In my early 20s I decided I did not want to get pregnant. To make myself a more sympathetic subject I could’ve blamed my poverty. Or I could’ve blamed my genetic disease, which left me in poor health at the time. I could’ve explained that I was alone, having left the fundamentalist Christian strictures of my upbringing for a secular world I barely knew. But the most important thing for you to know is that I didn’t want a child. I wasn’t ready. But I had stopped believing that sex outside marriage was sinful and thus I no longer believed that I ought to be punished for having it. The notion of pregnancy had transformed in my mind, becoming a choice and not a trap. I went to Planned Parenthood, and I got my birth control, and I did not get pregnant.
Now 34, I have never been pregnant, and that is by choice. Only recently did I begin to feel that my husband and I could eventually provide a new human being with a fulfilling life. I could blame the delay on our student debt; a factor, to be certain, and not the only one. I could blame my job, which is absorbing, or my book project, which occupies most of my free time. But the truth is that I’m still not ready. I went to my gynecologist, and I got an IUD, and I am not pregnant. The IUD will expire next year — I can’t believe I am telling you this, you aren’t my doctor or my husband or even my friend — and I am deciding whether to replace it or not. The decision is fraught, but not because of some internal struggle. Rather, bearing children no longer feels like a choice after the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. Pregnancy feels like a trap again.
I grew up around anti-abortion Christians and they will tell you they love women and babies. Some probably believe what they say, and they are still liars, even if they do not understand this about themselves. The anti-abortion perspective by definition reduces a person to a collection of organs. They are cursed with the capacity to reproduce. This makes a person a resource to control, not a full human being with bodily autonomy. In this view the fetus itself is more than a pawn in a political game; it’s a punishment that a person must bear, no matter the cost. The consequences are evident in societies with outright bans or severe restrictions on abortion. An American woman in Malta recently suffered an incomplete miscarriage, and though the fetus was not viable and the woman was at risk of sepsis, doctors refused to perform an abortion because the law there forbids it. The sick woman had to be moved to Spain so she could finally undergo the procedure. In Ireland, a similar situation cost Savita Halappanavar her life. Here in the U.S., incarceration is the natural next step in the plot to end abortion. Prison for abortion providers, at minimum, with potential penalties for people who get abortions. A Texas district attorney already attempted to prosecute a woman for a self-induced abortion. Though he later dropped the charges, the case hangs heavy in the air, a warning of dangers to come. For all its talk of compassion, the anti-abortion movement leaves itself little choice but to pursue people who have abortions. If abortion is truly murder, then women are accomplices. The carceral tendencies of the right will destroy whatever mercy it can muster.
The world I live in now so closely resembles the world I tried to leave behind that it steals my breath and tears my soul. When I decided I did not want to be pregnant, I rejected a vision of society that seemed anti-human to its core. There was no space for pregnancy to be anything but beautiful, for a child to be anything but life-affirming. No one would acknowledge the fleshly truth: that pregnancy is a burden, even when it is desired, that the arrival of children may be transformative, but not always an improvement. No, to my peers, pregnancy was something like salvation, a path to redemption. Whatever mistakes a person had made would be washed away with the afterbirth. Eve haunted us all, still. Yet this vision of salvation was a mirage. Parenthood never granted personhood, not for anyone who gives birth. The pregnant themselves could only ever be an object, of derision and condemnation, of sermonizing and paternalism. The Christian right imagines a society where loose women get their just deserts and are forced to rely on church charity for help. If there was ever anything beautiful about pregnancy, the anti-abortion movement has devoured it, and spat up something hateful in its place. Pregnancy, for many, will now end dreams, alter futures, maybe even kill. That’s the point.
When I turned my back on the anti-abortion movement, I did so to embrace my own body. I understood this to be a radical gesture at the time. The plot to end abortion has always been an assault on our most intimate decisions, as Justice Clarence Thomas himself made clear in a concurrence to Friday’s decision. The Supreme Court, he wrote, “should reconsider” previous “substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell.” The right to have sex with another consenting adult, the right to become pregnant, or not; these are basic human freedoms that the conservative movement would deny. Abortion opponents undermine a key plank of their platform by making pregnancy such a frightfuI prospect. I think the conservative movement is clever and well-organized, and I grant them the benefit of the doubt when I say they understand this and don’t care. This has always been about control. Even the one who tells you they love you, that they support life at all stages, seeks to control you.
That is why I’m telling you I didn’t want to be pregnant, though I resent, deeply, the idea that I should air my most private decisions to the world. But conservatives have forced this public intimacy by making the body, my body, a site of conflict. I feel I must reassert myself as a person with a mind and a will. I am childless because that’s what I’ve chosen for myself, and there is no law on Earth that could change my mind. Congress could pass Medicare for All tomorrow, and paid family leave, and all the other policies I support, and if I became pregnant right now I would still have an abortion. That’s my right, for now.