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What’s Missing from the Abortion Debate?

June 6, 2006

This bill, in its present form, is the strictest in the country. It would ban all abortions in our state and even make it a felony to transport a woman to another state to seek abortion care. There are no exceptions for rape, incest, or to save a woman’s life or health. The bill’s proponents dominated the six hours of testimony. Most of it consisted of scientific and theological debate on when life begins. Only a handful of witnesses told personal stories supporting and opposing the bill. I came prepared to share women’s experiences, collected through journals that we put in the waiting rooms in the abortion clinic where I work. I left disheartened when they adjourned the hearing before I could testify. It demonstrated once again just how wide is the gap between the abortion “issue” and the abortion “experience.” Women’s lives and struggles continue to be lost in the debate. “To my unborn child: When I made the decision to let you go it was the best for you and your sister. It was hard for me to have a baby at 16 & go to school & work. I don’t want you to have to suffer because it is not fair to you.”—Journal entry by Preterm client As an abortion provider I see women everyday who don’t identify with either the Pro-choice or “Pro-life” movement. They come because they’re pregnant, and they don’t want to be. Many come because they desperately want to be good mothers and know that, at this particular time in their lives, they can’t fulfill that promise. They’re aware that they are about to terminate a potential life, the possibility of a baby that might be welcomed and well cared for at another time and in other circumstances. “This wasn’t an easy decision, but the right one. I’m sad and hurt, but strong. The tears I cry are for the child I’ll never know. If I had one wish…that this child knows it took great love to do this.”—Journal entry by Preterm client Abortion opponents usually base their position on moral grounds yet seldom acknowledge that women are capable of making responsible, moral decisions about their families and futures. I feel privileged to support these women, as they and their families grapple with the most fundamental questions of life and death, motherhood and womanhood, love and faith. “These tears are for all of the scared girls and women who have come here. I am here with my brother-[i]n-law and his girlfriend. She is 20 weeks pregnant. Their situation is different from most who walk through this door, but the feelings are the same. They want their baby. They want it a lot. On Saturday they went for an ultrasound to see what the baby’s sex is. The next thing they heard was ‘there is no amniotic fluid, no kidneys, and only partial lungs. Your baby will not survive outside the womb.’ A decision was made to end this pregnancy now. Coming here was very hard. Seeing the protesters outside, if they only knew . . .” —Journal entry by Preterm client’s family member Our lawmakers and the public need to understand that the abortion decision isn’t a simple matter of when life begins or whether abortion constitutes the killing of human life. Just listen to any woman who has struggled with the question of whether to carry a pregnancy to term. This is why we took some of our journal entries and developed them into a theater piece, which premiered this month at a benefit Preterm held. We’ll continue to look for opportunities to share women’s stories, in the hope that they’ll reach people in a way that political debate cannot.