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When that human being is a pregnant woman in a country with laws to protect the fetus.

I got so upset reading this (ht jaunte) I’m going to add very little and maybe take a hiatus from the internet for the rest of the day. It reminds me of one question I’ve always had for people who dislike abortions but make exceptions for rape. Who determines if it was rape and will that determination be made in a timely manner? Rape is notoriously difficult to prosecute. I do believe that a person should be considered innocent until proven guilty, and that means that occasional people who have committed crimes are let go. Generally, the society thinks acquitting the occasional criminal is far better than imprisoning the innocent. However, deciding if a woman should be permitted an abortion is not a criminal trial. What are the standards? The second time I got pregnant, it was technically a rape because I didn’t consent. I was asleep. However, it would have been impossible to prosecute. As it happens, I didn’t even call the police. It was in the context of a relationship that had gone sour and the situation was very complicated. Even in retrospect, I don’t believe that I should have gone to the police, nor do I think the man should have been prosecuted for rape. I don’t think he posed a threat to other women and a few years later he apologized, after the relationship was over, for some of the thing he had done to me. However, I was able to get an abortion and get out of an abusive relationship because we have laws that allow “abortion on demand” in the early stages of pregnancy. Had that not been the case, would I have had to go to the police and accuse my live-in boyfriend of rape, with consequences for his life that certainly would have been greater than I believe he deserved. He came to regret what he had done, he understood it was wrong, he lost a woman he wanted to marry and I have no reason to think he ever did it again. That is a just and reasonable outcome in my mind. Would exceptions for rape include situations like mine, ones that would be hard, if not impossible, to prosecute under criminal laws?

At the risk of getting other feminists mad, I have to say that I don’t believe all rapes are the same. In the case of the woman in Ireland who is being force-fed after going on a hunger strike because she was denied an abortion, the rape is described as “traumatic.”

Shame on the Irish Independent for the way it was reported there. No mention of the rape. No mention of the rape. No mention that “preventing her from starving herself” was force feeding. No mention that she was an immigrant with limited English. No mention that she couldn’t leave the country due to her immigration status. I’m so upset, I don’t even think I can continue to look for more information. Normally, I make an attempt to at least get my facts straight before writing.

Does anyone understand the pain this woman must have been in? Does anyone care? Is she just a piece of meat for men to do with what they want? A piece of meat who mistakenly thinks of herself as a human being? Does anyone understand that this woman is in a living nightmare?

Oh, yeah, are they going to starve the child to death and throw its body in a former septic tank?

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If you haven’t been spending tons of time reading atheist blogs, you may be unaware that the topic of abortion has been raging like wildfire. There are so many aspects to this argument, that I’m only going to discuss one paragraph I’ve read. It was “A Response to a Pro-Life Atheist and the Friendly Atheist,” by Avicenna.

I know this is a hard lesson to swallow because these things look like us and indeed all of us were once foetuses. When we think of abortion we think of what would happen had WE been aborted. About all the experiences lost and all the life unlived. We never think that we would probably not care if we had been aborted or not since we would in effect have been just cells.

This idea is not abstract for me because my biological mother was fourteen when I was born. She was never taught about her own biology and did not know she was pregnant. Her period had not yet become regular and she didn’t think much of it when she missed it a few times. Finally, it was only when she began to show in the fifth month that her aunt told her she was pregnant. Even still, she was unsure how it could have happened since she thought you had to be married in order to get pregnant. If they had found out earlier, I would have most certainly been aborted. Even though it wasn’t legal at the time, her female relatives are confident that they would have been able to find a back alley abortionist.

When I say I should have been an abortion, I’m not expressing some bizarre sense of self-hate. I’m saying that what my biological mother should have done, had she had a clue that she was pregnant earlier than she did, was to have an abortion. No one would hesitate to say that I shouldn’t have been conceived. Some people may think she should have used a condom. Others may think that she should have not had sexual intercourse. However, everyone agrees that I should have not been conceived.

My biological mother had wanted to be an engineer. This wasn’t a particular crazy thought. There are engineers in her family. Her brother is today a software engineer. Instead, she dropped out of high school and worked for a number of years as a maid. She eventually went back to school and doesn’t have a bad life at all now. Of course, a few years later, in her early twenties, she found herself pregnant again and had an abortion. Since then she got married. She got her GED, the general equivalency diploma, and she went on to take courses at a community college that enabled her to get a job that paid well. It’s hard to predict the future, but many of those things might not have happened if she had been forced to bear a second child.

She never did become an engineer and sometimes I feel a little guilty about that. If I hadn’t come along, she may very well have become one. Let’s not forget, that everyone agrees that I shouldn’t have been conceived.

I was looking for a phone in an isolated area. The campus had about as many acres as students, but there were only a handful of public telephones. There were several near the cafeteria and that was where I would go to call my parents about once a week or so. That, however, was one of the most public places. There were two dormitories about two miles away from the center of campus. I had rarely ever even been in one of them, but I had a vague recollection of having seen a pay phone there, so I walked over.

The walk down the narrow curving road with woods looming on either side reminded me of a recurring dream I’d been having for about a year. In it, I was riding a bicycle on a road very much like that one, perhaps slightly curvier. Slowly, I would lose my eyesight until couldn’t see the road anymore. I would try to stop, but instead I’d be speeding up. Through partial vision, I could barely see the road well enough to follow it. Finally, I wouldn’t be able to see anything at all and I would crash. An anxiety dream, it was almost ridiculously easy to analyze.

A precocious student, I had graduated from high school early and received a nice, big, fat helping of scholarship money to attend this private liberal arts college. My first year, I loaded up on courses and was taking more than the suggested number of credits. My grades were excellent. Then my social life began to fall apart and, with it, my grades. I changed majors. Then I changed majors again. A year earlier, I went through a phase during which I didn’t bathe, didn’t get out of bed for days at a time and ate nothing but peanut butter. I received grades of incomplete in all the classes I had taken that semester. I had a year to make them up. The previous semester, the fall semester of my junior year, I finally settled on literature as a major for no better reason than I liked to read and it seemed to come easily to me. Read a few books. Mull them over for a day or so. Churn out twenty pages. I could do that even as I was falling apart. In fact, I felt as if I was finally beginning to put myself back together.

That’s where the anxiety dream came in. Unlike when I was younger, I no longer had a plan. I couldn’t see where I was going, I was just trying to navigate each curve as it came up on me. My grades were finally back up. I was attempting to make a few friends who were not part of a New Age cult. Did I really want to study literature? That certainly hadn’t ever been part of my plan, but now my plan was just to get the hell out of this fucking hell hole of a school with a bachelor of arts degree and my brain intact. What would I do after that? I barely had a clue.

And I had been so alone throughout all of this. When you’re young, and pretty, and talented, and bright everyone wants to be your friend. When you’re lost and confused, no one knows who you are. With help from no one, I was getting back to being someone people actually wanted to know.

Now, there was this.

The dormitory was a converted mansion. It was an odd building. Heavy and dark, it looked as if someone had tried to build a set for a production of Wuthering Heights without ever having so much as seen a picture of England. The first floor was a series of rooms, a kitchen and several other rooms with seemingly no purpose. It was the middle of the day while classes were in session and the dormitory was almost empty, as I had hoped. I walked into one of the purposeless rooms that had an array of institutional furniture that seemed nearly random. An indestructible club chair. A table. A couple of dining chairs. In the corner, as I had recalled, was a pay phone.

I dialed the phone number of the man I had met on New Year’s Eve. It was a long shot that he would even pick up the phone at that moment in the middle of the day, but he did. Without any introduction, I blurted out that I was pregnant, that I would probably have an abortion but male friends of mine had convinced me that it wasn’t fair that women make this decision on their own, so that if he wanted me to continue with the pregnancy we could talk about that. I had planned to add that he’d have to want sole custody, but I can’t recall if I got that far.

How did I know it was his?

Because he was the only man I’d fucked recently.

He didn’t believe me.

Fine, I was planning on having an abortion anyway. I was just trying to be fair to him.

Then this man about whom I knew next to nothing except that he loved Kant and had a larger than average penis, launched into one of the more shocking speeches I had heard at that point in my life. He accused me of trying to trap him into marriage. His family were aristocrats. They would never accept this. I was just a common slut and I was trying to trap him into marriage. He was outraged.

I never spoke to him again.

I’ve been writing down my experiences as a way of understanding why I believe some of the things I believe and why I hold some of the political positions I do. This conversation resulted in me feeling somewhat skeptical of men’s rights advocates when they complain that it is not fair that they have no say in abortion decisions. It’s not that I feel that they are disingenuous about their own position, but that they don’t actually represent men in general. Most men, I suspect, don’t really want the responsibility that this decision entails. Women have abortions, men don’t. Women have to bear the responsibility and the stigma. Many men, perhaps most, would prefer to keep it this way. However, I think I did the ethical thing in approaching this man, and it was obvious that he would have preferred that I hadn’t. I don’t know his position on abortion, but he was a practicing Catholic. One word and I wouldn’t have had an abortion. I don’t think he wanted that responsibility.

A while back, Dan Savage expressed the opinion that women should inform a man if they are going to have an abortion. I agree with everything he says, even the part that many feminists objected to, that the man’s desires should be taken into consideration. However, I think he is underestimating humans’ potential for denial and self-deception when he writes:

Guys need to know when they’ve dodged a bullet, CL. Being made aware that he came this close to 18 years’ worth of child support payments can lead a guy to be more cautious with his spunk—and, in some cases, more likely to support choice.

There’s an interesting assumption that Savage makes here, that what they are dodging are child support payments and not custody of a child, because the only way I would have considered carrying that pregnancy to term is if the man had agreed to take full custody. I can’t be sure, but I strongly suspect that the man in question barely remembers this incident. He probably doesn’t acknowledge having dodged anything at all. It would be all to easy for him to rationalize it away. The incident changed the course of my life and I suspect it didn’t register for him at all.

It was also my introduction to notions about social class. Growing up in suburbia in the United States in an environment in which people ranged from the upper end of stable working class families to the lower end of the professional upper middle class, I was only faintly aware of class differences that weren’t simply linked to income. I’ve had a hatred for social class ever since.

Drummer Boy had two posters taped to the cinder block walls of his dormitory room. One was of a man with a saxophone. “Who’s that?” I asked a little bit tentatively.

“You don’t know Bird!” He said with evident surprise. For a moment I was afraid he was going to run me down for being lowbrow. I’d gathered from the picture that the man was probably a jazz musician and my experience with jazz lovers was that they were a bunch of snobs. Much to my surprise, Drummer Boy gestured for me to sit down. “Well, you’re in for a treat” and with he slapped a record on the turntable. He was more interested in sharing what he loved than in playing a game of one-upmanship.  I’d only met him about a half an hour earlier and he was already throwing my stereotypes out the window.

We sat on his bed listening to records for much of that afternoon. Mainly we just listened, but sometimes he pointed out something he liked about a particular piece. Eventually, I asked about the other poster, not what it was, because I could see that it was the text of the Bill of Rights, but where he had gotten it.

“My father works for the ACLU.” Drummer Boy would turn out to have two passions, music and civil liberties.

A few days later we were lying in the grass in sloping field outside of some classrooms. By that point, we had both become aware that our acquaintance would remain platonic. Still, I enjoyed his company and continued to spend time with him. He was telling me about an older musician he knew growing up in New York and how he was a role model for him, not only as a musician, but he saw him as a role model for what it meant “to be a man.” It was a difficult thing to for me to relate to. I couldn’t think of anyone teaching me what it meant “to be a woman.” I couldn’t even conceive of the concept. So I encouraged him to talk.

He fumbled for words a bit. I don’t think he had ever had to articulate exactly what it meant. It had a lot to do with ethical behavior. How to treat women was part of it. He put it in terms of gallantry and chivalry that seemed a bit out of step for someone whose politics clearly fell to the left of center. I questioned him a little about that, but the conversation remained friendly. Another matter was taking care of any children you may have. As someone who had grown up in a more sheltered, suburban world, I don’t think I understood the context from which this was emerging. I had grown up always being told, by all the adults around me, that my biological parents had done the right thing in putting me up for adoption. In fact, I would venture to say that I had never heard a contrary opinion. Certainly, no one had ever so much as suggested to me that there would have been anything virtuous in two, terribly unprepared, young people trying to raise a child. No one ever suggested that biological father should have “been a man.”

Then, considering the passion he felt for civil liberties, he shocked the hell out of me. “If I were to get a woman pregnant and she wanted to have an abortion, I’d file a lawsuit to force her to go through with the pregnancy.” As he saw it, he had rights and the law did not acknowledge those rights. We argued about this until we were interrupted by another of his friends. At the point we let it drop, neither of us had made any headway in convincing the other or our positions. He did impress upon me the strength of his feeling on the subject. In the discussions about unwanted pregnancies that I’d had throughout high school, most of the focus had been on the pure horror of the idea. It was taken for granted that a man always wants to escape from the situation. The notion that a man, in that situation, might actually want the child, and not simply oppose an abortion but actively want to raise a child, had never occurred to me, at least not seriously.

After that conversation, I canvassed a few of my male friends and acquaintances about their feelings. I was quite surprised. Although Drummer Boy was the only one who would want to go as far as forcing a woman to continue with a pregnancy against her will, several of them did say that they, too, would want a child. Every single one of them said that they would want to know and would like to at least be consulted before the woman made a decision. This really presented me with something of a quandary.

In many ways, I feel that being raised without a religion forced me to think deeply about ethics starting at a young age. I don’t mean that people who are raised in a religion don’t ever think about it, but I didn’t have a ready-made set of behaviors that I could fall back on, no one to tell me what to think when I couldn’t figure it out myself. In the end, I had to acknowledge that Drummer Boy had made an important point. Although I didn’t, and still can’t, see how it could be practically implemented from a legal stand point, I did conclude that, from an ethical standpoint, a woman should consider the man’s desires and take them very seriously.

You know that day when you realize that your period really is late? I didn’t keep track of things on a calendar or anything like that. There was just a sense that it had been a while and I was mulling it over and trying to remember what I was doing the last time I got my period so I could peg a date on it. Was it three weeks? A month? I’ve always been absurdly regular. So I got off my ass and headed down the hill to the nearest drugstore. Walking back carrying the pregnancy test kit, I was calculating how we would make it all work out. I’d taken a year off from graduate school. Maybe that would turn out to be a good thing. Certainly having a child would rearrange our previous ideas about who would go to school and who would work and when. Cheri working while I went to school and took care of a child would make sense. Then, by the time I was done with school, the child would be old enough for daycare or nursery school. Without a graduate degree, I wouldn’t earn more than we’d spend on daycare anyway. On the other hand, could I manage school and a child at the same time? Maybe there was a way I could take on extra work during the next few months so we could save up a little money for the future. What a shame Quebec scrapped the baby bonus only a year earlier. It was hard to figure out an ideal plan, but it seemed to me that there were at least two or three workable plans. I wasn’t quite sure exactly how we’d handle it, but I arrived home with the home pregnancy test feeling pretty comfortable with the notion that we could handle it.

Cheri was home when I walked in the door. I went upstairs and put the bag on the platform next to the tub. I don’t remember if Cheri was already upstairs or if he followed me upstairs, but I remember sitting down on the edge of the tub as we talked. I told him where I had been, what I had gone out to buy and why. He raised his eyebrows and gave me the sort of look a parent or a teacher gives a child who has done something wrong. “You’re going to have an abortion, of course.”

The phrase “of course” came crashing down on me. Of course seemed like such a strange thing to say. And why the declarative sentence? At least if it was an imperative it would have had some honesty. When we married we discussed having children and we both agreed that we wanted them. It was odd for me because, before meeting Cheri, I never really wanted them, but he loved children and wanted them. With him, for the first time in my life, I could see having children and I changed my mind. We were still trying to get on our feet, still trying to get our careers launched, so children were not part of our immediate plan. At the same time, over the years we had gone beyond being imperfect in our use of birth control. We had essentially abandoned it. True, we were not trying to conceive, but we were doing nothing to avert it either. We were married and we wanted children, or so I thought.

Had he said to me that this was an especially bad juncture in our lives to have kids and could we talk about whether or not it was really what we wanted to do, I would not have been so startled. Ironically, I probably would have agreed to whatever he wanted anyway if he had approached it in that manner.

“No, not of course,” I said.

He raised his eyebrows again.

“I thought you wanted children.”

“I changed my mind,” he said.

“When?”

He shrugged. “A while ago.”

“And when where you going to tell me about it?”

He shrugged again.

“You could have at least put on a fucking condom then.”

“How likely do you think it is that you’re pregnant?”

Now it was my turn to shrug. “Not very, but I figured why speculate.”

“Then there’s no reason for us to discuss this until we know.”

The next morning the test came out negative and a few days later I got my period. The ultimate confrontation was deferred, but it was another crack in the foundation of our marriage. How could he make such a major life decision without consulting me, or even informing me after it had been made? That he could go on having unprotected sex with me seemed to display a callous disregard for my general well being.

“Of course.” I kept hearing his voice saying “of course” over and over again in my mind.