About a year before I was born, my mom got accidentally pregnant. She thought about whether she wanted a kid or not, decided she didn’t, and got an abortion. A few months later she changed her mind, got pregnant again with twins, miscarried one, and gave birth to the other one. In her own words, “The abortion’s the most wonderful thing I’ve done. Otherwise I wouldn’t have had you.”
Now, this factoid is something I only learned a little less than five years ago, when I told my mom about some argument I was having with an anti-choicer. My own pro-choice story is a lot less exciting than this of people like Jessica and Jenny, who’ve had to contend with puritan parents or friends who had unwanted pregnancies. In my case, it’s the story of a popular science book and news reports.
When I was seven or eight, my parents got me a book entitled, I think, The Human Body: the Incredible Machine. I’ve never read that book cover-to-cover, but back then I read the first part, dealing with fetal development, over and over. I read about how the sperm cell and egg fuse, how the embryo implants, and how it gradually develops to a fully formed human baby. Accompanying the explanations were photos of fetuses in varying levels of development, enlarged many hundreds or even thousands of times.
One of the things discussed in the book was spontaneous abortion. Only some concepti migrated to the uterus; of these, only some implanted; and of those, many miscarried right at the beginning. I don’t remember all the numbers, but I do remember that it said only 42 out of 100 concepti implanted and survived the first week afterward.
It took me some time to figure out what a non-spontaneous abortion was, but when I did, I had an “Oh, well” reaction to it. Why wouldn’t I? 58% of concepti fail by the end of the first week of pregnancy. The thousand times enlarged pictures of fetuses were cute, but so were pictures of other parts of the human body, including resident bacteria. Moral status isn’t based on cuteness.
It was a while before I learned some people actually had a problem with birth control, and another while before I learned not all of them lived in third-world backwaters. I’d be overdramatizing if I said I was in shock when I discovered that the Catholic Church still opposed all contraception, but there was still some element of incomprehension.
People have sex. Stories about people who have a baby every time they have sex and still only have two children are good for jokes about uptight people, not for reproductive rights policy. The leap from there to understanding that abortion is a perfectly valid medical procedure isn’t especially big.