While we’re reminiscing today, the fortieth anniversary of Roe v. Wade, let’s take a moment to remember what I looked like on Good Friday, 2005, just one of the many days I have honored my commitment to speak out for reproductive rights:
Back then, my son was a five-year-old preschooler, obsessed with Thomas the Tank Engine and the Hardy Boys. Today my son is almost thirteen, a fan of Katniss Everdeen and dubstep music that makes my head hurt. He has always been a very curious kid, and now that he is older he is very interested in what I call The Big Questions: life, death, and the tools we use to make sense of what lies in between.
Not long ago he asked me how I felt about abortion. “I think whether or not to have an abortion is a woman’s business and no one else’s,” I replied.
“But don’t you think it’s killing a baby?”
Bam! THE REALLY BIG QUESTION!
Of course this discussion had to happen in the car, so I wasn’t able to whip out the smartphone to add visuals to our conversation. It took much longer while driving to explain that THIS:
…or even THIS:
…is not the same thing as THIS:
…which is what his sister looked like six months OUTSIDE of my body.
“Some people think that a two-celled zygote is a human life,” I told Elliott. “Some people think that a four-week zygote is, too. I saw you on a sonogram only nine weeks after conception, and I saw your little heart fluttering.”
“You did?” He was impressed. I was too, back in the summer of 1999, and I wrote about the experience in my book The Radical Housewife. I shared the excerpt here on Blog For Choice Day 2011:
Lacking the framework of faith, I seek not perfection, but balance. When I looked my blob, I understood him as the culmination of countless events and choices, the sum total of my years on the earth. My years, and no one else’s. I also saw a creature that drew sustenance from me and me alone. He lived on my blood, my nutrients, my oxygen, my energy: all of it mine. If I died, so did he. His tail could not wiggle outside the safety of my womb.
I gave him life. I also gave him meaning.
When does life begin? I suspect it is a process requiring a complex engagement between both the being and its world, much like a story requires a reader. Otherwise, the words remain only a series of unintelligible scratches on a page. If we accept that a story has different meaning for a different reader, we may understand that no person will approach either their soul, or a zygote’s, identically.
The above language is a little fancy for the average 13-year-old, even one as brilliant and handsome as my son, so I tried to craft my feelings about abortion, and life, so that he could understand.
“A woman must have the right to decide what happens to her body. How I feel about pregnancy, or how you feel, or how the lady next door feels, or the President feels or the Pope feels, can never be more important than the feelings of the woman going through it. No one can decide but her.”
The backseat was quiet for a moment–a rare thing. Then he said:
“I get it.”