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I'm a Person, Not a Place


I never had an abortion, but I should have.  I am sure of this after reading Katha Pollitt's highly acclaimed book, Pro:  Reclaiming Abortion Rights

Pollitt says that if pro-choicers thought through abortion logically, they would conclude it is good.  

If Pollitt had written Pro before I became unintentionally pregnant six years ago, abortion stigma would not have influenced me.  A stray sperm would not have caused dismay.  I would not have been seduced by the conception mystique, as if god herself had cozied up in my uterus to knit a baby.  

Extreme abortion stigma undermined my belief that egg absorbing sperm is part of a biological process, not destiny.  The stigma has intensified:  in the last 4 years, states have enacted 231 abortion restrictions.  Today, the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the House votes on an unconstitutional 20-week abortion ban. 

Pollitt says that pro-choicers, in their reluctance to take a stand for abortion as a moral good, have contributed to the stigma.  A pro-choice friend disapproved that I, married and middle class, would even consider abortion.  Research and rigorous analysis don’t inform our judgments-- we neglect history, facts, and women’s stories.

Half of all pregnancies are unintended.  Wondering how I let this happen to myself at age 39, I would have welcomed Pollitt’s logic: over 30 plus years, it’s extremely difficult to control one’s fertility for two children, the optimal number for our family.  Many women feel the same--by age 45, one in three women, most of them mothers, will get safe and legal abortions.

I recognize now that extreme stigma undermines moral choice, but six years ago I believed my choice was free.  It was important for me to believe this child to be was intended, not an accident.      

Overwhelmed by morning sickness, I called the closest abortion provider (which is in Iowa, not western Illinois), but they couldn’t see me for 3 weeks.  A 3 minute procedure  could end the constant nausea, but I was made to wait.  The unintended embryo in my uterus took precedence over my wellness.  I was an extended stay hotel.  I was garden dirt--a place, not a person. 

Credit Rich Egger
Holly Stovall

In 1990 my future husband and I took a moral philosophy class.  We read arguments for and against abortion. We weighed each side evenly, as if truth could be found outside the diversity of women’s experiences.  The truth I found is that my body is a battleground.  Across decades and the turn of a century, I keep insisting I am a person, not a place.

Six years ago and unintentionally pregnant, we concluded it would be nice for our son to have a playmate, though he really didn’t want to be a middle child in a rushed household.  We said we could “pull it off,” as if raising a baby were a heist.

A week after cancelling the abortion, I miscarried.  Messy, painful, and lasting hours, there was no tiny body to bid farewell to.  Mourners would not fill the church like they did when my brother drowned at the Bernadotte dam.  In our hearts, we know that the loss of an embryo is just that—the loss of an embryo.

After reading Pro, I told my daughter that we value her and her dreams more than the contents of her uterus.  The capacity to reproduce is awesome only if and when she freely chooses it.  She’s a person, not a place. 

Had Pollitt spelled out for me six years ago that I am a person, not a place, I would have called providers until I found one that could end my pregnancy right away.  I would have arranged for the travel, the childcare, the hotel, whatever it took.  The short-term inconvenience would not compare to the months of nausea and the life-time of sacrifice for another child. 

Now is the time for Pro-choicers to claim common ground.  We must turn to the same page.  Read Pro.

Holly Stovall is an Assistant Professor of Women's Studies at Western Illinois University. 

The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Tri States Public Radio or WIU.  Diverse viewpoints are welcomed and encouraged.