By Hazel Larkin
I’m not entirely sure when I ‘turned’.
I had a very typical rural Irish upbringing: Mass on a Sunday, religious orders in the single-sex schools we attended, and only RTÉ one and two on the tellybox. Critical thinking, certainly in our home, meant thinking the wallpaper in the sitting-room wasn’t particularly lovely. But being sure to keep that thought to yourself.
We were taught not to question. Not to interrogate anything. So, when the nuns told us that abortion was a horrible, terrible affront to God, morality, humanity… everything, we wore the tiny gold-coloured foetus feet they sold us with a sense of moral superiority. A sign that we sided with the baby who couldn’t speak for him or herself. We sided with Right and Righteousness.
At 12, I remember thinking I was pregnant. With my brother’s child. Within 24 hours, I had myself convinced I was. I envisaged the scenario where I’d be ‘found out’, and I knew that I would be blamed, that I would be shamed, that I would be in Big Trouble. I remember being vaguely aware that there was a chance something would be wrong with the baby. But never, in any of this did it occur to me that there was an alternative. That, if I was pregnant (which I wasn’t, thankfully), there might be something I could do about it.
Even when I abandoned Christianity at the ripe old age of 14, I couldn’t shake my belief that abortion was wrong. Life begins at conception, I was sure. The minute that sperm fuses with that egg, you’re pregnant, you’re going to be a mother, there’s a baby inside you. Give thanks and praise and love it, love it, love it! – no matter what.
Still aged 14, after my father had sexually assaulted me, he asked me, when I was adjusting my bra and trying to quell the feeling of nausea, what I would do if ‘some young fella got (me) pregnant’. I knew what the ‘right’ answer was. So, I gave it. He was delighted with my response, and shoved his tongue in my mouth to show me his approval.
Even into my late teens, I continued to believe that abortion was ‘wrong’ and I remember thinking that if those women didn’t want their babies, I’d have them. I’d love them. Of course, this says more about me, and the lack in me, and my complete lack of understanding of the complexities around abortion than it does about anything else. It was a reflection of my own desire to be a mother, not my understanding of another’s desire not to be one.
It simply never occurred to me that our desires – though opposite – could be equally strong, equally well-founded and equally valid.
I finally became a mother in my late 20s, and I think I was still anti-choice then, but slowly turning. I’d realised that, while abortion wasn’t right for me, it was right for millions of other women, and I had no right to interfere with their choices. Around about this time, living in India, and connecting with a band of activists and academics, I had my mind opened a bit more and I realised that I had no right to even think that another woman needed my approval to undergo a medical procedure. Any medical procedure. I realised that forced sterilisation and forced pregnancy are two sides of the one coin. I became as horrified by one as I was by the other.
When I made the connection between my own lack of autonomy as an abused person, and the lack of bodily autonomy and ownership afforded pregnant women, I was stunned at how judgemental I had been. I was embarrassed by my own naivety, and how lacking in understanding I had been. There is no ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ in how a person deals with their own body. The biggest wrong is disallowing a person to decide for themselves what is in their own best interests.
I no longer believe that life begins at conception, either. My eldest was born at thirty weeks, which caused me to re-visit the idea of when life begins. I decided that, until the products of conception can live outside the womb – until they can live separately from the woman’s body – then they are not human, and they do not have human rights. The rights – all the rights – belong to the pregnant person.
Put succinctly, if you don’t want an abortion, you absolutely should not have one, and no one should force you to. Equally, though, if you want an abortion, you absolutely should have one, and no should force you to continue a pregnancy you don’t want.
Your body. Your choice.
The author of this piece, Hazel Katherine Larkin, is a proud member of the Parents for Choice committee.
You can follow her on Twitter @hazelklarkin.