When Dr. Tiller was murdered I was working at a small, progressive non-profit in Washington, D.C., where our job was to watch the news all day, every day. Our office contained dozens of televisions; we would watch the same 24 hour news cycle on an endless loop. I watched coverage of Dr. Tiller’s assassination the way people once watched President Kennedy’s. I cried. My boss was sympathetic but unhelpful. I had no way to explain.
In this battle for “women’s rights,” where the battleground is our very bodies and the enemy is within and without, I see our futures: mine, my friends, my aunts, my sisters and cousins, my future someday daughters. Dr. Tiller once said, “Make no mistake, this battle is about self-determination by women of the direction and course of their lives and their family’s lives. Abortion is about women’s hopes and dreams. Abortion is a matter of survival.” He said “survival for women;” I say survival for us all.
It was rare to hear of a doctor who performed later abortions before Dr. Tiller’s murder, rarer to hear from them, and now, since his death, rarer still to discover people still do this work. But they do. A doctor came forward recently to talk about it. He said he was inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who, in telling the fable of The Good Samaritan, said that what made the Samaritan “Good” was that his concern wasn’t, “What will happen to me if I stop to help this person?” but rather, “What will happen to this person if I do not stop to help them?” The question of what would happen to the women he saw in desperate need of later abortions was powerful enough to eventually bring this Christian over from staunch anti-choice beginnings to a practice in extremely rare and personally dangerous later abortions.
When we talk about later abortions, we so often tell stories. We talk about the woman who wanted her child and discovered a severe fetal abnormality and waited, waited, hoping the tests would tell her everything was all right, until it was too late, and she needed an abortion when only a few people would perform one. We tell the story of the very young girl who needed one after her rape, or the women – so many women – who were too poor to pay for one until they were past their second trimester, women tripped up by the stumbling blocks put up by state legislatures with that very goal in mind. And these stories are true, and I would, personally, love to hear these women tell them. But they don’t tell them; we do.
They don’t tell their stories because it’s dangerous and someone might hurt them and people will certainly harass them, their children, and their families. We tell their stories so people will understand, so someday, other women won’t face the same stigma. And so we create sides: the people the stories happened to, and the people fighting for new stories by telling the old ones.
To change it, we have to take it all apart.
Another highly controversial question is the so-called “sex-selective” abortion: specifically aborting a female fetus in order to try and get pregnant with a boy. Anti-choice activists decry this as sexism, and want to pass laws to prevent these abortions, the idea apparently being that restricting women’s right to independent family planning will, ultimately, fight sexism (?).
The fight against later abortions and sex-selective abortion is the same; the fight against all abortions is the same. The fight against abortion is about limiting people’s choices – not just women’s, but all people’s choices – about such highly, intensely personal things as how to create a family. The fight for abortion, at every level, in every instance, is the fight to allow people to dream whatever they wish; to create families in the time and way they determine is best for them; to subsequently create and live lives in the context of free will and self-power. To fight for abortion is to fight for a worldworth bringing children into.
The question we begin from today is, “How can we support providers of later abortions and people who have later abortions?” I believe we must start by eliminating the qualifier. It calls for stories, you see. It says, “tell me why youdeserve this, when your abortion is different than other abortions, when the abortion you provide is different, maybe worse, than other abortions.” But every abortion is an act of free will. Every provider of every abortion puts themselves in danger to consider the needs of another human being over their own. Every decision to parent or not to parent is an act of thought and bravery when done with awareness of the consequences and support from community. Stripping away access to things that allow for an informed decision is a step towards creating an unequal and imprisoned life; providing access is a step towards a world that offers far more freedom and requires far more responsibility.
Make no mistake, reproductive decisions are thoughtful ones, whether they are made by thoughtful people or not. It requires thought and care to prevent an unplanned pregnancy, it requires thought and care to choose to parent, it requires thought and care to decide to terminate. And when none of those things are your problem, when you could blithely proceed down the road, it requires not only thought and care, but compassion to stop and ask a stranger, “How can I help?”