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The choice to speak out.

THE CHOICE TO SPEAK PUBLICLY ABOUT one's abortion is usually a difficult one. Prochoice supporters need to acknowledge that the decision to have an abortion is usually an ambivalent one. It is a choice between a potential life and the ability of the potential mother to support and nurture that life once actualized. It is usually not a choice between a woman and a baby, since there is no "baby" in the first trimester when most abortions take place. But there is a potential baby, one that has begun to gestate, one that is not yet developed enough to survive in its present stage of development and one that the woman, who would be its mother if it was allowed to develop to term, decides she cannot in fact mother. This weighing of conflicting goods is generally an ambivalent one, not one of straightforward good versus evil on either side of the equation.

I know the stories of two people who decided to have an abortion. One of them is a relative, now in her late forties, who became pregnant as a teenager when she was in a relationship with a young man who was highly unsuitable as a partner and parent, and from whom she was struggling to separate herself. A child at that stage of her life would have been a personal disaster, linking her with this young man more permanently and truncating her future potential. Neither were in any way prepared for parenthood. If such a child had been born, the difficulties it would have caused and would have experienced were considerable.

By having an abortion, the teenage girl was able to eventually free herself from the unsuitable male, continue with her education through college and graduate school and develop a creative career. Now, she occasionally regrets not having a child and thinks about adopting one, but not too seriously. She knows that, as a single woman who has enough difficulty managing her work, health and friendships, a child is not a real option. Her occasional brushes with parenting as an aunt make clear to her how much time and energy is involved in mothering. She does not regret the abortion, since it is clear to her that she had no other option at that point in her life.

A second case is that of a friend who was married, but whose marriage was breaking up. When she became pregnant, she was eagerly anticipating mothering a child. But her husband was entirely opposed to having a child, saying it would destroy their marriage. She decided very reluctantly to have an abortion to save her marriage, but the marriage soon broke up an anyway. Looking back, she feels great pain at the loss of her child and the knowledge that she will never have another one. This regret does not turn her into a person who is "antiabortion." Rather, what pains her is her willingness to sacrifice her own desires for a relationship with a man, a pattern that she sees repeated in abusive relationships with men throughout her life. Each year, on the anniversary of her abortion, she takes some time out to mourn.

These two cases indicate the ambivalence of the abortion decision. The decision is not a straightforward one of "baby" against potential mother, as anti-choice people would have it, or woman against an undesired future baby that would have negative consequences for her, as prochoice people would have it. Rather, it is a decision about the quality of life of the future child, interconnected with the quality of life of its potential mother.

To decide to have an abortion is to decide that the quality of life of both as a joint compact of 20 years of future child-raising is not sustainable. Not only would such a relationship be destructive and unsustainable for the woman, but it would also be a bad situation for the potential child who could not be nurtured well in such a context. Sometimes that decision is regretted, as in the second case when the abortion was coerced by a desire for an ongoing relationship with a man. In retrospect, the woman wishes she had chosen the child rather than the man. But this is hindsight, not something she could have been sure about at the time.

Mostly ignored by both pro- and anti-choice people is the role of men in the decision to have an abortion. In both of these cases a relationship with a man who was unable or unwilling to parent was key to the decision. If anti-choice people want to reduce abortions, they might start with the problem of men who do not take precautions against impregnating women when they are unwilling to take responsibility for a child. Most women who have had abortions know that the circumstances in which the pregnancy took place made the decision the best one--both for the woman and also for the child who could not have been well raised in unsustainable parenting circumstances.

Women who have had an abortion don't have an obligation to speak out. But they may opt to do so, not by stating the fact on a T-shirt, but by revealing the complexity of the decision in their personal lives. They can expect to be vilified by the hard-line antichoice camp no matter what. But such stories told in all their complexity can help to generate better understanding among those who are open to such understanding.

ROSEMARY RADFORD RUETHER is an editorial Adviser to Conscience and a board member of Catholics for a Free Choice.
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Title Annotation:Talking About Abortion
Author:Ruether, Rosemary Radford
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 22, 2004
Previous Article:Telling the truth.
Next Article:Why must we moralize about abortion?

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