This article first appeared in “Geez” magazine (Spring 2013 issue). I’m now posting it here for those of you who haven’t seen the original publication.
I’m walking through the University of Toronto when I come across the pro-life exhibit. A wave of nausea rises in my throat as I glance at the usual blown-up images of bloody fetuses. I tell the organizer that I once faced the decision to have an abortion or keep a baby and it’s not as simple as it seems. What I don’t say to these idealistic female students, likely virginal Christians, is that no matter how graphic a photo is, it can never compare to the horror of becoming pregnant with a child you’re not ready for. The feeling of suffocating panic, paralyzing fear, depression and sadness far outweighs any distaste for blood.
I got pregnant in my third year of university with a guy I’d been dating for a few months. Though I was pro-life for years, abortion became a quick solution to a scary alternative. Coming from a conservative Mennonite family (who didn’t like the idea of boyfriends, let alone premarital sex), employed as a church secretary and still in school, there was no room for a baby in my life. My boyfriend and I were struggling. I was in debt. There were no spots in the university daycare. I’d have to drop out of school, move in with my parents. If a 10-minute procedure could return my life to a familiar path instead of condemning me to a life I dreaded, why wouldn’t I choose that?
I booked a counselling appointment at the Morgentaler clinic, where the counsellor latched on to our Christian backgrounds and set out to prove that abortion isn’t condemned in the Bible. She talked forcefully, as if believing that once we clarified the misunderstanding between us and God, I wouldn’t hesitate to hop onto the surgical bed. When I turned down her offer to perform the abortion immediately, she said, “Maybe you’ll end up going out on a limb and keeping it.” Her comment shook me up. Without knowing it, she’d said the one thing no one had said yet. It was a challenge, yet strangely comforting.
I chose to keep the baby, but it was the toughest time of my life. I battled depression, lost friends, sacrificed a lifestyle I loved. My boyfriend lost his mother, who couldn’t deal with “the shame he’d brought on the family.” When our son was born, I raised him as a single parent during the week, with his dad coming on weekends to help. That baby ended up being the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me, along with falling back in love with his father and having another child.
My view on abortion has changed drastically since understanding the terror and bravery that goes into making such a decision. A woman who has an abortion doesn’t do it because she wants to, but because she feels she has to. Pro-lifer enthusiasts would do better to fight for the sanctity of life that already exists. Why not offer tangible help such as babysitting, tuition money or hot meals for single mothers? Since it’s utterly impossible to know what each woman faces and, frankly, it’s not your business, please leave the women alone to decide what to do with their own uteruses.
Katherine Martinko is a stay-at-home mom who lives in rural Ontario and maintains her sanity by writing. After a rocky introduction to parenthood, she’s happy to say everything worked out well, though she doesn’t recommend this route for starting a family. She blogs at feistyredhair.wordpress.com and writes a regular column for Parentables.com.