I'd always been pro-abortion..until the day I became a motherMIRANDA SAWYER
One liberal broadcaster describes her startling change of heart over one of the most emotionally charged issues of our times, abortion.
When I discovered I was pregnant in February 2005, after several weeks of heavy drinking and flying to and from the U.S. for work, I was 38 and in a settled relationship. And, despite my nonideal lifestyle, our baby was planned.
So far, so straightforward. What was unplanned, for me, were all the questions that resulted. Was I having a boy or a girl?
Would we like the same music? Would we like each other? But I also found myself pondering other, trickier, dilemmas. I spent quite some time thinking about the precise point that our baby came into existence.
Was he there before I did the pregnancy test? Clearly something was or the test couldn't have come up positive. But what was it? A person? A potential person? Life? What was life, exactly?
Skip forward two years - during which I gave birth to a son, Patrick - and I am making a TV documentary about abortion rights in the U.S., trying to answer the questions about whether it is ever morally
The anti-abortion Pro-Lifers say it is wrong to take innocent life (though they often support the death penalty). They say it's irrelevant whether the pregnant woman loves or doesn't love her baby, whether she wants it or not: it's alive, so she shouldn't kill it.
And they believe that it should make no difference that the life inside her has only just embarked on its journey to full personhood. It's made from a human sperm and egg, it's living, so it is morally wrong to kill it.
The Pro-Choicers say it's up to the woman to decide if she wants a pregnancy to continue to its full term.
I have always been firmly in the Pro-Choice camp because, like most women, I've spent nearly all of my sexually active life trying not to get pregnant. Throughout my 20s and the better part of my 30s, I did everything that was required for me not to have a child (other than not having sex).
I wasn't always safe, but I was lucky enough not to end up in a situation where I was pregnant and didn't want to be. I've never had an abortion, though I am mighty glad that legal abortion exists.
When I got pregnant, it felt weird. My mind kept returning to the pregnancy test. If my reaction to those fateful double lines had been horror instead of hooray - and, to be honest, it wasn't unalloyed joy that I felt when I saw them: I was scared, too - then I would have had little hesitation in having an abortion. But it was that very fact that was confusing me.
I was calling the life inside me a baby, because I wanted it. Yet if I hadn't, as would perhaps have been the case ten years earlier, I would have thought of it as just a group of cells it was OK to kill.
It was the same entity. It was merely my response to it that determined whether it would live or die. That seemed irrational to me. Maybe even immoral.
But I couldn't be an antiabortionist! I'm not religious. I have right to kill. ethics: I'm humanist, liberal, antiestablishment. And I'm a feminist. I certainly don't want to shackle women to their wombs. A civilised society should allow us to have children if and when we desire them.
As I was an older mother-to-be, much fuss was made about Down's Syndrome and other possible disabilities. I thought about those questions, too. If a test showed that our baby had Down's, and we decided we didn't like that, would he become a thing again, a non-baby that we could get rid of as we wished?
We decided not to have the test. We were having a wanted child, whoever he turned out to be.
When I went for the 12-week scan, I was given a picture of our baby, in profile. He seemed to be waving, but that's just the way the limbs move, isn't it? The way they fall when the photo is taken. At about 18 weeks into my pregnancy, I felt a kick. It's a strange sensation, like an internal giggle.
Traditionally, this is called the quickening and is the point at which the life inside you is named as a baby.
But I could still have aborted this quick, kicking thing: legally, in the UK you can terminate up until 24 weeks, though the cases of such late abortions are extremely rare, and it's almost always for medical reasons.
It was a 1990 amendment to the UK's 1967 Abortion Act that reduced the abortion limit from 28 weeks to 24; this was due partly to the viability argument, which holds that if a baby/foetus/whatever you want to call it can survive outside the womb at 23 weeks, then abortion shouldn't really be allowed past that point.
Recently, in the U.S., a child named Amillia Taylor survived after being born at just under 22 weeks into her mother's pregnancy. Science is moving viability closer and closer to conception.
So it seems to me to be a loose argument. Why should abortion be moral only at times when science says it is? Either abortion is right, or it isn't.
After my son, Patrick, was born, I looked at his 12-week scan picture again. He had the same profile. He has it now. He was himself in there. But if I believed that, how could I morally continue to support abortion?
My questions weren't being answered in the UK, where abortion isn't really talked about. So I decided to go to America, where abortion is a hot, divisive and political topic.
In the U.S., legislation initiated by pro-lifers has brought in more and more restrictions on a woman's right to a legal termination, which was established by the 1973 landmark Supreme Court case of Roe v Wade.
Since then, Republican Presidents such as Reagan and Bushes Sr and Jr have installed pro-choice judges into the Supreme Court: the last time Roe v Wade was challenged, in 1992, it was upheld only by a 5-4 majority.
The pro-choice supporters feel under threat. And in the deep South of the U.S., they are. Most people there are pro-life. Their politicians are the same and thus there are very few abortion facilities around.
In Mississippi, a vast state of more than 48,000 square miles, with almost three million inhabitants, there is only one abortion clinic. One! Despite my dilemmas, I could feel my feminist hackles rise.
The clinic, I discovered, has pro-life protesters campaigning outside it every day.
They shout, they plead, they put up placards, they hand out leaflets. They include Roy McMillan.
I hung out with Roy outside the clinic as he confronted young, mostly black, women coming in for terminations and tried to persuade them to turn back.
It wasn't a comfortable morning. "Shame on you, coming in here with a cross around your neck!" Roy shouted at one poor girl. "Are you going to nail your baby to the cross?"
I couldn't understand some of his logic. Say I was pregnant: if Roy believes that abortion is murder, and I, having listened to his arguments, nevertheless decide to have an abortion, then surely I should be arrested and tried as a murderer?
Or at least tried for paying someone else to commit the murder for me.
But Roy pulled back from this, saying that it's the abortion doctors who should be prosecuted. "They are," he declared, "the pushers of abortion. Women are the victims." Like we're abortion addicts.
As I travelled through the Deep South, I read arguments for and against abortion. Moral philosophy, political discourse, rants. If I'm honest, it seemed that everyone - philosopher, politician, crank - just takes a stance, and then justifies it.
Some thinkers argue that abortion is OK, and infanticide is fine, too, because foetuses and little children aren't fully human: they can't look after themselves and they have no concept of death.
This made me think of my son, Patrick, back home, with his dad. I missed them both.
In Louisiana, I found that one pro-life argument - that life begins at conception - had been taken to extremes.
Unborn embryos in Louisiana have the same legal status as children. So they can never be destroyed, as it would be legally the same as killing a child.
As my mind boggled, I realised that this has huge implications for things such as IVF. If you freeze your IVF embryos, you can never destroy the ones you don't use. You have to keep them frozen for ever, and make provisions for them in your will.
I met a New Orleans couple whose second baby came from an embryo that was rescued during Hurricane Katrina. During the hurricane, the fertility clinic flooded and the electricity was cut off; this meant that thousands of frozen embryos had to be rescued, by armed National Guard, because they could not be allowed to die.
Meanwhile, of course, actual living people were being left to perish in the Superdome, or being shot for looting shops for food. Who says that Americans don't get irony?
Perhaps only the young and the old are confident enough to see things in black and white. Hit your late 30s and everything's greyer. Either that, or you just get lazy: you believe whatever suits you at the time.
One of the oddest people I met on my travels was Norma McCorvey.
Initially, she was given the pseudonym Jane Roe to keep her anonymity in the landmark 1973 case of Roe v Wade, which established the right to abortion in the U.S. Norma won her right to a legal termination, though it was too late for her: she had the baby and it was adopted.
Once a poster girl for the Pro-Choice movement, Norma is now - and I couldn't quite believe this - anti-abortion.
A lonely woman, she turned to the Church a few years ago, converted to Catholicism and rejected abortion. Now she's the jewel in the Pro-Life crown.
Unlike Norma, I don't want to be the kind of person who changes her beliefs according to her circumstances: like people changing from Labour to Conservative as they become richer.
And I don't want to tell other people - other women - what to do. But when you see women's abortion rights whittled away, as they have been in the U.S., you can't help but get angry.
On the other hand, when you've experienced pregnancy and birth, and the fantastic beauty of the resulting child, it's hard not to question what a termination does, or is.
My trip did eventually end with me coming to terms with my two opposing beliefs.
Maybe it's as spurious as all the other arguments I heard, but it was when a moral philosopher pointed out to me that being alive is one thing, but being a human is something else, that something clicked.
In the end, I have to agree that life begins at conception.
So yes, abortion is ending that life. But perhaps the fact of life isn't what is important. It's whether that life has grown enough to take on human characteristics, to start becoming a person.
In its early stages, the foetus clearly hasn't, so I have no problems with early abortions. In fact, I think they should be given on demand, as they are in France, rather than the UK system which forces women to get two different doctors' signatures in order to get an abortion.
It's in everyone's best interest for a termination to be performed as soon after the pregnancy starts as possible.
But once an embryo has developed enough to feel pain, or begin a personality, then it has moved from cell-life into the first stages of being a human. Then, for me, ending that life is wrong bull; TRAVELS With My Camera: A Matter Of Life And Death is on More 4 at 10.30pm tonight. ° Guardian News And Media 2007. This article first appeared in The Observer.
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