This was prompted by Texas Governor Rick Perry’s infantile pothead question of pro-choice opponent Wendy Davis: “What if your mother had aborted you?”
I knew at least three kids who claimed to be failed abortions growing up. Whether or not they were is not the point, but somewhere in their young lives, they got the impression that they were absolutely, fundamentally unwanted. That before they were even allowed to grow into the troubled children they eventually became (and they were, of course, troubled) the very idea of their burden caused their mothers to turn homicidal. Regardless of whether or not an adult identifies with the fetus they once were, or whether the state considers the two to be correlated, my memory of these failed abortion children is that they knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was not a pregnancy their mothers wanted terminated, or even a future or a style of living they wished to preserve or to cultivate for themselves as women without children, or women with only a certain number of children. These children had a very direct feeling, in the way that children always have this feeling, that it was totally about them.
How did these children turn out? What kind of circumstances lead to a them even thinking they were failed abortions in the first place? I don’t know. But I do know what it’s like to be a child and to feel unwanted. My mother, in contrast to theirs, was very clear that she always wanted me, and yet she was never there for me. She rained “I love yous” on the random days I saw her, but then left me to take the beating for the stuff she stole on her way out. I was a solitary square peg in a round hole world. Being begrudgingly cared for at home put me on guard at school. I was afraid of the other children, and they knew it. I was awkward in conversation and my play was often dark and inappropriate. I was an open wound. This is not a thing a child should become.
But a Rick Perry would say, “And look at you now, you pulled yourself up by your bootstraps, you got some recovery and put yourself through college to become the at least functionally literate self-employed under-earner we see before us today!” (This lay-off is really fucking with my self-esteem, just bear with me.)
Despite feeling on shaky ground career-wise, I know that material goods aren’t the answer anyway, and that I’ve managed to find something that neither my mother, nor my grandmother, nor her grandmother before her could ever imagine. I live a life of peace today. There is no violence in my home, and whatever weird chaos is happening elsewhere, I don’t have to hold it inside me like I used to. One of the things that is making it so hard to stay with my grandma this week is that I had forgotten how everyone in my family goes around like an emotional lightening rod. It feels so natural, but at the same time completely confusing and draining to me now.
Anyway, I’ve had this terrible childhood, but I’ve achieved this amazing life and the question is what if I didn’t exist? What if my parents had never had children? Everybody reasonable knows that the answer to that is nothing. Some other kid would have been me for all intents and purposes and nobody would think any differently. What societal structure really needed me to be that kid? Now that I’m an adult, I’m glad I survived, and I’m grateful for the fact that I’ve been able to talk to others about a common origin as an abuse survivor, but given the choice, I’d rather nobody have to go through that.
I know it’s impossible to never again have unwanted children, my own mother was incapable of believing that my birth could be anything but great for everyone involved. But what if we could just lower that number even a few thousand a year by giving disadvantaged women access to safe and legal abortions? Freakonomics has already made a better argument for this effect than I could, showing that crime rates in populations born after abortion becomes legal, or in areas where abortions are easier to get tend to be about 30% lower than areas where abortion is illegal or difficult to access.
The pro-life camp seems to think that aborted babies are all successful white people just waiting to happen. And they completely gloss over the fact that there’s really no such thing as an abortion clinic. Clinics that provide abortions also provide birth control, STD testing, prenatal care and women’s healthcare. As a poor woman with endometriosis, I owe Planned Parenthood my life for making it possible to mitigate my symptoms during the years I was uninsured. If I didn’t have access to healthcare, I wouldn’t have been able to pull myself up by the bootstraps pro-lifers assume every baby is born with.
Unwanted babies have an uphill struggle. Women who make the choice to abort aren’t usually thinking, “I could have a baby, but I’d rather have a tennis bracelet.” Instead of asking “What if you had been aborted?” Ask “What if every woman who considered abortion had twins instead?” What if these children who’s resources were already extremely questionable now had to survive on 50% of that? What if we now had two babies born to incestuous rape instead of one, two children with fetal alcohol syndrome instead of one? Two grown men who have only ever learned to communicate through violence?
I sometimes wonder what my life would have been like if my mom had chosen to have more children. There’s no way of knowing for sure, but I can say that I would never want anyone to have to go through what I went through. Even if it mitigated my suffering, I’d never do that. No amount of cool breezes on warm summer days, or moments of personal triumph, or even amazing friends and chosen family could ever convince me that it would be okay for any other child to have to come into an abusive or neglectful situation on the off-chance that she might eventually be able to overcome that hardship. If a person feels that they have a good reason not to carry a pregnancy to term, I think the state should positively trip over itself to help them. No child should ever have to be unwanted.