This is cross-posted with permission from Hay Ladies.
I had a favorite line, in high school, when debating people on the subject of abortion. It was “Hey, that thing in your stomach’s not gonna come out a toaster, right? It’s a baby!”
Oh, I thought I was really, super clever with that one. Because I loved talking about the babies. I talked about the babies at the high school Young Republicans Club–not only was I the president, but also the founder. I talked about the babies at Club 412, the evangelical punk teen hang-out in Fort Worth I frequented with my friends. I talked about the babies in class. I cried about the babies while I strummed my guitar. I wrote songs about the babies, imagining myself as a broken, murderous whore who regretted her abortions.
I didn’t have an opinion one way or the other on abortion until I started hanging out with right-wing punk rock kids in high school. Then, somebody–probably one of the older teenage punk rock boys I would later fend off in the back of a car or behind the chapel at church camp–handed me a pamphlet with an aborted fetus on the front. The pamphlet told me all about how abortion causes breast cancer and about how women who abort can never be redeemed in the eyes of God and will live with heartache and depression for the rest of their lives, a shell of the beautiful thing they could have been if they’d only carried to term. I was outraged. I couldn’t believe women were killing members of my own generation–my sisters and brothers!–just because they couldn’t keep their legs together.
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Because while I said it was about the babies, it wasn’t. It was about slut-shaming. I absolutely loved slut-shaming. Because I was saving myself for marriage–well, oral sex doesn’t really count anyway, does it?–-I knew that I would always be right and virtuous and I would never be a murderer like those sluts. The issue couldn’t possibly be up for real debate, to my mind: either you were a baby-killer slut, or you behaved like a proper Christian woman and only let him get to third base. Babies were simultaneously women’s punishment for having premarital sex and beautiful gifts from Jesus Himself. That didn’t seem like a contradiction in my mind. It was just another one of God’s perfect mysteries.
After all, I was 16, 17, 18. I knew everything. And what I knew more than anything else was that anyone who got herself into the position of having an unwanted pregnancy was filthy in body and soul. And again, since I would absolutely never have premarital sex, I would absolutely never make the decision to murder my child. Because I was pure, and so were babies, and together, me and the babies and my perfect hymen, we were all going to be fine if we could just fight the ignorant sluts. So that’s what I did. I talked and argued and cajoled and pontificated. I ministered to the heathen nerdgirl sluts in Telnet chats and online bulletin boards. I stood up for what I believed in, which was: If you do not believe like me, you deserve whatever brand of God’s wrath comes your way.
But, you know, to hear me talk, it was all about the babies. The innocent children. The mass genocide! Perpetuated, of course, by millions of American women who I imagined happily scooping out their wombs with ladles before heading back out for another gang-bang. In private, my anti-choice friends and I would laugh and laugh (or, in some cases, LOL and LOL, if we were chatting online) about how stupid women were for having premarital sex. How evil they were for not being able to control themselves. How great I was for not having sex with my boyfriend. How loved and special I was in the eyes of God because I didn’t let my boyfriend, you know, do it with me.
If I’d thought about it any, I might have realized that it takes two to create an unwanted pregnancy. But the conversation was never, ever about men or their behavior. It was only about women.
So, what happened? How did I come to be editing a lefty, pinko-assed feminist blog?
Well, I got off my religious high horse and on to a sex life I enjoyed and found fulfilling.
At college, I met a wonderful, sweet Jewish boy who fell in love with me and who I fell in love with right back. And he didn’t have any hang-ups about sex, though he was also a virgin. And we did all of the things except for The Big Sex, and the more I grew to love him, the more I thought back on those people I knew back home who told me sex was awful and would break me. How could sex with this guy, this absolute sweetheart, break me? And so we had The Big Sex. And it was great and fun and loving, and we kept having all of The Big Sex, for about three weeks, until I realized it was about time for my period.
Suddenly: I was the dirty, filthy slut. I was the horny bitch. I was the callous murderer-in-training. What, did I think my womb was going to grow a toaster if we had a condom mishap?
Of course not. I didn’t think babies were toasters and I didn’t believe I was going to birth a toaster if I got pregnant, so how had I managed to belittle women for years with this condescending, patronizing line about a small kitchen appliance? I was frozen in a kind of moral limbo–I couldn’t believe I found myself simultaneously relieved that I could access an abortion if I wanted to, and saddened and stressed out by the possibility of having to make that decision.
So I went right the fuck out and got myself some hormonal birth control, is what I did.
I marched into my college women’s health center–oh, thank God they had one–and I got my first pap smear and the Ortho-Evra patch and talked to the nurses about STD’s and pregnancy and how to take care of my body. I had never had any of those conversations with my family or church or friends or teachers back home in Texas. I learned more in a two-hour visit to that college women’s health center than I had in the 19 years leading up to it. And yet as a passionate anti-choicer, I had considered myself an expert on sex and reproductive health–my own and everyone else’s–because of a few pamphlets and preachers.
Today, I see that nothing about my religious anti-choice views did anything to prevent abortion. They did a lot to shame myself and my friends, but nothing to prevent abortion. Today, I hear anti-choicers talk about the babies and the unborn and the American genocide, but what I really hear beneath all that is slut-shaming and fear of female sexuality. I hear that language clearly because I spoke it once, myself. It is a familiar language to me.
And I even have a little bemused sympathy for old men who try to pass anti-choice legislation. Because they really will not ever have to worry about abortion. And once, I thought I wouldn’t, either. So I see where they’re coming from. I see how blind to the experiences of others they are. Privilege does that to people. If they weren’t so damned full of themselves, and so damned politically powerful, I might even find them funny.
What saddens me more than anything else are women who want to make abortion either so inaccessible as to render it impracticable, or who want to outlaw it altogether. Because I truly believe that most women, anti-choice or otherwise, who’ve experienced even a flicker of uncertainty about a pregnancy in this country since 1973 have been glad, in their hearts, to have a choice. I believe wanting to take that choice away from others is deeply about shame and punishment and judgment, and not about righteousness and love. I believe that because I rarely see those who want to outlaw abortion doing anything to combat its cause: unintended pregnancy, and I see them doing a lot to punish and shame women.
There is nothing “pro-life” about sonogram bills and denying Medicaid funding to (some!) rape victims or allowing doctors to opt out of giving pregnant women life-saving abortions. I know that what has kept me from having to make a decision about an unintended pregnancy is not the prospect of hearing a fetal heartbeat or having to go through a 24-hour wait period, but safe, easy and affordable access to contraception and good, honest medical information disseminated by doctors and medical professionals without religious agendas.
I was a girl growing up in Texas who was failed by abstinence-only education and soured by extreme religious dogma. I don’t want other girls to go through that, too. And so if you’ve gotten through this whole essay, consider donating to Planned Parenthood. Get on a NARAL mailing list. Fight HR3. Stand up against empty religious and political pandering and stand up for real solutions like affordable health care, comprehensive sex education and contraceptive access.