By Raina J. Johnson
You won’t hear my story from abortion opponents.
When I became pregnant with my son, I was a 24-year-old sixth-year senior studying English, with no real prospects for a stable post-graduation life. It was a scary time in my life, even though it was also joyous, and it took me a while to come to terms with the fact that I was really having a baby. Even so, I never reconsidered or regretted my choice.
He was born two weeks before my winter final exams. With the support of my professors, I completed those exams from home, where I was recovering from having an emergency cesarean and figuring out how to breastfeed. I knew that being a brand-new mom with an 18-credit course load would be one of the hardest things I’d ever done, and it was. But I still chose to return to school in January to successfully finish my final semester of undergraduate studies.
Compared to that decision, the choice to have an abortion six months later was relatively easy.
Though we rarely talk about it, according to the Guttmacher Institute, 60% of women who seek an abortion already have at least one child. In my case, I knew that an abortion was the only responsible decision. By this time, I was done with college, but my time and finances were already strained, and adding another child to the mix would only complicate things even further. I didn’t have the tools or resources to devote to two children who would’ve been very close in age. My abortion allowed me to be the best mom I could be for the son I already had.
Being a decent parent takes hard work and a lot of energy. Some folks might have more tools, resources, and energy to give to multiple children. But I don’t, or at least I didn’t at the time. Acknowledging that fact about myself allowed me to make what was ultimately the best decision for my family.
You won’t hear my story from abortion opponents. What you will hear instead is that poor, minority, uneducated women seek abortions because they are “irresponsible” and “unfit” to parent. You’ll hear that women who seek abortions are incapable of or uninterested in the responsibility of caring for a child. But if 6 in 10 women who have abortions are already mothers, we need to recognize that for many women, the choice to have an abortion is a responsible parenting decision.
Choosing motherhood and choosing to have an abortion are two very deeply personal decisions. Having done both, I can tell you that they invite a similar set of questions: What can I afford? What can my career and lifestyle bear? How will this affect what I want to do next? Even now, having a school-aged child, those questions about circumstances still remain. In all cases — when I chose to have my abortion, when I chose to have my son, and now, as I make choices in raising him — I’m asking myself what’s realistic and what’s responsible, and doing the best I can.
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When NARAL Pro-Choice America’s CEO Ilyse Hogue announced she was pregnant with twins, the anti-abortion cheerleaders had their minds blown. How could this abortion activist be carrying a pregnancy to term? In a Washington Post interview, Hogue noted, “There is this whole mentality that anyone who fights for the rights that we fight for must hate children and not want to parent.” On the contrary, she said, having a wanted pregnancy only strengthened her commitment to abortion rights. Abortion and motherhood are two sides of the same coin: making decisions about whether parenthood is right for you. My decision to terminate, just like my decision to bring a child into this world, was made from love.
Indeed, sometimes it seems like the pro-lifers are the ones who don’t value motherhood. How many times have we seen anti-abortion lawmakers vote against measures that would support women, children, and families? They show no commitment to ensuring that, if and when a women decides to parent, she and her child will be supported in the way they need. Everyone has their own reasons for choosing abortion or not, but many of those decision-making factors are tied to issues like health care, unemployment, entitlement programs, and student loan debt — things anti-abortion lawmakers persistently fail to help with. Clearly, being pro-life does not automatically make you pro-children.
Responsible parents need the freedom to make the right decisions for their children, and sometimes — especially in the face of financial difficulty — that means choosing not to have another one. If we truly want to support mothers, we need to have a real conversation about what it takes to raise a child outside of the womb.