Shouting My Abortion

I’ve always been a T-shirt kind of guy, wearing my shirts to proclaim allegiance to everything from my favorite rock groups to science, humor, politics, and the organizations I support, one of which is Planned Parenthood. My collection currently includes four Planned Parenthood shirts, and I wear them proudly whenever I can. While some might view this as confrontational, I see it as a potential means to open up communication. Most of the time, people don’t even notice. Occasionally, though, someone will notice, as for instance when someone thanks me for wearing my shirt. So far, no one has vocally challenged me, but every once in a while I get one of those icy stares — the kind that bore straight through you. Even a stare has value, however, in that someone who may not support Planned Parenthood must still acknowledge the fact that here is someone who does — a male, no less. Besides, my wife thinks I look good in pink. How can I argue with that?

I would not want my body ever considered to be a mere vessel for childbirth, with fewer rights than the fetus within me.

When I saw a photo of my hero Gloria Steinem wearing an “I Had an Abortion” T-shirt, my first thought was, I want one, too. The shirt was designed by Jennifer Baumgardner, co-producer of the award-winning 2005 documentary I Had an Abortion. The photo was taken by Tara Todras-Whitehill, who contacted Baumgardner and suggested photographing all of the women in the film wearing their “I Had an Abortion” T-shirts.

I did find a men’s version of the shirt still available online, though the merchant warned that it was “controversial,” a fact that has never stopped me before.

Photo: NOAA

Photo: NOAA

There is one slight problem, however. As far as I can remember — and I’m sure I would if I did — I’ve never actually had an abortion. It would require that I first get pregnant. Since I was born a male human — not a seahorse or a pipefish — there’s little chance of that occurring.

I sometimes wonder what would happen if cisgender men could get pregnant. We may find out soon. The Cleveland Clinic has just performed the first successful uterus transplant in the United States. The operation involves transplanting a temporary uterus, allowing women who either were born without a uterus or have suffered irreversible uterine damage to eventually become pregnant and give birth. In the not too distant future, it may be technically feasible to implant a uterus into a man as well, so that he could become pregnant.

If and when such a procedure does become reality, there will undoubtedly come a time when a pregnant man decides, for one reason or another, to terminate his pregnancy. Would our opinion toward abortion then change? It might not become a “sacrament,” as Gloria Steinem and Florynce Kennedy famously suggested. But I suspect abortion would take on a whole new meaning.

Being a guy, I can just imagine what some future male might say. “No way you’re going to tell me what to do with my body. I’m king of my castle.” When some legislator tried taking his abortion rights away, he would stand his ground and shout, “You and whose army?” When accused of getting pregnant because of rape, carelessness, or lascivious attire, he would undoubtedly scream his innocence like John Belushi to Carrie Fisher in the 1980 movie The Blues Brothers: “It’s not my fault!”

Many women of today voice similar thoughts — if in different terms — though their words are often ignored. We may have come a long way toward achieving full equal rights, but we’re still a male-dominant culture in far too many ways.

As part of that culture, I’ll never have to worry about someone trying to control my womb or dissing me for having an abortion. But what if I could get pregnant? How would I feel? For starters, I would want abortion to be fully accessible as an option — for me, my friends, my family, anyone, with no questions or restrictions. I would want it available 24/7 as a potentially life-saving procedure because, well, I might die, since “the risk of death associated with childbirth is approximately 14 times higher than that with abortion.” I would not want my body ever considered to be a mere vessel for childbirth, with fewer rights than the fetus within me. I would not look down on those who decide to have an abortion — for whatever the reason — or think that their moral view of abortion is inferior to mine. I would not let some religion or government dictate what I should believe about abortion. And, if I ever did have an abortion, I would want to shout it from the rooftops because it was my decision and the right thing for me to do.

I refuse to believe abortion is “an absolute evil,” as Pope Francis recently described it. Nor do I think of it as a necessary evil, as even some abortion rights defenders sometimes refer to it. Evil is one of those loaded words I try to avoid. The Oxford Dictionary defines evil as “morally bad and cruel” or “having a harmful effect on people.” Abortion is neither bad nor cruel. While it does involve terminating a growing, still developing fetus that might one day become a baby, that doesn’t change the fact that it is sometimes necessary or prudent. And it can have an enormously beneficial effect on the person having an abortion.

According to a frequently cited 2011 study by the Guttmacher Institute, 30 percent of women (almost 1 in 3) will have an abortion by age 45. Admittedly, this study was based on 2008 abortion rates. Since abortion rates have declined since then — perhaps as a result of better access to health care and more efficient birth control methods — it is quite possible that this percentage will be somewhat lower in the future. An update of this study will be available in 2017.

Whether the rate of abortion ultimately goes up or down, for now the study suggests that abortion is hardly an uncommon procedure, and one that a large proportion of patients seen by their physicians have had or will have in the future. In other words, it’s a significant portion of our population. I would not be surprised or shocked if some member of my own family and circle of friends — people I love — has had an abortion. Now maybe your family is different, but I doubt it.  Odds are abortion is closer and more personal than you realize. How can we stigmatize something that affects the lives of so many of us?

An online merchant offers a T-shirt with a variation on this message, proclaiming “Someone You Love Had an Abortion.”

I think I found my new T-shirt.

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