FWIW I had an abortion

By Katherine Valde.

FWIW, I had an abortion last year.

I did not get my abortion because my life was in danger – as far as I know I could have carried a baby to full term with nothing other than the normal side effects. I did not get my abortion because I couldn’t afford to care for a baby – as a tenure-track philosophy professor I have an extremely stable job and a fine salary to support a child. I did not get my abortion because it would have prevented me from getting an education – I already have a terminal degree. I did not get an abortion because I was in an abusive or unsupportive relationship – my partner is good to me and would make an incredible parent. I’m tired of the defense of abortion that relies on the idea that there are good and bad reasons to get abortions, and I have begun to feel that the way we talk about (and defend) the rights of pregnant persons to seek an abortion overlooks my story.

My abortion is by no means the hardest or saddest thing that has happened to me. What was hard was the shame society tried to make me feel. From the mandatory 24-hour waiting period, to the forced ultrasound, to the protesters shouting at me, to my own father maintaining that abortions are always “sad”. To this moment I haven’t told him about mine. I know that telling him my story could move him, but until now I’ve wanted to sway him on principle rather than with my narrative.

Philosophy as a discipline has a long history of excluding narrative. Philosophers seek rational persuasion – just as I have with my father. Yet, moral motivation requires more than rational justification, and what qualifies as rational justification is shaped by the dominant social forces in any group.

Consider for example the moral outrage I often hear about when I reveal that I’m not, nor was I when I got pregnant, on any internal form of birth control (the pill, the IUD, etc.). My partner and I use a combination of the calendar method and condoms to prevent pregnancy.

When we act as if promoting birth control is the solution to the abortion debate, we assume that it is good for most people who could become pregnant to be on birth control. Of course, some people don’t experience the negative side effects I did from birth control, but I don’t think it should be an expectation that women should either never have penetrative intercourse or be in continual distress or discomfort to prevent pregnancy. There is nothing bad or wrong about a woman who wants to have sex even though she has chosen not to be on birth control.

We’ve known about the link between mood changes and the pill since the original clinical trials reported the side effects included “crying spells” and “irritability”. These were not deemed enough to suggest the pill might be unsafe, after all it successfully prevented pregnancy. There is some indication depression is the leading reasons women stop taking the pill.

More recently, a male version of the pill was found to be highly effective at preventing pregnancy, but  it was never approved for public use because it was found to cause “weight gain, acne, irritability, mood swings” – all side effects well known to be associated with the pill in women.

We don’t believe the voices of women on birth control who tell us it causes depression or mood swings. We believe the men. Or maybe we do believe the women, but we think that although it is worth their suffering to prevent abortions, it isn’t worth the same suffering in men.

The reality is that moral and legal reasoning is continuously full of contradictions and irrationality. What is accepted has more to do with social power than logic. What stories we tell, what stories we listen to, and what counts as a ‘good reason’, are all shaped by what we deem socially worthy.  I had wanted to persuade my father that abortions weren’t always “sad” using reason, because I looked down on the value of my own story. I felt it was illogical to use my story to highlight the moral failings of our thinking on abortion, but the more I’ve thought about it the more I’ve realized this is a repetition of the suppression of voices society doesn’t want to hear. My abortion didn’t save my life or allow me to finish school. It just let me live a life I wanted. And, for whatever reason, that isn’t supposed to be enough.

So for what it’s worth, I had an abortion last year. It changed how I saw the world, and I’m no longer going to keep quiet about my story.

Author: Katherine Valde

Affiliations: Wofford College

Competing interests: none

Social media accounts of post author: @katherinegvalde


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