YOUR FLAGS OF CONTROVERSY
I recently received a picture of a “silent protest” at the University of Ottawa. Pro-life activists had planted hundreds of pink and blue flags on the lawn in front of one of the main buildings to represent the boys and girls who had been “killed” by abortion in 2016. That picture hit me like a punch in the gut, as one of those flags was figuratively meant for me: I am one of the many women who chose to have an abortion this year. The truth is that protests of this kind are a violent and unnecessary reminder of the pain of losing a baby. I have never met a woman, including myself, who has had an abortion without going through a certain amount of emotional pain. In my case, it was a lot of pain and even though months have passed since the intervention, that pain still lingers around every single day.
I’ve decided to dedicate the following letter to the activists who partook in the silent protest. I have chosen to publish this letter anonymously, not because I don’t want to be approached, but rather because the man with whom I had the abortion has the right to his privacy and to decide on his own terms when and how he talks about this very personal subject.
Dear Anonymous Activists,
I am all for political debates, especially controversial ones. This might strike you as surprising, but I am open to listening to your arguments. Just because I do not agree with them does not make them invalid, nor are my arguments invalid if you do not agree with them. Abortion and the right to life are difficult topics, exacerbated by their seeming incompatibility. To some, supporting the right to choose to have a baby or not while simultaneously claiming to value life sounds nonsensical. I get it. We could have a very interesting discussion about the difficulties of holding a pluralistic argument, but that is too much of a digression from the main topic of this conversation.
Being pro-choice does not mean pro-abortion
The idea of being pro-choice involves the right to make what is possibly one of the most difficult decisions a person can make in their lives. I have yet to meet a single woman who considers abortion a “winning situation.” Even knowing that you have made a rational decision does little to shield you from the emotional distress that accompanies your decision.
For the sake of this conversation, I’ll disclose excerpts from my experience. I share my story with you because I want you to understand that these decisions are made by women who could be your best friend, your sister, or any woman you care about.
I found out I was pregnant only a few weeks after I started Law School. Like a responsible adult, I had gone to the clinic for STI testing since I had recently started being intimate with a new partner. Can you imagine my shock? The news was brutal, to say the least…
“Aren’t you on birth control? It’s your fault… you should have used protection.”
First, many women like myself either cannot be on birth control or choose not to, in order to avoid suffering the excruciating pain caused by the side effects. Society has decided that the benefits of birth control outweigh its costs; women are expected to simply tolerate the side-effects. Second, as for the latter part of that statement, well, I agree. But shit happens…and so, like a responsible adult, I took the morning after pill prior to going to the clinic. Unfortunately, this pill is not 100% effective.
So now what? As a student in her mid-twenties, just starting a joint law degree, already thousands of dollars in student debt, living on her own, and not in a committed relationship, I suddenly found myself faced with an unplanned pregnancy. As Shakespeare said, “To be [a parent] or not to be?” That was indeed the question.
Being pro-choice and recognizing the value of life
As I mentioned previously, this might sound nonsensical but you can be pro-choice and value life at the same time. Hear me out...
I think children are the most beautiful thing on this planet. They are like a blank canvas eager to learn and mimic every little thing that surrounds them. They are free from judgement and biases, and their laugh is so pure it can heal the worst pains. For that reason, I feel like they deserve all the time, attention, love and support they require. Be that as it may, I was not in a position, financial or career-wise, to provide such time and support. Moreover, although I was confident of my ability to be a parent, the father of our child, at the time, was not. For those reasons, we decided it was best to have an abortion.
The decision to abort is not to cop-out of being a parent, as I’ve heard some pro-lifers suggest. Being a parent is thinking of your child’s needs before your own and acting accordingly. Once you understand this, you realize that abortion does not make you any less of a parent – from the moment you find out you’re pregnant, and throughout all the decisions you subsequently make. No matter how painful they may be.
Anonymous Activists, I am not expecting your views to suddenly transform after reading this letter. But I hope that you are able to see how the pro-choice/pro-life debate should be one of nuance. To this end, I encourage you to open-mindedly engage in conversations with people you disagree with, to pinpoint where and why you disagree. This can be done informally, or in an academic setting. However, silent protests like the one you participated in are not constructive. The silent protest was violent in a way that you simply cannot fathom, unless you have been in my situation. Although I’d like to tell you that I wish you had walked a mile in my shoes before planting those flags, I can’t. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone, to be honest.
Instead, I’ll say that I hope you and I become great parents, that we teach our children to be respectful of others, to be open-minded and considerate even when it seems impossible. We must teach our children that they do not have the right to deliberately act in a way that hurts those they are in disagreement with.
People who have had abortions do not need reminders of the children they have lost. Believe me, we know and we won’t forget.