AI: Abort? Retry? Love forever?

Today, Secular Woman is launching a new project called Abort Theocracy, focusing “on the intersection of religious power over women’s bodily autonomy and sovereignty, dedicated to terminating that connection by opposing religious influence in government.”

My friend Hemant, the Friendly Athiest, has two major criticisms of the project. Mostly the “abort” and the “theocracy” parts of it. Fortunately for Hemant, because we’re friends, I’ll only take issue with the “abort” part of his argument.


We celebrate defeating those awful bills; we don’t celebrate abortions.
Those bills are meticulously-planned and written. Pregnancies don’t always work that way.
For most women, an abortion is not something they aspire to have — they’re usually a necessity or the result of serious deliberation; the anti-abortion bills, however, are written by politicians who championed their ability to limit women’s rights.

nullHere’s the thing, a lot of people think this. But it’s simply wrong. Some of us actually celebrate the defeating of these bills while also celebrating abortions. Yes. Celebrating. I celebrate when a woman is able to go to her doctor and can make a choice that is right for her. I celebrate the ability to decide who and what gets to live in my body. I celebrate that abortions save lives and give women the freedom to control their bodies and their destinies. I celebrate the ability to say, “No. This is not something that I want.” I celebrate abortion. I celebrate it as an essential part of women’s equality. Safe, legal and accessible abortion is something that should be celebrated. We deserve it. And the fact is, that for every woman that has one, there are countless women who are denied one. If I could stand outside an abortion clinic and high-five every un-pregnant woman who walked out who was pregnant when she walked in, I would. High-five for your future. High-five for access. High-five for being able to make the right decision for you. High-five, lady.

We like to think of abortions as these things that women turn to in times of distress and crisis. You all know the story of the typical lady getting an abortion. She’s young. The condom broke or she skipped her pill or it was a one-night stand and they were drunk or they’re in love and they didn’t think it could happen. But now she’s a week late and she’s spent 4 days crying on the floor of her bathroom wondering why her period is late and why she’s throwing up so much and she’s afraid to tell her mom. So she ditches chemistry and goes to the pharmacy and buys a pregnancy test while wearing sunglasses and a hoodie and goes home and it’s positive so she takes 10 more tests (despite the fact that these things can cost $14+ a pop) and she crumbles onto the bathroom floor, AGAIN, because now she has to make a truly difficult decision. Is NOW the right time to become a mom? Now or do I wait? I want to go to college first. I want to get a job first. But here I am, with this baby. WHAT DO I DOOOOOO? Finally, after weeks of careful thought, and tons more crying, bravely and heartbroken, she makes the decision to MURDER HER BABY… so she can have the future she dreams of. And then she has to disclose to every boy she dates in the future that she had an abortion and her life is always kind of empty forever. The end.

But that’s not really how it works. Sometimes it happens like that. But not always. Not even usually… Let me personal-anecdote you for a second.

I am a 35 year old, married, mother of two. I’ve been pregnant four times. The first time I was pregnant, it was a surprise. Not a OOOOOHHH NOOOOO surprise, but a “we’ve been trying for over a year and we’ve seen a reproductive specialist and we’re giving up” kind of surprise. The short story is that this pregnancy was ectopic. It wasn’t really a heartbreaking decision to abort as much as a “what is going on? what is happening? is this real? am I going to die?” decision. My “choice” was A. save myself or B. save neither myself nor the baby. Mostly it was just scary that the first time I tried to reproduce, the first thing my “baby” tries to do is fucking kill me. But it was a baby we wanted. It wasn’t an accident. It was planned… ish. And yet we aborted.

Plenty of women who have planned pregnancies end up having to terminate for a number of reasons—medical or otherwise. Abortions aren’t a thing for the irresponsible and reckless and clueless. They’re part of the reality of simply having a working uterus.

Fast forward two live births and one heart-breaking miscarriage later. Now I’ve had all the pregnancy I can handle. I am done with that shit. That part of my live is over over over. I love my kids… at least half of the time. But I have limited amounts of money and time and sanity and patience. And of those resources, I’ve allotted all I’m willing to allot for children. If I were to get pregnant today, I wouldn’t have to think about it. I would have an abortion. It’s not that I’m “not ready” to be a mom. It’s not that I’m waiting for the right time. It’s not that I’m single. It’s that I simply detest being pregnant and I don’t want more kids. And my husband (quietly) detests when I’m pregnant and doesn’t want more kids. There will be no crying. There will be no hand wringing. There will be no thoughtful contemplation. There will be no more kids. Not in my body. Not in my house.

And the idea that women think long and hard and have to make a difficult decision that sometimes must end, tragically, in abortion is one that many of us are taught is true. (Admittedly, it took me a long time to shake.) It certainly has roots in Christian ideals that conception=life, and clings to the falsehood that all women are somehow biologically programmed to be maternal, that we all will become mothers, God willing.

It also, sadly, perpetuates a damaging untruth that good women are good mothers and good mothers love their children instantly and unconditionally and begin bonding from the first drop of pee on that stick. To not have that bond makes you damaged. You are unloving. Unfit. When the reality is that most women do not bond with their babies for weeks, even months. after they are born. They don’t fall in love with the stranger who declared squatters rights in their womb. And that most certainly includes women who had planned and wanted pregnancies. Not bonding with an unwanted clump of cells threatening to ruin your life isn’t really un-maternal or un-womanly. It’s pretty fucking normal. Not every pregnancy is a blessing.

Continuing to discuss abortion in terms of heartbreak and shame only promotes the idea that abortion is heartbreaking and shameful. Sometimes it’s heartbreaking. But it doesn’t have to be. And there’s no reason to be discouraging women from making the choice not to have a baby if the right choice for them is to not have a baby.

Let me say that more clearly: We should not be discouraging abortion. If anything, we should be encouraging it as an equal or even superior option to carrying and giving birth to a baby you don’t want and/or aren’t ready for and/or can’t care for.

As long as we have women, we will have pregnancy. And as long as we have pregnancy, we need abortion. We NEED it.

Any of you have an opinion on abortion? On Secular Woman’s new project? On Hemant’s thoughts?

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays at 3pm ET.

Featured Image: Amy Davis Roth


Elyse MoFo Anders is the bad ass behind forming the Women Thinking, inc and the superhero who launched the Hug Me! I'm Vaccinated campaign as well as podcaster emeritus, writer, slacktivist extraordinaire, cancer survivor and sometimes runs marathons for charity. You probably think she's awesome so you follow her on twitter.

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  1. “Safe, legal, and rare,” which is what Mehta is drawing from, has been an unmitigated *disaster*. It needs to stop.

  2. This is a point of view which is almost never heard from in the mainstream media, and if it were ever broadcast it would generate howls of protests from anti-abortion fanatics everywhere.

    1. Adding to what I said earlier:
      We have got to change our culture. The glorification of motherhood in our society, ironically, caused the children of both Susan Smith and Andrea Yates to die because these troubled women never should have had children. Some women have no business being mothers, period. And others who know their limits should be respected for taking control of their lives instead of being little more than breeding machines.

      I should add that this puts me in an awkward position because I was adopted (in 1969, before the Roe vs. Wade decision). If I had been conceived after 1973, what if I had been aborted rather than being put up for adoption? What if I want to adopt a child myself? If every woman with an unwanted pregnancy had an abortion, no one could adopt a child if he or she could not have one naturally. Just something to think about.

      1. Just like how when same sex marriage is eventually recognized everywhere, all the straights will suddenly quit making hetero unions? ;)

        1. I’m saying I think it’s highly unlikely that there’s going to be a shortage of children who need homes and families to adopt them, because I think the notion of every woman with an unwanted pregnancy opting to terminate is pretty far fetched, (let alone the fact that not every child who is up for adoption is there because they were unwanted, but that’s more than I was going for in my original comment.) It’s going to take a lot more than advances in birth control and the de-stigmatization of abortion to end the need for fosters and adopters. My point was that just because something is legal/de-stigmatized/easier to acquire, doesn’t mean everyone is going to do it, and my example was the other big moral freakout people are having. It came to mind because “What about all the people who want to adopt?” sounds a bit like the slippery slope business of “How will _good_ folks find anyone to marry when anything goes and everyone’s married their BFFs and bros and dogs and whatever?”

          I’m not sure if that’s any clearer, but I hope so and I apologize for not being so previously.

  3. I 100% agree with the vast majority of what you’re saying here, abortion should not be seen as some sort of tragedy, but I do think that it should be something that requires some thought and attention no matter what situation you’re in simply because it’s a medical procedure that often involves some risk. I would never want to go into something like that without some care and thought. It seems to me like you’ve already done that thinking and decided when it would be best for you, but that doesn’t change the fact that any health choices we make should be taken seriously.

    I think it’s a good idea to separate “shameful and heartbreaking” from “something that deserves thought and attention”.

    1. I’m not advocating uninformed medical procedures. To imply that women who go in to get abortions are, by default, uninformed, is insulting to women and doctors… unless we’re talking about a place where safe and legal isn’t a thing, then I agree. Botched abortion vs birth is a serious thing to weight. But, for the record, where abortions ARE safe and legal, abortion is a safer alternative than pregnancy.

      1. And that’s another good point.

        Olivia, PREGNANCIES are *serious medical procedures* — are you lecturing women about that, too? I sure hope you are! Because if you’re worried about women not taking abortions “seriously”, then you must be worried about women not taking pregnancies seriously as well, right? Right?

        (Actually, I think as a whole, society doesn’t take pregnancy seriously enough. And then we get ABORTION COULD KILL YOU! Which is stupid because, as Elyse as stated, abortions, if done properly and in safe places, are SAFER THAN PREGNANCIES. And yet, no one is wagging their fingers at women to take it seriously. Well, except underage and non-married women, but you catch my drift, I think.)

    2. “but that doesn’t change the fact that any health choices we make should be taken seriously.”

      Nooooo, really?!?! Wow. I had no idea! I mean, I guess all women are idiots, right? We have no idea that a medical procedure is, well, a medical procedure and needs to be taken seriously! No idea, man. How novel!

      I think you missed Elys’s point.

      And as far as medical procedures go, an abortion is really not that big of a deal.

      If I had to get an abortion, I’d do it, and it’d be a fascinating journey, but not a scary one, not for me.

      Menopause freaks me out more! The fact that nearly all the women in my family have had to have full hysterectomies freaks me out more than a possible abortion!

      And I certainly don’t see anyone lecturing women about how “serious” hysterectomies are, even though they are more common than abortions.

      I also don’t see anyone lecturing women about how “serious” any other medical procedure is.


      Interesting, don’t you think?

      Why do women suddenly need to be reminded about how OH SO SERIOUS a medical procedure is when it’s an abortion? Do you lecture women on any other procedure? Or is it just abortions you’re concerned women aren’t taking seriously enough? Because women are too stupid to realize the seriousness of a medical procedure…?

      1. Wow defensive much? Nowhere did I say that this ISN’T something that happens. Elyse said that she would not have to think at all if she were to be pregnant again, and I simply wanted to clarify that she has already DONE the thinking, just like most people have about most medical procedures.

        I was concerned that if we say it’s not something that we think seriously about then the opposition would say “well if it’s not heartbreaking then you’re not taking it seriously”. Like I said, I’m just concerned with separating “thoughtful” from “tragedy” because they’re two very different things, and I want to be able to say “yes, I take any medical procedure seriously, but no moreso than any other medical procedure and no other medical procedure is considered tragic”. I really wasn’t speaking towards the women who GET abortions, I was speaking about how I think we should present the rhetoric of abortion (which is most of what this piece was about).

        Elyse, I know you weren’t advocating uninformed medical procedures. I just wanted to add that when we talk about abortion we should include that of course we take it seriously because it’s like any other medical procedure on the face of the planet.

        1. Of course I’m defensive! I’ve had people pretty much all my life treat me like a fucking child, all because I have the ability to have children, and it’s damn annoying when people here do it as well.

          No, of course you never *said* that it isn’t something that happens, but the implication was strongly there.

          Elyse said that she would not have to think at all if she were to be pregnant again, and I simply wanted to clarify that she has already DONE the thinking,

          Oh, you had to make “SURE” (all caps yours) that Elyse, a grown ass fucking woman who has already told you her decision, had thought it through? Why did YOU have to make “SURE” that a grown ass adult is sure about a medical decision she has made for herself?

          I just wanted to add that when we talk about abortion we should include that of course we take it seriously because it’s like any other medical procedure on the face of the planet.

          Why should we repeat something that’s obvious? But that’s not what you said. Several times. In fact, you even said you were just asking to make “SURE” that Elyse thought her decision through. YOU SAID THAT, like, exactly! I mean come on, I am “SURE” Elyse has thought this through.

          Stop treating grown ass women like children, and I’ll stop getting defensive, okay?

          1. I guess the all caps was on “DONE” and not “SURE” but it doesn’t make it any less fucking condescending. I’m sure Elyse has DONE the thinking and doesn’t need you to remind her.

  4. I agree with you. I found myself floundering in the “abortion should be a choice, but not for me” camp when I wrote a post about it a couple of years ago. And I realized, wait a minute, why not for me? Why should I be ashamed to think that one day I might need an abortion? Just because I’m married and financially comfortable does not mean I’m required to have children. Yes, I take birth control and I’m responsible, but what if I did get pregnant? It wouldn’t be because I was irresponsible. And since neither my husband and I want to have children of our own why should we feel we had to just because I got pregnant?

    I don’t buy the argument that just because something is alive it’s sacred. After all we’re omnivores as a species. We eat life, whether plant or animal. Life isn’t anything special in that sense. So conception may equal life, but it doesn’t mean that I should be forced to carry that life in my body any more than I should be forced to carry around influenza or bacteria or my own shedding cells, which will all die without me.

  5. Thank you for bringing to light the myth of the “unfortunate, heartbreaking choice.” What baffles me is where people get the idea of abortion being a casual, over-used alternative to birth control and the oft-quoted trope of a friend’s acquaintance who’s had 7 to date. It ain’t cheap or easy, so I don’t know who’s using it for birth control. And why it would even matter if it were true.

  6. I’ve thought about this. If I got pregnant today, I’d have an abortion as soon as possible. And I’d be very open about it. I wouldn’t feel at all guilty. In fact, I’d be mostly curious about the procedure. I’d ask a lot of questions. I’d ask not to be put under if possible so I am aware and know what is going on (I asked the same thing when my wisdom teeth were ripped out).

    I don’t want kids. I’m nearly 32 and I STILL don’t want kids.

    An abortion would happen and I really don’t think it would affect me or my life that much, except of course the time and money. But my lover-dude is really cool and would help me with that (we’ve discussed it).

    Heck, I’d probably even write a blog and outline everything step by step. It would be interesting. But heartbreaking? Nah.

    For the record, I’m far more afraid to get another fucking anal abscess than I am about a possible abortion. LOL

    1. I feel the same way about abortion: not only would I not hesitate, but I would be open and honest about it. And if anyone whinged about me talking about abortion openly, I’d point out that I don’t want to read people’s posts about their birthing process, either, yet I don’t complain about that. I wish that more people who got abortions didn’t have to feel ashamed about it and hide it, because I think pro-lifers would be damned surprised at how many women they know have actually gotten abortions.

      1. ” I wish that more people who got abortions didn’t have to feel ashamed about it and hide it, because I think pro-lifers would be damned surprised at how many women they know have actually gotten abortions.”
        Otoki, I think you are right. In addition, I have been thinking, if folks in general knew how dirt common unnoticed early first trimester miscarriage is, they would be less likely to become “embryo fetishists”. I think it comes back to the need for having full and frank science based sex education for the whole community.

  7. It’s one of those much-circulated hardlyever-questioned platitudes – abortion is always agonizing and tragic.

    Pop culture doesn’t help – I’m looking at you, Juno and Knocked Up.

  8. Right there with ya Hemant’s post bugged the heck out of me. Even stuff like this “We celebrate defeating those awful bills; we don’t celebrate abortions. Those bills are meticulously-planned and written.” Just because the bill’s are meticulously planned doesn’t mean that the average person has a lot of control over it or our governments. Frankly politicians and unplanned pregnancies seem more and more alike the more I think of it.

    1. Yes. I’m tired of “no one is pro abortion”.

      Fuck that canon. I am. And I believe that the real shame is that there aren’t more abortions. Because the only reason there aren’t more is because women are being denied access and information and are forced to fear social and (false) medical consequences.

  9. 100% percent agreement Elyse. I’m tired of “safe legal and rare”. I’m in your boat, no more babies please TYVM. I had a really painful operation to a very sensitive area to ensure that result. But Vasectomies fail all the time. My wife is pushing 40, I’m 44, with 3 kids already (one oops). If one of my little soldiers somehow gets loose and makes it behind enemy lines… well that’s simply no longer an option… sorry little blastocyst, but thems the breaks.

  10. I’m in the position of being actively pro-abortion right now. A niece is newly pregnant and from my perspective she’s going to be bringing her baby into a horrible situation (my partner and I helped raise her sister, so we’ve had front-row seats).

    What are the limits of being pro-abortion? Should you ever advise a woman to get one, as others are sure to advise her to remain pregnant? I’d imagine, as in my case, it would depend on the relationship you have with her, but what are your thoughts? If it were the niece we raised I see no problem advising her to abort and wait for a better time to have children (she’s a Freshman in college).

    1. Sit her down, possibly with a counselor or therapist if you can (who is pro-choice), and give her ALL the options, and include adoption in that. Make sure she’s aware that you’d support her if she decides to abort — including being there for her for the procedure (or a close female friend or relative she is close with). Don’t “advise” her to abort, but give her her options. Find out what she wants. In the end, she can only make the decision.

  11. I read Hemant’s piece yesterday and took issue with the “theocracy” part of his argument, that being his statement that legislators would not want to establish a theocracy. I love reading Hemant and I know he likes to give people the benefit of the doubt, but the idea that legislators in America, from city and town councils all the way up the federal ladder, would shrink from establishing a state religion is just a little too generous. I didn’t pursue the argument because the discussion seemed to be overrun by an anti-choice troll.
    So I never got to the first part of his argument, which you have addressed so beautifully here.
    I had an abortion in 1974. My boyfriend (now my husband of many years) and I had just started living together. We used birth control but, being young randy human beings, got caught up in the moment when it wasn’t available and continued full speed ahead. And I got pregnant.
    No, I wasn’t in school. No, I wasn’t on the cusp of a promising career that would have been thwarted by having a kid. No, I wasn’t in fear of parental or societal disapproval — after all, we were living together when living together without being married was still, in some circles, frowned upon, but our parents were pretty accepting. And if I had wanted it, at that point, we could have gotten married.
    But first and foremost, I did not want a baby. Having kids at that time was nowhere on my radar. I hadn’t even considered it. And I most certainly did not want to get married because I “had to.” And I did not want to be pregnant. Period. So upon confirming the pregnancy, I immediately informed my boyfriend. I did ask him for his feelings on the matter, and he said that he would be ok with whatever decision I made, because it was entirely mine to make. I arranged for an abortion through Planned Parenthood, where I’d had the pregnancy test, and on the day of the procedure, he came with me, paid the bill, waited, and took me home.
    My overwhelming emotion at the time was relief. And I can’t say that I’ve regretted my decision, all these years later. The only thing I may have regretted was being dumb enough to blow off the birth control and get pregnant in the first place, but people make mistakes and so it goes.
    I have shared this knowledge with only one other person to date. I have often thought about telling my kids, who are now grown and approaching middle-adulthood, but I’m not entirely sure how it would be received. Maybe it would fall into the category of TMI. I share it here because I do see there is a movement for women who have had abortions to “come out” and share their stories, that the knowledge that your mom, your sister, your cousin, your aunt had an abortion will normalize what is, after all, what should be just another medical procedure. (And I am a big fan of “coming out” in other ways, as a atheist, for example.) But when I’ve visited internet sites that are purposed for women telling their abortion stories, I find they are populated by those who have the more dramatic stories to tell. And believe me, I in no way want to minimize any of the heartbreak or trauma these women have felt. But I leave the sites with my story untold, because I somehow feel as if, in reading my account, it would be found wanting. That I didn’t really have a reason that would be seen as legitimate because having an abortion was something I wanted rather than “needed.”
    So thank you for making the statement that “This (pregnancy) is not something I want” is a real reason. Because it is. There must be many other women like myself, who made the decision to end an unwanted pregnancy in a matter-of-fact way, and many who went on to have kids when it was the right time , and some who never had kids because it was never the right time, or because having kids was never something that even came up on their timeline, which is just fine too.
    It makes me crazy to see the forces of patriarchy reasserting themselves over the lives of women. I would never have believed it back in 1974. When women lose the right to determine what happens to their own bodies, they become second class citizens. If an embryo has full rights as a person, then the woman carrying that embryo does not. She becomes an incubator with legs, nothing more.

    1. I’m a habitual lurker, because I find I’m too timid to participate in public debates, even anonymously on the internet. I am de-lurking here to offer my support for this comment (and the original post, which I thought was excellent). Thank you, agedtoperfection1, for sharing your story.

      I think that too often, even in progressive, feminist, pro-choice environments, we talk about abortion as something that happens to other people. In the circles where I find myself having these conversations (largely made up of highly educated white women) we talk about how lack of access to abortion affects poor minority women, we speak of teenagers or college students, we speak of the incredible injustice faced by women who became pregnant through rape and who have to fight for their right to an abortion. We speak of education and access to birth control, we speak of the tragedy of having an intended pregnancy go horribly wrong. All of those are of course valid and important topics of discussion, but I feel like something is missing. Unless we happen to have an experience that fits into one of those scenarios, we do not often talk about ourselves. When we DO talk about ourselves, it usually involves some hypothetical situation.

      I have no problem with publicly stating that if I were to find myself pregnant right now, I would not think twice about having an abortion. I would have one as soon as possible, and if I were to live in a place where that means having to go the illegal route, that is what I would do, because that is how much I do NOT want to be pregnant. I find that I’m much less eager to publicly speak about the ACTUAL, non-hypothetical abortion I had at the age of 22.

      When I found myself accidentally pregnant, the only option I ever considered was abortion. It was not something I had to think about. I did not (and I do not) want to be pregnant or have children. There is no drama involved in my story, either. Finding myself pregnant was the unpleasant experience. The abortion itself was a very welcome solution (that is not to say it was pleasant, as such. I’d probably rank it a bit more unpleasant than a root canal, but only because I could go right back to my normal life after having a root canal, while I was instructed to avoid heavy lifting and other things after the abortion).

      I’ve only told a handful of people that I had an abortion. I do not feel anything negative towards other people who talk about their abortions, but when it comes to my own, I do feel some shame. I fear that people will judge me for “doing birth control wrong”, that as an educated person, I should really know better how to prevent accidental pregnancy. I sometimes see the concept of “responsibility” brought up in relation to unwanted pregnancies, even in progressive circles. Apparently it has rubbed off on me in some way, even though I don’t feel that way about OTHER people’s unwanted pregnancies. I feel shame because my experience exactly fits the conservative narrative about “XXy XXs (I have never posted here, not sure if those words would go through) having irresponsible sex while not wanting to be pregnant”. The whole “responsibility” thing is ridiculous to begin with, because having an abortion when you find yourself pregnant but unwilling or unable to bring actual people into the world IS the responsible thing to do. And yet here I am, feeling shame.

  12. Speaking only for myself (and not for the organization with which I am associated), I liked this piece. It’s a perspective heard too infrequently. There’s nothing shameful about an abortion. The slogan should be “safe, legal, and available”

  13. When I started trying to become pregnant, it took me five years and five pregnancies. During that time, I had two ectopics and one twin pregnancy where twin B was anencephalic and had to be “reduced”. My decision in all three of those situations would be technically considered abortion. In NONE of those cases was it a hard decision whatsoever. Of course, it was terrible and painful because I desperately wanted those pregnancies to be viable and healthy, but in no case did I ever agonize over the choice, because it was medically obvious. I live in Canada, so fortunately lawmakers here aren’t trying to ram abortion restrictions down our throats and it was just between me, my husband and our doctors. But if I lived in the USA, I might have been in a position where I had to fight for my right to undergo a lifesaving and risk-reducing procedure, which makes me SO FUCKING ANGRY.

    By the way, Twin A was born by himself, perfectly healthy.

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