abortion, about women’s lives and our place in history, about the insidious ideas that perpetuate ignorance, disempowerment and human suffering – and this choice continues to be a bittersweet lesson. Who says you don’t learn anything in college?
Mercy Becerra Valdivia, past co-director of the Harvard-Radcliffe Progressive Alliance for Life, is pursuing a Masters Degree in Maternal and Child Health at Harvard University.