Against Good and Evil: Resisting the Binary of Reproductive Choice
Note: This post includes mention of “pro-life” slogans that may be triggering, particularly for those who’ve lost a child. It also contains blatant pro-choice-ism, which may be offensive to those who think abortion be evil. Comments that fail to recognize my personhood or otherwise piss me off will not be posted. If all that is kosher by you, please read on and comment; kthxbai.
It seems the only thing we have in common is the cold.
We stand, literally divided by the fence that separates the clinic’s private property from the sidewalk’s public space. The woman attempting to stare me down, angry over the unabashed way I meet her eye, is wearing a trenchcoat; she’s roughly my mother’s age. She brandishes some small publication — a pamphlet, maybe a Bible — above her head, as if she means to ward me off with it. Later, when I recall the scene to a friend, I’ll say she stood like a crusader facing the devil. Maybe, I’ll reflect, that’s what she thought she saw.
This woman and I stand, feet away from each other, for nearly five hours. But we do not see the same things. I see the individuals I escort indoors as patients; she sees them as murderers. I call her “work” abuse; she deems it activism. Today, she stands in a (mostly Catholic, unexceptionally White) crowd of about the usual size- 20 or 25 women and men. I — for the first time since I began this work in August — am alone. My site coordinator has left early to lead an escort training — (much like the one I walked across town to attend last spring) — and a fluke coincidence has rendered all three of my regular teammates incapable of joining me. So this morning, for the first time, my only allies are indoors, working with patients. I’m left — between arrivals — to consider the crowd.
“Abortion Doesn’t Make You Un-Pregnant,” reads one of their larger signs. “It Just Makes You The Mother of a Dead Baby.” Another identifies my volunteer site as “The Killing Place,” and a yellow arrow spells out the word ABORTIONIST. On occasion, that arrow unintentionally points directly at my stomach. I follow its lead and look down, note my belly bouncing, as I dance to shake off the cold. By their logic — I know — this body is guilty.
I’m guilty. Whether I’ve ever performed or procured an abortion, whether I’ve ever had sex or been pregnant — none of this matters. Just as they will continue to harass patients who stop to explain they aren’t there for abortions, they will continue to harass me, even — (perhaps especially) — if I break protocol and attempt to explain. After all — by their logic — my task (respectfully greeting patients at their cars, walking them across the parking lot, obscuring the shouting from the street with small talk) — makes me as culpable as any doctor inside.
About halfway through my shift, a staff member braves the gauntlet; the tagline on her red shirt declares “I’m life.” The statement riles one of the more vocal protestors, who promptly calls this employee “a waste of a woman.” But I can only wonder what a woman’s purpose is, in a system that would deem her claim to life the proof she’s undeserving of it.
The protesters want me to believe I’m a waste of a woman; they want me to see blood on my hands, although my hands are only red with cold. They can’t understand how gladly I accept this “guilt.” They can’t understand that I only wake up at six on these Saturday mornings, walk to and from the train, invest in tickets for transport and coffee for energy because I believe in supporting this work. They can’t understand how thoroughly similar we are in all respects but the one we think important. That I am here, as they are, based on my moral beliefs.
When they call me a babykiller or ask why I hate children, they don’t realize that I’ll head from this volunteer shift to an afternoon babysitting. Or that I’m about to catch a ride out of state, to spend a weekend playing with my nephew and my niece. They don’t realize that I’ve volunteered at group homes for foster children, babysat out of love and out of politics, that I know (and love) adoptive parents and birthparents, caregivers and children of more identities than they will willingly name.
Sometimes, I want to explain. I want to approach them, to accept their constant attempts to engage me, to talk to them “just for a minute.” I want to tell them that when I mention my commitment to reproductive rights, I’m not merely trying to obscure my support of abortion access. I want to emphasize that I believe in (and support) all reproductive choices. I support them ideologically and practically, at the legislative level and the personal one. I want to make clear that I am clinic escort and babysitter, pro-choice activist and doting aunt.
How could I tell people who consider me the devil that I don’t believe in good and evil? How can I explain that I respect the life (they claim) they’re fighting for as more complex than they’ll admit?
How can I get them and the less adamant, intrusive pro-lifers I know to see? And if that’s a losing battle, if that energy’s misplaced, how can I at least make clear to my pro-choice allies how we fall — so many of us — into supporting the work of our opponents?
To be clear: This ideology — in which abortion is pure evil — relies on a notion that other reproductive choices are purely “good.” Although far more pro-life energy goes toward eradicating abortion than supporting parenthood, those parenthood (adoptive and otherwise) is as “good” (supposedly) as abortion is “evil.” As the bumper stickers repeatedly remind me, “Abortion stops a beating heart” but “Adoption is the loving option.”
I know that is too simple. I know that an American family is more likely to adopt a non-Black kid from overseas than a Black kid from the States. I know that not every child adopted is (even legally) an orphan. I know that birthmothers — particularly non-white and non-rich birthmothers — are sometimes coerced into giving up children they want. I’ve known the adult children of adoptive parents who weren’t loving. I’ve known the children of adoptive parents who were loved well and still struggled against that loss on which their families are built. I’ve known angry kids, who vibrated against my embrace, shook with grief for the parents who passed them along. I know that even when there is love, even when there are resources — when it comes to family, it is never uncomplicated.
The sidewalk crew begs patients they don’t know to become parents. They do this because abortion is “evil” and parenting is “good.” But I have seen parents shake with exhaustion, snap from frustration, lose their identities, resent and abandon their kids.
Yes, all of these witnessed realities co-exist with others. Yes, most of the adopted kids I know love their parents; most feel at home in their families. Yes, most of the parents I’ve met consider child-rearing one of the most rewarding experiences of their lives.
But parenthood is not solely that. It is not — unequivocally, uncomplicatedly — good. And when we (on either side of the fence) support the fiction that it is, we complicate the lives of parents and children, and we make possible the binary that labels abortion evil. Abortion isn’t evil. It, like every other reproductive choice, is multifaceted. It’s as complex as the individual woman who seek it.
On any given Saturday, I will see a far greater variety of women and men walk through the doors of the clinic than I will see yelling at them from across the property line. I will see mothers who hold the hands of their small children, and I will see women so young they bear their school yearbooks as ID. I will see Black, White, Middle Eastern, and Asian women. I will see women and men who believe that abortion is wrong, who will explain themselves to me, unnecessarily, as they enter the clinic’s doors. I will see couples who laugh and mock the protestors, parents and patients who will scream back at those strangers who would judge them without knowing their names.
I will see women come in crying and leave relieved. I will see women leave crying. I will see women devastated and calm, grinning and weeping. I will see all of this.
The pro-life faction wants me to believe that these women who cry are a repudiation of the pro-choice cause. They want me to presume that these women regret what they’ve done — (not all crying patients do) — and they want me to believe this regret is a reason to eliminate choice.
But I can’t. Because I know things their binary will not admit. I know that it’s possible to regret the best possible choice. I know that it’s possible to grieve what you do not regret. I know there are as many stories for tears as there are people to cry them.
See: parents cry, too. Adoptive parents, birthparents, and children– all of us cry at some point. Not because we should not have had access to the choices we did. Not even — necessarily — because we regret our choice. We cry because we’re human. We cry because — (even when we’re not being screamed at by strangers) — life is complicated.
Life remains complicated. I remain a volunteer.