The Hardest Decision

By Sarah Gustafson, 16, Immaculate Heart HS
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I am a proud liberal and feminist. But when it comes to abortion, I’ve found myselabandoning my pro-choice stance. Now I believe that abortion is wrong.

In middle school, I knew that friends and neighbors who I admired supported abortion rights, and bloated wackos like Pat Buchanan stood against them. Then, it seemed obvious to me that women should have freedom from unwanted pregnancies. It made sense, like other liberal policies such as opposing the death penalty.

I didn’t pay attention when my mother asked, "How can you oppose the death penalty, but support abortion? Why save the life of a rotten criminal, but take it away from an innocent child?" My Catholic middle school fed me enough anti-abortion arguments. Pamphlets and videos in my religion classroom seemed to punch me in the stomach with their one-sided portrayal of mothers as selfish, cold murderers of their children.

I decided to find out for myself

Also, I’d had a humiliating encounter with pro-life activists at my dentist’s office. I was 14 and didn’t know that an abortion clinic had an office in the same building. People had clustered in front of the building’s door with signs and spirituals. As I approached, they pushed in front of me, staring at me as if I were a wounded animal. One woman shoved a brochure with a mangled fetus in my face, imploring, "Please reconsider." My dad rushed up from the parking lot and pushed me through the door. It took me a while to understand—that they thought I was getting an abortion instead of a dental check-up. Soon this realization filled me with resentment. What do these "pro-life" people know? They should mind their own business, and stop self-righteously judging others!

Despite my distaste for the pro-life campaign’s tactics, I eventually began to share the belief in the wrongness of abortion. What helped convince me was non-aggressive and neutral. After one video in this year’s religion class that vividly showed a gory abortion, I had enough of manipulative pro-life propaganda. I decided to see how much the fetus really acts like a child, so I pulled out a National Geographic and flipped to the section on pregnancy.

The pictures glowed from the pages, surprising me. I saw real babies sucking their thumbs, with tiny fingernails and delicately patterned veins. They wrinkled their wispy eyebrows and somersaulted within the womb. From the text, I learned how the baby tries out its muscles and responds to sound. The words struck more deeply into my heart as I read that the mother feels the baby’s rhythms of sleeping and waking. I realized that before I had seen the baby inside as a ball of cells, something that a woman could cut off and dispose of like a tumor. A few unbiased facts helped persuade me that the fetus is a creature that feels—a child with the right to keep on living.

Abortions don’t empower women

Even as a feminist, I can’t see abortion as something that upholds women’s rights. Many "pro-lifers" seem to ignore that abortion hurts the mothers in addition to killing babies. These women often feel immense sadness and guilt for the rest of their lives. Their children have died by their own hands. An abortion shows a woman’s helplessness, that she has nowhere else to turn. A woman might have an unwanted pregnancy because she’s simply careless, but there are many other reasons. Perhaps she doesn’t have the means or education to buy and use birth control properly. Or she may feel subservient to a partner who refuses to use protection. These women end up seeking abortions because they lack power, money, education, self-esteem—all the things feminists have fought for.

A feminist classmate who also opposes abortion pointed out that the women who support abortion rights usually aren’t the women who have them. Since most pro-choice feminists have the education and strength to control their reproductive health, they are less likely to get unwanted pregnancies. Women who don’t control their bodies, however, will continue to get abortions—whether they are legal and regulated, or illegal and dangerous. That’s why I oppose outlawing abortion despite its cruelty. It would only deal with the results of unwanted pregnancies, not the problem itself.

I don’t have all the solutions, but I do think our society and government can work to prevent unwanted pregnancies and the abortions that follow. Women—and all people—should have easy access to free birth control, family planning and reproductive education, whether on the streets or in the schools. But if a young, unmarried woman does get pregnant, society shouldn’t stigmatize her for having a baby. Instead of pointing to teen motherhood as a sign of declining morals, people should respect the heroism of these mothers for making sacrifices to give their children life.