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Get Real by Abby Arnold

An ongoing series of unflinching commentary

February 2005

The Long View

When I was eleven weeks pregnant with my second child my ob/gyn sent me to get an ultrasound. She was concerned about internal complications from a serious infection I’d received during the prolonged labor and emergency C-section delivery of my first child (it turned out there weren’t any); I was simply thrilled for the chance to see my baby this early. Of course, I couldn’t see the baby, not really. At eleven weeks there was nothing that to my untrained eyes even faintly resembled what would become my daughter. Except for her heartbeat. Clear, insistent, her eleven-week old heart beat with the force of life itself, rhythmically pounding against the grainy screen. Watching it, I felt the stillness and awe that comes when humans are graced with a glimpse of divine transformation. And I remember thinking, while this life created itself: this is still the first trimester, when most abortions are performed.

So, in my mind, the matter is clear. An eleven week old fetus is alive, not with consciousness perhaps, but certainly alive with a life working to be born.

And when I have to choose between the rights of this unborn life and the rights of the woman to determine what becomes of that life’s potential, the matter is also clear. The baby may be alive, but the woman is living. And I choose the living.

Some statistics to back me up:

According to the Planned Parenthood web site, 20 million abortions worldwide are performed each year in unsafe conditions. Of those, at least 80,000 end in the mother’s death (the figure is assumed to be higher because many women live in conditions where the cause of death goes unrecorded). Many more of the women who survive the procedure have life-long complications, including infertility.

In America, before Roe v. Wade, up to 5000 women a year died because of unsafe, illegal abortion.

When abortion is illegal, women suffer and die.

My daughter, now two, walked into the room while I was researching statistics for this article (every day in America, four women are killed by their husbands and boyfriends, each year approximately 132,000 women report rape but the estimate is that two to six times that many women are actually raped, but do not report it.).

My daughter has big blue eyes and a bold, fiery nature. She thrills to the feel of the wind on her skin and the warmth of a snuggle, with a sweetness that melts me every day. She is opinionated, insistent, sensual. She is growing up in a world that wants to control and define everything in her nature. And what it can’t control it will try to destroy.

In this world, my daughter’s body is believed to be the property of others. This is certainly true in countries that stone women to death for adultery but equally so in America, where girls and women starve themselves to appear thin, where a recent ad for breast cancer awareness featured a full page, eroticized picture of a naked woman, where women compete for places on TV shows to have their bodies criticized, humiliated and cut open so they can achieve standards of beauty which they feel they cannot live without. In this world, my daughter might hesitate before eating a third piece of pizza while out with friends, because a girl isn’t supposed to be that hungry.

My daughter will grow up in a world where her sexuality will be considered suspect: fine if it is released by a man, in the context of a monogamous relationship where she at least feels love and nothing too unusual is taking place. But suspect under any other circumstances: if she chooses to have numerous sexual partners over the course of her lifetime, if she chooses sex without love, if her sexual partners include, or are limited to, other women. She will be taught to feel guilty because of her sexual nature, whatever that nature becomes.

My daughter will be expected to feel shame because of her woman self.

My daughter might be raped.

I have no impartiality in this area. I am as fierce a supporter of a woman’s right to choose abortion as I am fierce in my determination to love and protect my daughter until the end of my days. The two are intricately interconnected.

We live in a worldwide culture that hates women’s bodies and fears women’s sexuality. We live in a world that tells men in all kinds of direct and subtle ways that they control women. We live specifically in a culture whose primary religious text affirms that evil came into this world through a woman. Because of the ways we treat women in this world it doesn’t matter that an eleven-week old fetus has a heartbeat. What matters is that every girl and woman in the world is alive, and until each one of these lives is cherished in all of its human complexity it is obscene to speak of the rights of the unborn. 

mmo :

Get Real is an ongoing series of original essays and commentary by Abby Arnold. She is a teacher, writer and the mother of a 4 year old son and 2 year old daughter. She lives with her family in North Carolina.

Feel like getting real? Send your comments to Abby Arnold at getreal@mothersmovement.org

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