ast year, circa the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, I had an idea for a piece that would explore how LGBTQ folks think about abortion. I wanted to talk to pro-lifers, pro-choicers, and everyone in between. I wanted to hear real human voices talking about what is, by all accounts, a contentious and polarizing issue in American politics.
The question of abortion rights gets flattened in a media that demands that we choose sides. But the answers I got were round. They were rich like earth— cavernous, and teeming with the variety and complexity of human experience. I spent a good amount of time reading answers from and speaking with strangers and friends about their lives, ideas, feelings, and opinions. Every message or phone call filled me with a sense of gravity.
As my pile of answers grew, it became clear that this is not a binary issue. And how can it be? The matter at hand is the reorganization of one’s entire insides—and outsides for that matter—for the rest of one’s life.
Pregnancy is a huge deal. Parenting is a huge deal. And no wonder people with uteruses want a say in whether they use them or not.
I asked my online community four questions, trying to encompass the enormity of the issue. The answers that flooded in came from all over. People who are queer, gay, lesbian, trans, and bi. People who were raised in an array of countries, who come from conservative communities and liberal hippie communities. Christians, Jews, and one Salimist. People of all ages. People with uteruses and without. People with children and without. I don’t identify them specifically because I want to protect their privacy and safety.
Would you define your stance on abortion rights as pro-life or pro-choice, or maybe a third, differently worded, option? What are the main reasons behind your identifying with this point of view?
I wasn’t entirely surprised that the majority (nearly two thirds) of the answers that rolled in were unequivocally pro-choice.
“I identify as strongly pro-choice — I sometimes say I am pro-abortion,” one person responded, “to me, that means that people who can get pregnant should be proactively taught about abortion and it should be widely available without stigma.”
Many other pro-choice responders felt just as staunchly about this. “I consider myself to be pro-choice and I have been pro-choice since I could understand what abortion is,” said one. “I would define myself as very pro-choice,” said another.
That said, this opinion wasn’t even close to being held by everyone I spoke to with many refusing to engage with the life vs. choice binary at all, choosing instead to define the conversation on their own terms.
“I’d say I’m pro-life but not anti-abortion,” said one person, “I believe abortions should be safe and legal and available. I also believe abortions are a much more serious matter than any other form of birth control, a tragic necessity that should not be taken lightly.”
Another responder said, quite poignantly…
“I’ve always been very pro-life and very pro-choice. It’s hard to really define, but I’ll try my best.”
One respondant, after much thought and research, explained that she “define(s) [her] stance on abortion rights as pro-life, recognising the difficulties of summing up a stance in such a way…The treatment of life in any inconsequential manner that is subject to the unsteady tides of personal choice is deeply troubling to me.” Going on to reflect on the wisdom of Aristotle and Maimonides, it was clear that she hadn’t come to this decision lightly.
How can we describe existence? What’s actually happening in a womb, in terms of the creation of a soul? How can we begin to fathom the millions of reasons a person would choose to end a pregnancy? And, these being such personal questions, how do we detach ourselves from someone else’s choice, trusting others to make complex, intimate choices that we may not agree with?
Would you say that your opinion on abortion is influenced in some way by your being queer/gay/lesbian/trans/another word you feel more comfortable with?
The answer to this question was mostly no.
Only two people said that being LGBTQ had a definitive impact on their ideas about abortion. “I think being queer has encouraged great compassion and reverence for women’s bodies,” one said. Another explained that he had already stepped outside the conservative society within which he was raised when he came out as gay. This allowed him a certain freedom to question the pro-life views that he was brought up with and to subsequently reject them.
Nearly everyone else said that, for them, it was more a matter of other life experiences.
“I think if anything, my strong Jewish upbringing probably had more of an influence,” one woman said. She described the impact of studying Jewish texts that support putting the pregnant person’s life first, both as a teen and as an adult. “I don’t think my attitude on abortion is influenced by my sexuality,” another woman shared, “but it is heavily influenced by my gender — by my experiences of sexism [and] misogyny.”
Interestingly, one person shared with me that her theological thesis dealt with the bioethics of abortion. She explained that “[her] opinion on abortion is not at all shaped by my sexual orientation as bisexual, rather, my opinion on abortion is an ontological stance that takes seriously the question of being and existence.”
Some weren’t sure, though, explaining that being LGBTQ is so enmeshed in all their other experiences it’s tricky to parse it out.
“Maybe on a deeper, subconscious level because being both nonbinary and queer I have it in me to be against the grain of white supremacist patriarchy,” one person suggested.
How can we begin to draw lines in our staggeringly messy inner worlds?
Do you feel definitively about this? If so – have you always felt strongly in one direction or another? If not – what makes you go back and forth?
Everyone who participated felt resolute about their opinion. Some had been raised to believe otherwise and had changed their minds later in life. Most of those who identify as women solidified their opinions as they came of age, through the sticky web of the patriarchy. Many talked about the wisdom of their mothers, older sisters, older cousins, aunts.
During a phone call, one young woman told a story about sitting in a cafe with as a preteen with an older cousin “…this woman from a [pro-life organization] came over and handed us pamphlets, and [my cousin] picked them up and threw them at her. And I was, like, ‘Why did you do that?!’ and she said, ‘Women should have the right to choose if they want to! That woman is trying to brainwash you!’ That kind of attitude was very much rooted in me from a very young age.”
Would you say that your opinion on abortion is influenced in some way by other life experience?
Far more people reported being influenced by myriad life experiences than by the singular experience of being LGBTQ. At the outset of my research, I had a hunch that this was true and that the stereotype of queer folks being of one liberal political mind was exaggerated.
“Yes.” said one man who had taken the time for a phone interview…
“My own childhood. It’s hard to imagine one’s non-existence. I’ve had to recognize the unnecessary hardships that unwanted kids need to go through, through my relationship with my mother and my alcoholic father. I don’t think my mother had a lot of agency when deciding whether to have me and my sister.”
“I chose to get pregnant and have a baby last year,” wrote a woman in a Facebook message, “While I had felt strongly before, pregnancy had a whole different impact. I understood the physical/emotional/psychological toll pregnancy has — that it can literally threaten your life. I had a high-risk pregnancy and also a physically difficult pregnancy.
The idea that I could be forced into going through that experience terrified and angered me. I love my daughter more than anything, but I felt at the time and I feel now that I should have had a legal right to terminate my pregnancy at any point while I was still pregnant (and that she should have the same right!).”
“My stance on abortion is influenced by many of my own experiences,” shared another person I met over social media, “I’ve been an abortion doula, reproductive health counselor, and sexuality educator for six years. It has been my privilege to support my patients and their choices. I’ve seen firsthand the effects of abortion stigma – patients sobbing that they felt they had failed their family’s expectations, that they were a bad person, or that they would struggle to conceive in the future…I spoke with hotline callers who were traveling well over 400 miles, taking unpaid days off work, needed childcare for two days while they were forced to endure listening to the heartbeat and a mandatory 24-to-72 hours wait period before getting the procedure done.”
I spent weeks in a state of communal thinking about abortions, existence, conception, and what our place is in it all. One afternoon I spoke at length with a stranger who suggested that maybe the conversation we’re having is wrong; we’re talking in generalizations instead of drawing on our unique, three-dimensional experiences alongside the information and studies. We need to speak with and listen to people who disagree with us, wherever our opinions may lie on the spectrum of ideas.
Allowing another being to grow inside one’s body may be the most personal decision someone ever makes. This most intimate of decisions has to be made by the individual, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t need other voices as we consider our options. How can people be expected to make such a critical choice without their communities’ support? We exist both together and apart.
It’s the listening that’s missing. And the listening can only happen when we are able to offer our guidance without ownership; when we truly internalize the knowledge that each of us is a kaleidoscope of experiences and character. If only our society could focus on the brilliance of the colors, instead of on the way they contrast.