Becoming pro-choice was not easy for me. As a student of people like Schweitzer and Gandhi I did not want to consider the unique situation of pregnancy where one life develops within another. I saw the pro-life posters of the fetus without once realizing that the red backdrop in the picture was an actual woman with needs I could not discern. From that picture, I could not know if the woman faced health risks or had been raped. By focusing only on the fetus, I made the woman invisible.
In my struggle to reach clarity I went to the office of what was then the Texas Abortion Rights Action League where the executive director, Phyllis Dunham, did not try to pursuade me. Instead, she said, “look at where anti-choice people get their information, and look at where we get ours.” I was amazed to discover that pro-choice materials were usually based on scientific and medical statistics whereas the pro-life materials often consisted of dubious think tank studies and in painful personal stories that really had nothing to do with the choice that another woman might need to make. I began to realize that other people did not live in the simplistic world I wished for in my own head.
As I moved deeper into the movement I was able to travel the country with some remarkable women who taught me so much about the unique ethical challenges abortion poses. I was able to debate along side the remarkable Sarah Weddington and to learn that none of these women were recommending that a woman have an abortion. They were merely saying that abortion should be included along with adoption as one of the range of choices a womans should have.
When I was asked to testify at the National Freedom of choice Act, I met a doctor who did autopsies of women who died before Roe became the law of the land. When we debated together against pro-life advocates, he would match every picture of a dead fetus, with a truly horrific picture of a woman lying dead on a bathroom floor or kitchen table. I learned only too well that, when a nation makes abortion illegal, septic abortion becomes a number one killer of women.
The danger of making abortion hard to obtain was illustrated this week in Ireland as mourners gathered at a vigil for Savita Halappanavar who died after being denied an abortion that would have saved her life.
On Ireland’s restrictive abortion laws, Reuters reports: “Irish law does not specify under what circumstances the threat to the life or health of the mother is high enough to justify a termination, leaving doctors to decide. Critics say this means doctors’ personal beliefs can play a role.”
Savita’s story is typical of the tragedies that can occur when anti-choice laws are applied.
As Savita’s condition worsened over the course of three days, she and her husband begged doctors to end the doomed pregnancy. They refused, saying “this is Catholic country.”
Savita countered, “I am neither Irish nor Catholic.” Still, she was denied. That night she vomited repeatedly and collapsed in a restroom.
The following day, the fetus’s heartbeat finally stopped and was removed by the doctors. But it was too late. Savita was transferred to the ICU where she died of sceptic shock—the result of carrying a dying fetus expelling poison into her blood.
Savita died terrible pain, over the course of days, begging for a medical procedure that would save her life.
I fully understand why people would want to be pro-life. I, too, wish that lions didn’t have to eat lambs to survive, and that pregnancies would always fit into what women need to be fully human herself. But pregnacies don’t always fit into what a woman needs, and that particular woman is the only person on God’s green earth who can know what that pregnancy actually means in her own life. It may be noble to be pro-life for oneself, but to legislate that decision for another, is not only unjust, sometimes it is murder.