Why would any woman want to ask US Supreme Court Associate Justice Samuel Alito whether or not she should have a baby? Unless it’s a special case. I mean, if you were Mrs. Alito you might want to discuss it with him, particularly if he’s had a vasectomy. Just saying. But what about the rest of us?
Honestly, I mean no particular disrespect to the jurist who drew on junk historical analysis to author the tendentious Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health opinion recently that robbed Americans of a 50-year-old Constitutional right to privacy in healthcare and family planning decisions. But hey – think about it. Let’s say you got pregnant and did not mean to (and you are not Mrs. Alito), and now you have to decide what to do about it. It was unplanned, accidental, a contraception fail, or a rape. Are you really prepared to decide that embryo’s fate (to be, or not to be) based on what some fundamentalist old-school Christian guy in a long black nightgown has the temerity to dictate? An absurd move for you, when you put it that way.
Junior and you
So what do you do? On the one hand there is the theoretical, possible, potential, but by no means guaranteed life of your fertilized egg: It could morph into a baby but it could also prove unviable… could implant outside the uterus and kill you… could end its career in a miscarriage… could develop without a skull or a brain or be fatally damaged in some other way… or could go the whole nine months and then be stillborn… You, meanwhile, the woman who produced the egg in the first place but did not intend to get pregnant, retain your basic autonomy and personhood. Statistically, abortion is much safer for you than pregnancy and childbirth. Certainly there is a fundamental interdependence of your wellbeing and the wellbeing of your embryo – but those two things are not identical.
The minority of Americans who champion the fate of any embryo over the fate of any woman, no matter the circumstances, usually invoke their religion, their God, their church, their clergy, their parents and family, their spouse, cherry-picked historical data, or some combination of those.
But the interlocutor with whom these folks fail to engage is precisely the unborn one: the new life in formation, the embryo, the junior partner in the enterprise, so to speak. Let’s call her Junior.
Doesn’t Junior’s opinion matter? Have you ever stopped to wonder what Junior might say, in any given case, if asked? Who besides you, the woman who made that now-fertilized egg, has more right to an opinion than Junior?
If you are a pregnant woman with a compelling reason to consider ending your pregnancy and you could first have a candid conversation with Junior about the best way to proceed, given all the circumstances of the case, shouldn’t you do that? Sit and meditate and try to hear Junior’s opinion before you decide? Of course, your conversation with Junior might be very different from some other woman’s experience. But don’t you think you should make the attempt to communicate, and to listen?
My conversation with Junior
Perhaps a concrete example would be helpful, so I will share my own experience by way of illustration.
I ended an unplanned pregnancy with an abortion once. Before I went through with it, I consulted with Junior, a step that was very helpful.
This was around 1967. Abortion in the US was illegal. I was 19 at the time, and in absolutely no state to have a baby or be a mother, not even a surrogate mother for adoption purposes.
When I found myself pregnant by accident, I thought long and hard about the choices before me. Having a baby seemed out of the question; I was struggling just to survive, physically and emotionally, myself. I had no particular scruples, religious or otherwise, against abortion – and yet… I pondered. An abortion has a unique finality to it; you can’t change your mind later and undo it. How to be sure?
At some point I had an epiphany: I would talk it over with Junior. I turned my attention toward the other soul involved, for a dialogue. As I imagined it, that other soul was either already inhabiting the tiny embryo inside me or was waiting wherever souls wait until the time came to be embodied again. In either case, we needed to talk. I said, basically, this: Hey Junior, you got a bad deal on this assignment. I think sticking with me is not a great option for you. I think they made a mistake upstairs somewhere. What you probably should do is go back to where they give out these assignments and get a new one. What do you say?
What I felt flowing back to me from Junior was a wordless acquiescence. Agreement. Understanding. Resignation. And love. After all, mistakes happen. Wherever they make these arrangements, someone had screwed up. Junior needed to go back there and start fresh. I remember very vividly, half a century later, how I felt. I felt reassured.
I was also lucky: Since I had a job, and could borrow from friends, and knew someone who knew about an underground abortion network that led me to a doctor in Puerto Rico who did abortions, and I could pay for a place to stay outside San Juan, and could take time off work – this choice was available to me. In hindsight, I was both very fortunate and very privileged. So many other women have no such options.
After I parted from Junior, I joined a women’s consciousness-raising group (it was a ‘60s thing) where I got the support I needed to get a grip on my life, nurture a new sense of my own worth, and begin to heal. I went back to school and earned a degree. I strove to practice being healthy and productive. Later on I grew a career, and eventually married and had two wonderful kids who are now in their thirties. Over the years, of course, I have periodically thought of Junior. I have wondered where in the circle of life that little soul ended up after we parted ways. I never felt that Junior reproached me, or was angry at me. Who understood the situation better than Junior did? I felt that we had made our decision together and, all things considered, had chosen the best way forward. No one can prove the truth of that, of course; but no one can disprove it, either.
Samuel Alito and company are the last people you should have to be guided by if you are facing this dilemma. Who do you think should have more right to be consulted – the fossilized fundamentalist in the long black nightgown, or the embryonic Junior, right there inside of you? If you are religious, consider this: Not yet born, Junior is arguably closer to God than any of the rest of us. Go ahead and consult Junior, and have a dialogue, and then factor what you learn into your decision. Certainly Junior has more right to an opinion than the clergy, the governor, the courts, the legislature, or anyone else.
Anyone else, except the mom.