Unchoice: Don’t Ask Women for Trust

Jun 24, 2022 | Op-Ed

Unchoice

 

Their fingers linked
intertwined,
driving past the angry mob
choking back the anguished scream
with pale-faced silence.

Failing.
Kidneys, womb – a hostile place
Her life, his? Theirs?
Two more at home. Unchoice.
Lover, husband, father by her side
the knife slips in, twists
it is done.

A human cross.
Still merciless, without compassion –
waving lurid, bilious, bloody images.
“Our child,” she whispers.
A sudden squeal of brakes
Reined emotion loosed
on well-meaning ignorance.

Tears fall, fists fly,
understanding too much, too little, too late.
Torn, ripped to tiny shreds –
fingers, toes, umbilicus
floating towards the grate.


I wrote the poem, Unchoice, to honor a woman I knew, a devout Christian, who was very much opposed to abortion. She had a loving husband and two beautiful daughters. She was also suffering from kidney disease, and had been warned that another pregnancy could well prove fatal. Despite their precautions, she got pregnant. And despite all the warnings, she tried – really tried – to carry that child to term. But it became quite clear that her “choice” really wasn’t a “choice” at all: The fetus couldn’t live. She could either continue with the pregnancy and they would both die, leaving a widower and two children alone to grieve the loss of wife and mother, or she could have an abortion and live. She could stick around to help provide for her family, to raise her daughters to be good women, and to love and support the husband she’d vowed to love and support. Had it been her alone, she’d have risked death and carried that child inside her on faith and a prayer and (in the opinion of her doctors) foolishness. But she dared not risk it – for her loved ones’ sakes. The day she had the abortion, there was a protest in town – a mile-long “human cross” of protesters carrying lurid, full-color signs with grisly photos of aborted fetuses. She saw the pictures and it was just too much, right then. Her husband pulled over and had words with one of the protesters (no violence, just angry words). When the man understood what this couple had just been through, and how hurtful all this was to them, he threw down his sign and went home. Sometimes, people just don’t think. They get so caught up in their cause, they just don’t think.

Another friend of mine, a young woman at the time, had a late-term abortion; she was about six months along when she first learned she was pregnant. I had seen her nearly every day of that six months, and wouldn’t have guessed, so don’t scoff – it’s quite possible. She wasn’t “showing.” The doctor performing the ultrasound that confirmed the pregnancy couldn’t get the fetus to move, but it wasn’t dead, either. There’s a good chance something was horribly wrong with this pregnancy, but that’s not why she chose to end it. She chose to end it because the father wasn’t involved and she wasn’t ready to take care of herself let alone a child, though she was mature enough to recognize that she didn’t have the maturity, the financial stability, or the driving desire to be a mother at that point in her life. Her parents didn’t particularly want to start over and raise their grandchild, and it would have been unfair to ask it of them. She thought I’d judge her harshly; the fact is, I thought her decision to terminate the pregnancy was wiser than the decision to bring an unwanted child into the world would have been. The moral struggle wasn’t mine, and I’m quite thankful I’ve never been faced with it. I don’t judge my friend.

When I was in law school, I researched and wrote a draft of a paper on “Baby Doe.” I learned about some horrific genetic “oopses” in nature; I think I know my limits. I do believe that quality of life – the baby’s, the mother’s, the father’s, the siblings’ – matters, no matter that some people would have us all believe otherwise. Once upon a time, there wouldn’t have been a “choice.” Some of these children would simply have died in utero, or shortly after birth. But we have gotten very good at prolonging “life.” Too good, I think. There are things that can break a person, a marriage, and a family. The only people who should have a say in whether such a pregnancy is carried to term are the mother and her chosen advisors – husband, doctors, and, perhaps, clergy.

To have an abortion or to give birth is, and should be, a choice – and terminating a pregnancy is rarely an easy one. But it should be the woman’s choice, and hers alone. Do I believe it’s the ending of a life? Yes. Do I believe it’s the mother’s right to end that life while it is growing inside her, wholly dependent upon her body, up to the point where it can live outside the womb without “heroic medical intervention”? Yes. It’s my right to slice off my arm if I choose to do so, though there are very few circumstances under which I’d think it was a good, “right” thing to do. Each woman has to struggle with her own moral and religious beliefs, the “physical, emotional, and mental healthiness” of her own choices, and come to her own conclusion – to do what’s right for her. Just as no one should coerce or force a woman to have an abortion, no one should coerce or force a woman to remain pregnant. I have no respect for those who cannot understand that and seek to force their own beliefs down someone else’s throat by threatening, bullying, or coercion.

The doctors who perform abortions don’t do it because they love to perform abortions – they do it because they’re compassionate enough to want to ensure safe, healthy abortions for women who’ve chosen to end their pregnancies. They do it because it’s not their place to judge, but to treat and to heal, others.

No one who would physically attack a woman, a doctor, or healthcare workers, or who would bomb an abortion clinic can credibly say to me “I’m pro-LIFE.” They’re just making very different choices about which lives are worth protecting.


Today’s Supreme Court Ruling, overturning Roe v. Wade, robs women of bodily autonomy and is tantamount to choosing a clump of cells that may or may not become a person over women, mothers, living children, and families. No child should be unwanted; no woman should be forced to become or remain pregnant against her will. But that is exactly where we are, now, in this country. It is a dark day.

And make no mistake: They are coming for your rights, too.

 

Click to read full Supreme Court opinion overturning Roe v. Wade (PDF).

It is good that some corporations seem to understand the economic impact of today’s ruling and the importance of this issue, but it is not enough to say, “We’ll pay the costs of travel to states where abortion is legal” if these same companies are contributing to the regressive Republican Party or its candidates. Given half the chance, Republicans will make such travel, itself, illegal. Don’t say “trust us.” That’s proven to be a hollow promise. Women have little reason to trust anyone, today.

Holly Jahangiri is the author of Trockle, illustrated by Jordan Vinyard; A Puppy, Not a Guppy, illustrated by Ryan Shaw; and the newest release: A New Leaf for Lyle, illustrated by Carrie Salazar. She draws inspiration from her family, from her own childhood adventures (some of which only happened in her overactive imagination), and from readers both young and young-at-heart. She lives in Houston, Texas, with her husband, J.J., whose love and encouragement make writing books twice the fun.

12 Comments

  1. Melody

    Bravo, Holly!!!

    Reply
    • Holly Jahangiri

      Thank you, Melody.

      I wrote most of this in 2007, about events from the 1990s. It’s hard to believe we have to keep fighting this battle.

      Reply
      • Melody McLaughlin

        Now I have a question: if a woman had gotten out of the car and had that exact conversation, would the result have been the same? 🤔
        I’m thinking not.

        Reply
    • Holly Jahangiri

      It’s a global problem, Jack. We get so distracted with what’s going on here, we forget to look around us, sometimes. Fascism is on the rise EVERYWHERE.

      Reply
  2. Jack Yan

    Brilliantly expressed, Holly. How quickly a bunch of religious zealots can change things for women there in the US. A stark warning for the rest of us where similar forces want to get into our institutions.

    Reply
    • Holly Jahangiri

      Yes. Never, ever think “it can’t happen here.”

      Reply
  3. Ruchi

    I feel we are moving backwards! Back to the dark ages ! Bravo Holly ! For giving words to our thoughts !

    Reply
    • Holly Jahangiri

      We are moving backwards to the Dark Ages. Women with rights and educations don’t depend on men for anything, and that terrifies weak men. This culture is so ingrained that plenty of women will either abstain from voting or vote against their own interests. And then a large swath of people have just checked out, convinced their votes don’t count. (And maybe they won’t, if they keep abstaining, unfortunately.)

      Reply

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