The first time I was exposed to the word ‘abortion’, I was 11 years old. My Church instilled in me that all forms of killing were wrong and that an abortion, the termination of an unwanted pregnancy, was also wrong. (How this works in tandem with God telling King David to exterminate an entire group of people, women and children included, I do not know – perhaps when God sanctions killings, it’s okay? I don’t know). In theory, I understood what the term meant. I vaguely remember watching a video in Year 9 about abortion at school and a few girls leaving the room in tears. Still, I only understood it in theory. It was only when I was 12 years old that I was faced with the reality of what it really meant to ‘terminate a pregnancy’ and it was then that I realised it wasn’t as clear cut as my Church leaders had said. A friend of mine had an impossible decision to make and suddenly all of my Church advice seemed unrealistic and out of place. There were no options. We were 12. What else could she do? I told her what I believed but that I understood her decision and respected her choice.
I encountered the term a few years later, this time in a Politics lesson. I was 16 years old, learning about the historical 1973 Roe vs Wade ruling, a ruling that reverberated all over the world. Growing in my feminism, my agency and my autonomy, I completely agreed with the ruling. Here, the tension between what I knew to be true (God had a purpose for every life even before conception) and the belief that a woman should have the power to decide what grew and lived inside of her, was born. This tension has changed in shape, size and intensity, but has existed ever since. I simply did not think it was right for any government or religious group to make such a personal decision – even if I did think it was morally right.
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.
I didn’t realise that I was ultimately pro-life until earlier this year; suddenly, the murky grey I’d been living in became a clear-cut black…or white – whichever colour takes your fancy. I was standing outside of my friend’s house this summer and my eyes fell upon a pregnant woman who happened to be smoking. A. Pregnant. Woman. Smoking. Now, maybe this is something that quite a few pregnant women do, but I’d always imagined that whenever you learnt of the bundle of joy growing inside of you, all addictions were put to the side. How naive of me. I was outraged. I couldn’t believe my eyes.
“What are you doing?! You’re harming your baby!!”, I screamed.
I wish I had been brave enough to utter the words above.
Instead I stood silently, angrily, my eyes boring into her but my mouth firmly closed. How could I confront her? It was none of my business. It was in that moment that I realised that I cared about babies. I cared about their lives. I didn’t want anything or anyone to harm them. “Well, they’re not actually babies” you say; I argue that they are. They might not be fully grown, able to think or feel, but they are alive; life has begun. Despite my beliefs, I do not for one moment think that the decision to terminate a pregnancy is as clear cut as some of us Christians believe. To think that these women view it as a ‘Should I?/Should I Not?’ toss up is far too simplistic. When those in my life have decided to have an abortion, it has boiled down to one question: what can I give this baby? These women have answered honestly by saying, “Nothing at all right now…but one day…maybe things will be different.’
Recently, the hashtag #ShoutYourAbortion was born and the purpose of this social media campaign was to destigmatise abortion. It went viral as women all over the world have shared their experiences of abortion online, most without regrets, convinced that they made the right decision. A hashtag such as #ShoutYourAbortion humanises the thousands of women who have made this tough decision. It finally puts names and faces to the act we hear so much about. This hashtag has shown us that these women are not monsters, inhumane, selfish or reckless; they are our friends, our sisters, our peers and even our own mothers. We need a better dialogue surrounding the issue, one where the women are not demonised but are able to speak about their experiences and share their stories. The issue is far too prevalent to be ignored, diminished or dismissed.
However, my belief is that you can you can be pro-choice without being celebratory, without making abortions appear trendy, as an act to be admired or respected. 140 characters is not enough to describe such a complex experience and I don’t think the taking of a life is anything to celebrate, or ‘shout’ about. I believe that life is precious, sacred and should be salvaged and protected. It is not my place to decide what you do with your body but it makes me uncomfortable that we have moved from revering life to celebrating the termination of many.
What do you think? Have I missed the point of the hashtag completely? Should we celebrate choice as much as we celebrate life?