Sex talks with the tree: A gray area

It seems that abortion is always discussed in hypothetical circumstances. But what if you became pregnant and the choice actually fell personally on you? Jan. 22, which recognized the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, brought a flurry of articles and public displays featuring both pro-life and pro-choice viewpoints. I wonder whether any of the participants in these demonstrations have actually had to make the decision for themselves: do I keep this potential life growing inside me? It is one thing to say what is moral and what others should do in a given situation, but who knows how you might feel and react when it actually happens to you.

 

My own sister was almost never born. She and my brother are twins, and somehow my brother was taking all of the nutrients inside the womb, leaving her malnourished and underdeveloped. The doctors told my parents that she probably wouldn’t make it or would be born with severe issues. They wanted to perform a selective abortion: to abort one of the twins and not the other. But my sister was above my brother in the womb; the procedure could have had negative effects on him too. My parents agonized over it: “What if we had a child with these needs, could we deal with this?” They felt that they had the means to raise a special-needs child, should that be the case, and chose not to abort her despite the doctors’ recommendations.

 

Months later, my siblings were born prematurely via emergency C-section. My sister, who dropped to 1.5 pounds after birth, spent weeks in the NICU, where we could only see her beautiful face through two glass windows. Somehow, by a miracle, and despite doctor’s predictions, that tiny baby fought for her life and grew. Today my sister is alive and healthy; she is almost taller than I am! But this miracle, as we call it, is not always the case.

 

Abortions do not exist in a vacuum. There are always individual circumstances to consider: money, access to healthcare, timing. If you are looking for an addition to the tired argument of reproductive rights, then stop reading here. Instead, Intermission took the time to document one brave student’s account of her own choice to have an abortion.

 

Intermission (INT): How far along did you realize you were pregnant?

Student: I realized at five weeks, but was unable to get my abortion until week eight.

 

INT: What was your first reaction?

Student: My initial reaction was relief because I had been so exhausted and nauseous and emotionally unstable, and my body had gone through so many inexplicable changes; it was nice to at least know that there was a medical cause for my altered state. Finals week was the most hellish experience because I couldn’t keep anything down or stay awake past ten without downing three double shot Tiger Spice Coupas. After a day or two, it really sunk in, and I began to confront the feelings associated with carrying an unwanted pregnancy: guilt, shame, anxiety, etc.

 

INT: How did you decide what to do? Did you ever consider keeping the baby or adopting?

Student: I had no difficulty deciding whether or not to keep the baby — my family is tremendously supportive and liberal, and this was a topic I had previously contemplated. I knew that not only was I inadequately prepared for motherhood, but I also would be doing a disservice to the child to carry it to term after all of the abuse I had undergone physically in the past few weeks. Obviously, since I was unaware that I was pregnant, I still engaged in social drinking and occasionally dabbled in illicit substances. I never considered keeping it, although my boyfriend and I constantly discussed the hypothetical features and attributes of our child.

 

INT: Was your partner at the time willing to give you money for the abortion?

Student: My partner was fan-fucking-tastic throughout the whole process and offered to pay for it in full (which I know would have been a substantial financial burden). We agreed to split it evenly, although since I was (fortuitously) enrolled in Cardinal Care, it was entirely taken care of by the university. Other clinics from my hometown would have charged anywhere from $800 to $15,000.

 

INT: How did you decide where to go? Did they use a pill or do a surgical abortion?

Student: I found out I was pregnant the day before I left for break, so I was obviously eager to get everything taken care of while at home with my family. The decision of where to go was perhaps the most stressful and emotionally taxing part of the whole process. I was surprised to find that my OB/GYN from home, a doctor I’d been a patient of for over five years, had her own hidden prejudices and was disdainful and dismissive when I sought her advice. Many of the clinics in my hometown were either exorbitantly expensive or severely understaffed. Planned Parenthood actually told me that I wasn’t pregnant enough and that I would have to join a wait list because there were other girls further along than myself who needed assistance. I eventually opted to wait another three weeks and get my procedure at Stanford Hospital.

 

INT: How was the procedure physically and emotionally for you? Who went with you?

Student: I was in school when I got the procedure, and it was stressful trying to coordinate surgery dates while juggling classes. It was also unfortunate that the first time I went, the receptionist at gynecology had scheduled me for a consultation rather than a surgical procedure, so I had to miss more class and return [on another day]. My boyfriend went with me and was absolutely incredible — my still point in a spinning world.

The most emotionally disturbing aspect of aborting an unwanted pregnancy is the stigma that you encounter in casual conversation from unknowing individuals. People seem to be sensitive to issues of race and religion, but dead baby jokes or “clothes hanger” comments are surprisingly ubiquitous. Or offhanded remarks about pregnant sluts, trash, etc.

 

INT: Would you offer any advice to women considering an abortion?

Student: I would opt to get a surgical abortion even if you are still within the time frame for the pill. The pill essentially induces a miscarriage, and viewing all of that blood may be more traumatic than going in for surgery.

The pro-life group (consisting mostly of men) that sticks hundreds of white roses on the lawn near White Plaza and post banners of mortality statistics intended to gratuitously shock is perhaps the hardest thing to witness and endure. How many women who have terminated unwanted pregnancies bike by that garish display and are reminded that they are “sinners”? It is pretty infuriating, considering women who do earnestly try to protect themselves are still susceptible to becoming pregnant. [The hundreds of white roses] is one of the most visually conspicuous displays by a student group on our campus, and it is tremendously biased.

 

*****

 

We all formulate our ‘shoulds’ about situations and sometimes even contemplate what we think that we would do in any given circumstance. This is truly, however, one situation where it is very hard to know exactly how a busy student in particular might end up choosing. Whatever side of the issue one espouses, it seems that a life-changing decision such as this is not always black and white.

  • it’s pretty black and white

    “a life-changing decision such as this is not always black and white”
    How does the Intermission Staff come up with this conclusion when the person interviewed glibly states: “I never considered keeping it [the child]”?

  • just read…

    well you could read the first paragraph and the interviewees reasons for not wanting to keep it…i.e. the view to be pro choice/ pro life is not black and white- it is based on a variety of factors as opposed to how (you) may initially feel on a certain issue.

  • Hmmmmm

    Pretty sure most of the Stanford Students for Life members are women. Check your bias at the door.

    “The pill essentially induces a miscarriage, and viewing all of that blood may be more traumatic than going in for surgery.”

    Well well, let us continue to ignore what an abortion actually does. God forbid someone in this world be confronted with the consequences of their decisions.

  • JL

    yeah, because if someone is smart and self-aware enough to realize that carrying a baby to term would be less responsible than aborting it, they should be punished with as much emotional trauma as possible.

    (if there was a sarcasm font, I would use it)

  • Thank you

    As a Stanford student who had an abortion just a few weeks ago, I want to thank the student who was brave enough to give this interview. My situation was extremely similar to hers and it is very comforting to hear another person’s voice tell my story.

    It is an extremely difficult decision and one that I never thought I would make. I have never taken a strong stance on “pro-choice” vs “pro-life” because I think that they are sides of two different coins. I always agreed that women should have the right to make a choice but I always thought that if I was faced with the decision, I would not have an abortion.

    But an unwanted pregnancy, to me, was just that. It was never going to be more than that. I had been drinking heavily before I found out, I knew I could never support a child (and, unlike the interviewee, had no boyfriend who could assist), and I know that I could never give a child up for adoption. Thankfully, I do not believe that life begins at conception.

    Seeing the roses in the quad only two days was later was tough, but not because I regretted my decision. It is because I knew that if any of the students standing near those roses were aware of what I had just done, they would have contempt toward me and pity for my soul. Having an abortion is difficult but it is made much worse by the fear that people will hate you for it.

  • Let’s not get too feisty.

    Whether pro-choice or pro-life, let’s consider the situation. We don’t know if the pregnancy resulted from a contraception failure or unprotected sex, and the interviewee stated that she had no intention of continuing the pregnancy. With this decision made, she may have gone to any length to terminate the pregnancy, whether with bleach, a hanger, or otherwise. This is the reality for far too many women with undesired pregnancies facing the stigma of being pregnant at an age when it is not necessarily culturally accepted. I’m just happy that she had the support of her family and her boyfriend to help her through this tough situation and had access (legally and financially) to safe abortion options.

  • Anonymous

    The argument that abortion is a very complicated personal issue and that “you don’t know what it’s like until you’ve been there,” assumes that abortion is not killing. If you see abortion as killing a human, then regardless of what kind of situation the potential mother is in (unless it is life-threatening), abortion should not be an option because it is murder. If the fetus is alive, the right of the baby to continue to live trumps any of the rights of the mother (except for her own right to live).

    To argue that abortion is okay, one must argue that the fetus is not yet alive. Although some people may argue that life begins at birth, that is not what is believed to be true by scientists or by the law. Abortions are currently illegal after the second trimester. A somewhat arbitrary cutoff point, far back enough to account for our knowledge that life does not begin at birth, while still leaving as much time as possible for the convenience of the parties involved in the abortion. Shouldn’t there be some more logical way of trying to determine when life begins and where the cutoff should be?

    I posit that abortions should be illegal after 6 weeks past conception, as this is when brain function begins. Before 6 weeks is the only time that we can be sure that the fetus is not alive, as its brain is not functioning. Some argue that this is still not a sign of life, as brain function at this stage is very primitive. But at which point do you decide that brain function is advanced enough to be considered a sign of life? There may be another reasonable way to decide this, but I don’t know of it yet, and I won’t hesitate to reassess my opinion if I come across it.

    You may disagree with me, but your disagreement should be based on some reasonable explanation as to why life begins later on. Not simply “you don’t know what it’s like so don’t tell me what to do with my body.” Otherwise, you’re being illogical.

    Also, while I agree that it is much easier for men to be pro-life, as they are not as deeply impacted by abortion as women are, and that the power dynamics between the sexes do play a significant role in the public’s view of abortion (I’m sure that abortions would be much more common and socially accepted if men were the ones that got pregnant), I disagree with the idea that pro-lifers are mostly men or that anyone who is pro-life is anti-women. This false information simply serves to paint the pro-life argument as the side of the bully attempting to oppress women (or at least being dismissive of their concerns), rather than a valid argument in the discussion of a difficult and very important topic. And I saw quite a few women when I biked past the display in White Plaza.

  • Hmmmmm

    you don’t make any sense

  • Student

    I understand that this is a tremendously complex moral issue for many people, but I would disagree that the question of when life starts is the crux of the matter. Life is incredibly diverse and abundant, ranging from the bacteria on your skin, to flowers and trees, to your friends and family. Technically brain function has very little to do with what constitutes life. At six weeks and throughout most of the pregnancy a fetus is necessarily and entirely dependent on the woman carrying it, and cannot be viewed as a truly independent human life. I would argue that the right of the fetus to continue to live is not equivalent to murder, but rather more similar to taking someone off life-support or signing a Do Not Resuscitate order.

    I appreciate the story shared in the article. As an undergraduate I have often thought of what I would do if I became pregnant. I would love to read another account from a student who chose to carry the pregnancy to term. I think it’s interesting to note the student’s concern about her drinking and drug use after the conception. We live in a culture where people have very strong opinions on what to do and what not to do during pregnancy, where the substances you take in or avoid are something it is acceptable to berate pregnant mothers about, and I wonder how that plays a part in women’s decisions to have abortions.

  • Anon

    True, it isn’t independent, but neither are the babies that are born and are put straight in an incubator. That doesn’t mean that they’re not alive or that it is less wrong to kill them. I would argue that pulling the plug on someone who is on life-support but rapidly recovering and will be in full health within 9 months is murder too. Same with signing a Do Not Resuscitate order for someone who is very likely to survive, without first getting their consent.