My Conversion Story

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NARAL Pro-Choice America Blog for Choice Day 2013 graphic.

Image via Blog For Choice.

From the NARAL Website: It’s our personal stories that change hearts and minds about the importance of always protecting a woman’s right to choose. That’s why this year we’re asking you to share your story about why you’re pro-choice.

I grew up in a very restrictive environment; choice was not a feature of my upbringing. So there was a time when I didn’t believe in pro-choice.

By this, I don’t mean to say that I believed a pro-choice position was wrong or immoral; I mean I believed that a pro-choice position was a fantasy. People who maintained one lived in a dream world. I disbelieved in pro-choice the way you probably disbelieve in goblins or unicorns.

I thought there was no such thing as true choice in the world, especially for a female.

I know better now, but it was something I had to learn through (sometimes bitter) experience.

I wanted badly to become a part of something, some kind of important movement that was bigger than I or my family was. I wanted to do something that mattered. I spent hours in my school’s computer lab after classes, printing off articles about why abortion was wrong and pro-life was the only reasonable way to think. I learned that I was a survivor of abortion, as was every child born since it became legal, and that the proper time to exercise one’s “right to choose” was before having sex; afterwards you deserved whatever you got. I learned that even in cases where the mother’s life is in danger or the child was conceived through rape/incest, it still has at least as many rights as a woman with a history, relationships, life goals, dreams, and feelings. I watched fetus-eye perspective advertising blur the line between a zygote, a newborn, and a school-aged child with complex decision-making, reasoning, and communication abilities, and from them I learned to forget that what gives value to a woman’s right to choose doesn’t exist in a gestating fetus.

I believed the propaganda because I didn’t know better, but also because I didn’t know about the reality of choice.

I didn’t come from a traditional patriarchal family; everyone expected that I would go to school and get a job and do all the usual feminist-sounding things. But they also expected that I would make the choices they approved for me. When I asked my parents if I should investigate colleges as well as universities, I got a blank look: “What for?” I perceived my life carrying on down a pre-ordained track without any input from me, and the idea of choice seemed utterly foreign.

A woman wearing headphones and an AC/DC t-shirt dancing in her room.

Image via Women’s Health.

A lot of things led to an appreciation for choice, but most of them involved making decisions my family disapproved. I started dating a black guy. I read books about topics my parents would not have approved. I tricked them into letting me attend a pro-life festival at World Youth Day, ironically enough. I became a religious fundamentalist, then left the religion altogether. I walked around after dark without a chaperone. And every time I found myself making a choice, however small, that didn’t lead to a catastrophe, I learned that maybe I knew what was best for me better than others did. That maybe all my choices weren’t bad ones, and I could be trusted to make them.

I’m not entirely sure I’m happy with how this post is turning out. There’s more to my story than that, a lot of things I tried to say in this post but I’m just not ready to reveal. I feel like they would make my story stronger, but the timing is wrong.

And in a way, I guess that’s its own pro-choice message: only I know what I can or can’t handle. I am an individual. What one blogger might be ready to share or confess or announce, I’m not there yet. Eventually I will be, but I need more time. Other women might never be ready, and the fact that one day I think I’ll get there doesn’t invalidate the woman who says she’ll never get there. Just like the woman who says she can embrace and welcome this unplanned pregnancy shouldn’t be used to invalidate the woman who knows she’s not healthy enough, or loving enough, or secure enough, or motivated enough to carry a pregnancy or become a mother.

They don’t have to agree to both be wise, right, and courageous. We don’t have to fight with one another. That’s what it means to support a woman’s right to choose . . . no matter what her choice.

An old ketchup ad featuring a housewife holding a bottle of ketchup, looking shocked. Caption reads: "You mean a woman can open it?"

Image via Sticky Rice.

But I fully reject the notion that women aren’t able to decide for themselves. It goes back to historical notions about women as incompetent, delicate flowers who can’t be trusted to make smart choices any more than a seven-year-old can be trusted to make a family meal plan. (“Brussels sprouts or chocolate? Timmy, you decide.”)

We’ve proven that wrong. Some women are awful decision-makers, like some men, but most are great at evaluating their choices and putting the best ones into practice. That makes it worthwhile to let women make their own choices.

I didn’t know that when I was younger. I know it now. And that lets me see so many of the pro-life arguments for what they really are: stereotypes about women and fantasies about the unborn.

I recently learned that many women are rejecting the pro-choice label while embracing a position they call ‘pro-whatever-the-situation-is’ – letting the woman decide. And that is pro-choice. Pro-life means supporting the woman’s decision to have her baby but vilifying her (or making her out to be a victim) if she’s seen going into an abortion clinic. Pro-life means supporting women only if they’re making the choice you would have wanted. Pro-choice means that, no matter what the circumstances and no matter what the choice, we’re supporting women in their efforts to have their best outcomes and most fruitful, healthiest lives.

Because a woman’s fruitfulness is (or should be) measured in ways other than number of children birthed, and because her zygote/embryo/fetus isn’t here yet, but she is, and that makes how we treat her more consequential.

If you’re asking me what I mean by choice, that’s what I mean. Unapologetically.

 

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3 thoughts on “My Conversion Story

  1. centauri

    “I recently learned that many women are rejecting the pro-choice label while embracing a position they call ‘pro-whatever-the-situation-is’ – letting the woman decide. And that is pro-choice. Pro-life means supporting the woman’s decision to have her baby but vilifying her (or making her out to be a victim) if she’s seen going into an abortion clinic. Pro-life means supporting women only if they’re making the choice you would have wanted. Pro-choice means that, no matter what the circumstances and no matter what the choice, we’re supporting women in their efforts to have their best outcomes and most fruitful, healthiest lives.

    Because a woman’s fruitfulness is (or should be) measured in ways other than number of children birthed, and because her zygote/embryo/fetus isn’t here yet, but she is, and that makes how we treat her more consequential.”

    THIS. +1000 likes.

    (came here via Libby Anne @lovejoyfeminism. )

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