Politics & Policy

Abort a Baby, Take a Tylenol

The humanity below the surface choice power.

Choice: True Stories of Birth, Contraception, Infertility, Adoption, Single Parenthood, & Abortion is, in its way, an important book.

I say that even though in other ways the book is entirely predictable and unhelpful. Choice, you see, is an unapologetically and adamantly pro-choice book. Even as it goes overboard explaining — as the subtitle suggests — that it is not all about abortion, political bitterness that has everything to do with abortion and keeping it legal frames the book, and is scattered within many a story the book tells. Choice, ultimately, is written by the type of woman who spends a Saturdaynight social outing bemoaning the right-wing fringers who want to take away women’s right to abort.

But if I left Choice there — if I were turned away by the book’s introduction, where I, pro-lifer, am caricatured as “too eager to set compassion aside in favor of judgment” — I would be doing the life-and-death issues a disservice. I’d be doing life a disservice, for we’re desperately in need of having conversations that are both compassionate and painstakingly frank about abortion and fertility and this brave new world we live in.

The fact is, if you put aside the conventional curtsies to the liberal feminist overladies to whom anyone who wants to feel sophisticated regularly pays homage, the editors of Choice (no exceptions on the previous point) have an important story to tell. Or, rather, stories: gripping and heartbreaking stories of women’s struggles trying to have children, helping someone else have the child they can’t, deciding to do away with a child.

They are moving stories frequently interrupted, however, by lines like these from a reflective mother explaining why she finally told her pro-life teenage daughter that she had had an abortion when she was 19: “George Bush will win because I always stop here. Because, by my silence, I’ve let the ‘abstinence works’ and ‘condoms-don’t-prevent-AIDS’ and ‘good-girls-don’t’ lie live on. Enough. Enough.”

Enough. Enough. I agree (with that much!).

Fortunately, the raw humanity behind even George-Bush-lies-women-die mom’s testimony could be a lifesaver, still — though perhaps not quite for the reasons the writer intends. There is powerful stuff amidst the politics. Like when the same woman, who is adamantly pro-legal-abortion and claims to have no regrets about her own abortion (“Not ever. Not even for a moment” did she feel guilty, we are told) doesn’t miss a beat in telling us that at the Planned Parenthood clinic where she went, “there was a mimeographed sheet of instructions: Tylenol for the pain, warm compresses. I read it while I lay in the recovery room, sipping orange juice. Call immediately if you experience intensive bleeding, sharp pains, dizziness, fainting. Nothing about pangs of conscience.”

This is the value in the book. The editors say that “the truth” — one that should be obvious but is all too often drowned out by preprogrammed bumper stickers — is that “when a pregnancy is unplanned any subsequent choice is bound to be complicated.” Well, of course it is. And so, thank you — for telling the stories of real people and their all-too-human struggles.

That’s exactly what groups like “Feminists for Life” are pointing to when they say “women deserve better” than abortion, than the old dead-end debates. Women, in fact, deserve better than having real stories of painful choices framed within a political treatise (the book ends with an ode to Roe v. Wade by Francine Prose). The next time the ladies of Choice get together, they should consider editing out the glib political remarks. They should ask themselves their own questions: “How can we better understand each other as complex, as human?”

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