“You have cancer.”
Fear and dread pulse upon hearing those words. The stigma of cancer—the chemotherapy, the endless tests, the knowledge that death is growing inside—is not joyful. But the disease and the stigma can be overcome.
Depending on circumstances, this can be the biggest news in the world, or the worst possible thing.
There are only two ways a pregnancy can end: a birth or a death. There’s no stigma in having a baby, but the stigma never goes away when a pregnancy ends without one. No matter how much some people want to hush over it, pretend it doesn’t exist, or shout it out of existence, the stigma remains.
“You’ve had a miscarriage.” “Your baby has died.” For most pregnant women, these are the worst imaginable words—words that awaken expecting moms in the middle of the night, hearts racing, eyes wide open, feeling for the kick to tell her that her baby is okay. Every pregnant woman experiences some of that fear, except the ones who don’t want to be pregnant in the first place.
When a pregnancy ends in a birth (whether vaginal or surgical), it yields a baby—a crying, eating, pooping, scowling bundle of life who shares something with all of us. The other pregnancy ending is not so happy. Miscarriages affect between 10 and 20 percent of pregnancies in the first 20 weeks, and 80 percent of those happen before the first 12 weeks. After 20 weeks, losing the baby is called “stillbirth” where the baby is born dead. Somewhere in that murky time between 12 and 20 weeks, medical science turns the corner between a “fetus” and a “baby,” but the life growing inside mom isn’t keeping a calendar.
Women who have miscarriages—especially multiple miscarriages—carry that stigma for the rest of their lives. They don’t talk about it. There’s always that nagging feeling that never really goes away that there’s something wrong with her, some deep dark sin that caused her babies to die inside her. Medically, that’s not true, but “medically” cannot encompass the full relationship between a mother and the unborn child inside her.
Emotions are just as strong in women whose pregnancy was the fruit of bad judgment. The fear and dread of an unwanted pregnancy, especially when experienced by a teenager who’s barely outgrown her own childhood, drives her to secrecy. The secret burns inside her, and many times drives her to death. Not her own, but her baby’s. Abortion is a stigma.
Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, wrote about the stigma of abortion in Elle’s October 2014 issue.
Women fear that when they disclose that they’ve had an abortion, they’ll be judged–seen as irresponsible or selfish. Whatever a woman’s reason for having an abortion, for some people it will never be good enough. If she had an abortion because she was too young, people may point to the 16-year-old who decided to raise a child. If she had an abortion because she couldn’t afford to care for a child, people will ask what else she spends money on and why her family couldn’t help. If she has an abortion because she already has children, people will ask why she couldn’t have just one more.
All of these questions have good answers. But the point is that women shouldn’t have to answer them at all. No woman should be forced to justify her decision for having an abortion. The decision about whether to have a child, end a pregnancy, or choose adoption is hers alone. Some women make that decision in consultation with their family, friends, their doctor, or their faith—and that’s their decision, too.
It’s important that women be able to share their stories and experiences openly if they choose to, so that they can connect with each other and begin to end myths and misconceptions about both the procedure and the women who have it. There’s a big difference between sharing your story and being forced to justify your decision.
I know this firsthand. I had an abortion. It was the right decision for me and my husband, and it wasn’t a difficult decision. Before becoming president of Planned Parenthood eight years ago, I hadn’t really talked about it beyond family and close friends. But I’m here to say, when politicians argue and shout about abortion, they’re talking about me—and millions of other women around the country.
I think it’s right to share Richards’ testimony. She had an abortion and never struggled with the decision. Yet she kept it under wraps. It’s the stigma.
Richards said that “all of these questions have good answers” and in the same breath said that they shouldn’t have to be answered at all—that no justification is necessary for ending a life growing inside mom. As if that would cancel the stigma. It doesn’t.
It doesn’t go away because women who have an abortion are acutely aware of the life growing inside them, and they know what they’ve done. This is no miscarriage to be grieved. It’s no stillbirth to be mourned. It’s a baby who lived, and is now dead because of a choice. All the questions (too young, can’t afford it, too many children) are focused on the mother’s circumstances. But the question that haunts expecting moms who ended their pregnancies by death is that they’ll never hear their child say “mommy.”
And there’s no good answer to that. Richards would rather we just not ask the questions at all, leaving grieving abortion mothers to suffer in silence.
Abortion supporters would argue that in the case of rape, the baby itself would be a stigma to the mother—a reminder of the violent act that caused the pregnancy. That loaded argument presumes that all abortions have “good answers” but the stigma of rape and assault has no path to redemption—it’s a lie. It’s akin to saying that hospitals are reminders of the stigma of cancer, or unprotected sex is a stigma of AIDS, yet cancer survivors visit hospitals to encourage those still battling the disease, and AIDS sufferers continue to have unprotected sex. Similarly, those who endured sexual abuse can overcome that stigma, but not the stigma that abortion supporters say is supposed to bring relief.
Meryl* wrote about her sexual abuse, and her abortion, referring to herself in the third person.
I know a woman who as a child, spent two years in a foster home, and upon returning to her real family, faced numerous acts of sexual abuse by more than one man. As if that weren’t bad enough, she had to learn how to live with one of the men that violated her. For nearly eight long years after the acts of sexual abuse ceased, she had to look at this man everyday and encounter his continual sexual innuendos and sexual briberies. At one point her only way to deal with her childhood was to inflict pain on herself. She would cut her knuckles with serrated knives, or drag her knuckles on concrete to feel the pain externally, hoping for an escape through the open wound. It wasn’t until her seventeenth birthday that this man finally left the family after a divorce.
Not long after his departure, this young woman began to experience tormenting nightmares where her abuser would try to lock her in his bedroom like he had in the past. Or dream that she would wake up to him in her bed trying to sexually violate her again. These dreams affected her so much so that she contemplated suicide to keep the haunting images away, but she ended up doing something much worse.
Meryl had a hard childhood and turned to relationships in an attempt to validate her own existence and worth.
Out of fear of turning into a sexual abuser like her offenders or the possibility of her step-father returning to sexually abuse the child she was now carrying, a product of a pre-marital relationship, she decided an abortion would be the best decision for that child. The thought of this man, or anyone coming for her child and violating her child the way she had been violated, frightened her.
She believed that because she had no control over what had happened to her time and time again that she would not be able to control similar circumstances, or be able to protect her child. Today, she lives with the remembrance of the horrifying images of her child in a clear plastic bag being tossed in the trash. That was possible because the clinic only provided a “twilight” anesthesia, so she felt the pain and witnessed how her child was removed from her body.
Meryl didn’t talk to anyone about her abortion—and in fact refers to it in the third person, like it happened to someone else. It’s the stigma. The questions never go away, but there are never any good answers.
For a very long time she lived with the sorrow and regret of that decision and the knowledge that her oldest child would’ve been 21 years old this year. However, at the time she didn’t know any better because she had no assurance that a different life than the one she had lived for the last 17 years was possible.
Rebecca Traister revealed the banality of abortion in her New York Magazine’s August 10 issue article. She argues that we don’t need to talk about abortion because women already know how it works.
Women do not need real talk about bodies; our adult days brim with the effluvia, the discomforts, the weirdness and emotional intensity and magnitude of our medical choices. Then there is pregnancy itself, wanted or not, and its attendant risks. Women pass early pregnancies into toilet bowls and sadly collect the remains of later ones in Tupperware containers to bring to their doctors. Most of us know of someone who has suffered the excruciating pain of stillbirth. One friend, bleeding 13 weeks into a deeply desired pregnancy, was told by her doctor not to worry unless she passed a clot bigger than her fist.
Women who have been pregnant past quickening have felt the nauseating turn of a baby inside them; some have had the horror of feeling that baby stop moving, or, as Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis wrote of her experience, can feel the spasms of fetal seizure. She had a late abortion. So did California [mc_name name=’Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’S001175′ ], as she told the House in 2011, responding to a colleague who’d read aloud a gory description of a second-trimester termination. “I was thinking to myself, Not one of you has endured this procedure,” she said of her decision to speak publicly about it.
Women know about blood. We know about discharge. We know about babies, and many of us also love them, their little feet and hands and eyelashes. And, yes, we know that those bitty features develop while the fetus is inside us. We also know the physical, economic, and emotional costs of raising those children outside our wombs.
Sixty-one percent of women who seek abortions already have at least one child. More than a third already have at least two children. Women know what pregnancy is and what abortion does. Perhaps it’s this common calculation that keeps so many women (and men) grateful to an organization dedicated to the maintenance of women’s bodies. An NBC News–Wall Street Journal poll, released after the fetal-parts videos, showed Planned Parenthood with a net favorability rating of 45 percent, higher than Donald Trump, the Democratic and Republican parties, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, the Supreme Court, and the National Rifle Association.
But offering up banality doesn’t provide an answer to the emotional tie between mother and unborn child. Whether the emotion is fear, joy, or even relief at the pregnancy’s termination, if women know the “physical, economic, and emotional costs of raising those children outside our wombs,” they most certainly know—uniquely so (as I man I cannot ever know)—the feeling of the life growing inside.
Thelma* told her story.
I was 20 years old and I was already living in sin for 7 years. I smoked cigarettes and weed, drank alcohol, suffered from severe depression and battled suicidal thoughts, loved tattoos and piercings and was having sex out of wedlock to a singer and guitarist who called himself ‘Rockstar Satan’. I was making many bad choices in my life.
I ended up getting pregnant and the mother of this boyfriend of mine told me that she thought the best thing for me to do was to have an abortion because we were both so young and because he didn’t have a job and we wouldn’t be able to properly take care of the child.
How many women find themselves in that situation? Millions. Abortion suppliers show all the compassion of someone removing an ingrown toenail.
I was 8 weeks pregnant and taken to an overly packed abortion clinic in Orlando, Florida. My boyfriend’s mother drove myself and her son and he didn’t offer much emotional support. I think we were both numb and blinded to allow this to go on but deep down I was an emotional and unstable wreck. The clinic was so packed that people were standing inside so I sat outside the entire time we waited, chain smoking cigarettes and feeling deeply grieved in my spirit. I just felt like crying but I couldn’t.
There were protesters outside, throwing pamphlets at the girls outside, including me, from the sidewalk. I seen the images of the tiny children that had been violently and cold-heartedly pulled from their mothers’ wombs but yet, I didn’t see them. I signed papers inside stating that I wanted them to put me to sleep, although I didn’t feel very alive as it was.
When I woke up I experienced some of the worst physical pain in my stomach that I ever felt. I am already the type that undergoes severe menstrual cramps since I started at the age of 9 but it was and still is nothing compared to this. The pain was unbearable and tears were flowing strong after I awoke. I wondered, what did I let them do to me and why?
It’s too late at that point. The questions can never be answered, only avoided. Thelma continued, writing about the stigma.
To make it worse, there was a note on my room door from my family when I returned home immediately after the actual murder of my child, that had stick figures of my child and I and the words ‘baby killer’ written on it. A simple but powerful message, I went in my room and cried loudly for hours. This was a recurring and painful reality. They later apologized and felt very badly about leaving that note, knowing the mental stress I was already dealing with.
I was unable to go around or even see a child for a long time without crying. I don’t think the actual grieving or the feeling of loss ever completely goes away but I do know that my downward spiral deepened and darkened after this for 6 more years. I got lost in darkness, in a realm of misery and death, and forgiving myself for having an abortion was one of the hardest things and longest struggles that I’ve ever experienced.
Thelma found solace and forgiveness in her relationship with God, and now sees her role as one of helping others avoid her poor choices. She found an answer
After the abortion I had continually suffered from drug abuse, depression, experiencing demonic entities and supernatural realities, suicide attempts and a strong feeling of not wanting to live anymore. I was completely deceived and under the bondage of Satan himself. There is so much more to my story that I can share with you but that could take hours and even days. The most important thing that I can share with you is how much our choices impact our life.
If I could go back and change what I did I most certainly would but then I wouldn’t be writing this right now and trying to help other women who have gone through this and are suffering how I did. I wouldn’t understand the answer to the question, “Why or how could anyone have an abortion?”. I made a very bad choice then but all I can control are the choices that I make now and in the future.
I asked Thelma if she had an ultrasound, and she said she did not. The bond between mother and child was there, but never gained expression by mom actually seeing the life inside.
Abortion supporters face an irreconcilable dilemma (and don’t think for a minute that they’re unaware of it): they oppose the stigma of abortion, but actively do everything they can to hide the actual process and medical facts of abortion. California’s terrible AB775, known as the “Reproductive FACT Act” actually ensures that reproductive facts are concealed by forcing crisis pregnancy centers to effectively refer their patients to abortion clinics.
The bill comes after an undercover investigation by NARAL Pro-Choice California found that CPCs provide pregnant women with misleading and false information (Albarazi, Bay City News, 4/13).
There are about 200 CPCs in California (Reuters, 5/26). However, many of them are not licensed to provide medical care. The centers often operate through private funding, while some receive federal funding that has been set aside for abstinence programs.
It’s ironic that an undercover investigation that prompted AB775 is considered good by California legislators like David Chiu, who sponsored AB775. But here’s what Chiu said about the Center for Medical Progress’ undercover videos of Planned Parenthood’s baby body parts operation:
After watching conservative news coverage of hidden-camera videos purporting to show that Planned Parenthood illegally sells tissue from aborted fetuses, I stopped by our local Planned Parenthood Northern California in search of facts. Sadly, as the NY Times & LA Times reported, the videos were heavily edited, as part of the war on a woman’s constitutional right to choose. And I choose to #StandWithPP.
To Chiu, offering an ultrasound for an expectant mother to see her baby growing is a heinous crime, but exposing the sale of that mom’s dead baby parts is a “war on women.” Add to that the fact that Chiu is a man who cannot possibly know the emotions associated with pregnancy, and you’ve got one huge hypocrite.
AB775 opens the door for donors to sue crisis pregnancy centers for misrepresentation if they don’t promote abortion.
Tens of thousands of folks donate money and time to promote “Crisis Pregnancy Centers” in California. The goal is to save the babies and give assistance to the mothers. A noble goal. Democrat Speaker Toni Atkins wants to harm the women and kill the babies—using government to commit the crimes, thus making them “legal”.
Atkins has a bill AB 775 that mandates donor dollars meant to save babies be used to promote the killing of babies. If she was honest, this bill would mandate Planned Parenthood spend donor dollars to protect and save babies—but, since when are radicals honest?
“The legislation would require licensed facilities that provide services related to pregnancy and family planning to let women know about how and where they can access affordable and timely abortion, contraception and prenatal care services.”
Could a donor sue the Crisis Centers for misrepresentation? Expect a Leftist will in the future make a donation, then charge fraud—both criminally and civilly. This is a fraud and a set up.
I bet nobody ever sues Planned Parenthood after donating to them because they realize that the organization performs abortions in addition to “women’s health care.” It’s the stigma.
People like Toni Atkins must have a different agenda than helping women avoid stigma, since they’re squelching groups whose main purpose is to give emotional support and solace to women facing unwanted pregnancies. It could be some misplaced belief in humanity’s place in the world—the Malthusian lie of the population bomb—that drives them to want to depopulate the earth. Or it could be simple avarice.
Atkins herself made her career in the abortion industry.
While serving as director of the WomanCare Clinic more than 20 years ago, Atkins was asked by prominent Planned Parenthood activist Sara Moser to take over as chair of the San Diego Coalition for Reproductive Choice.
“She said she didn’t know if she had what it takes to do that,” recalled Moser, now retired and living in La Jolla. “She was a bright woman, but she never saw herself in a leadership role.”
Atkins was eventually talked into it, marking an early turning point in a career that this spring will elevate her to one of the most powerful political posts in California: Speaker of the Assembly.
Richards, Atkins and their abortionist friends don’t want the stigma of abortion to go away; they want everyone to just shut up about it. Unless Richards makes it fashionable writing in Elle, of course.
No matter how much they wish it away, or try to wash it away, the stigma never goes away. The echoes of 50 million silent cribs won’t allow it.
*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the women.
(image credit: Shutterstock)
(crossposted from sgberman.com)