Weapon of Choice: Rape and the Abortion Debate

I didn’t expect to write this today. I had not planned to dig into a painful subject, a painful story, until I saw this: Blog for Choice Day 2011.

Generally, I try to stay away from seriously divisive issues such as abortion. It’s an issue that’s so complicated and so intense and so wrought with emotion that most people have a hard time articulating their positions, and the discussions devolve quickly into arguments. But bloggers, particularly women bloggers, were prompted to speak on this subject today– so here goes.

Let me state my viewpoint up front: I have never personally been pregnant. Nor have I ever had to endure an abortion. But I believe wholeheartedly that it must be available to women as an option, without restrictions. Because otherwise women needlessly suffer and die.

My mother is nurse. She worked in a Dallas metropolitan hospital in the late 60s and early 70s, a time before Roe v. Wade. She watched women come through that emergency room with botched back alley abortions, women who had put crochet hooks or coat hangers or other instruments into their uteruses, women who went on to develop massive infections and die. She saw women who were forced to have children they didn’t want, and children with horrifying birth defects that only lived a few painful hours before expiring. She told me these stories so I would know how fortunate I was to have options.

Ironically, the options of today have not kept me from witnessing other horrors. My main concern around abortion, as you might assume if you know my story, is women who have been raped. I was fortunate. When I was raped by my father, I was a child and I could not have been impregnated. When I was raped by a stranger at 16, I was severely anorexic and had not had a period in almost two years, so I dodged another bullet there. Other girls I knew were not so lucky.
One of my closest friends was a girl named Alexis*. We had known each other for years; gymnastics, high school, we even went to eating disorder treatment together. We called ourselves the “Trauma Twins,” due to our eerily similar histories of sexual abuse, eating disorders, self-harm, and other psychiatric issues and family drama. Then one day when we’re at a graduation party for one of our friends she tells me her father raped her. I was stunned– that was the first time that had happened. She was 18 and I was 17. I didn’t know what to do except give her emotional support.

Two weeks later, she told me she was pregnant.

This was a very strange time. There was a surreal amount of duality going on. I have pictures from graduation– where Alexis was valedictorian– and everyone looks all happy, dressed up in their gowns, throwing their hats, flashing peace signs for the camera. I remember that day there were parents milling around, including her father. When I saw him, I had the urge to run up and beat him bloody. But I didn’t want to ruin the graduation for everyone, including Alexis.

I’m not sure how many weeks later this was– I was still pretty sick with my eating disorder and my brain wasn’t functioning so well– I remember Alexis sitting on the floor of my bedroom with me. She was agonizing over what to do with the pregnancy. She didn’t believe in abortion; she was sort of Catholic. But she also could not see carrying her sister/daughter in her body, the product of a violent act of betrayal by her own father, who would also be the father of his own granddaughter, for the better part of a year. It was too mind-boggling to even consider. But before she could make a decision, a couple of weeks later, nature made one for her. She had a miscarriage.

I used to think about this a lot. What happened to Alexis scared the shit out of me, because it all to easily could have happened to me. If I hadn’t been anorexic, I could have gotten pregnant when I was raped. What would I have done? The truth is, I don’t believe in abortion. I don’t think I could have one. When I’m married, if I get pregnant, I don’t care what happens I’m carrying that child to term. But if I was raped? I really don’t know. But I would want to have the option. And besides, my views are about my personal uterus only. I can’t make that decision for another woman. No one can. And if Alexis had decided to have an abortion, I would have sat next to her and held her hand.

As for men’s involvement? I believe the only time men need to be involved in these decisions at all are when they are either the treating physician or the father of the fetus in question. Otherwise, you don’t get an opinion. Sorry, guys. It’s just not your place. Eventually you’re going to have to trust that women don’t make these decisions casually, and they don’t make them without feeling pain and loss. You don’t get to legislate that. What is it you’re really afraid will happen if you decide to let women control their own bodies?

For now, my continued hope is that options remain available to women who are sexually assaulted. And by that I mean all options: counseling, the morning-after pill, and if necessary, abortion. Perhaps we can keep women and girls from being victims by teaching them about their bodies and how to say no: a little proper sex-ed goes a long way. I just pray that women aren’t forced back into pre-Roe times where they could be punished for seeking an abortion; after all, haven’t rape victims been punished enough?

*Name has been changed to protect privacy.

© Sarah Henderson  2011

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About writingforrecovery

Sarah is a writer and poet who speaks out about issues that make people uncomfortable. Sarah advocates for causes such a sexual assault, domestic violence, child abuse, and mental illness, and often speaks openly about her own experiences. She is determined to abolish the stigma associated with these issues and believes that it starts with people telling their stories, so she started a blog called Writing for Recovery where people can do just that. She is the author of three volumes of poetry and is currently at work on her fourth. She is convinced that there's a novel somewhere in her, and occasionally picks at the chapters so far. View all posts by writingforrecovery

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