I got my first period at a pro-life march. I felt a connection between my own blood and the bloody images on the posters that surrounded me. I promised myself that I would never murder my own children.
I grew up around extremist pro-life rhetoric and I heard comparisons between abortion and the Holocaust; between anti-abortion assassination attempts and the plot to kill Hitler.
I grew up hearing the radical anti-abortion group Operation Rescue being compared to the Civil Rights Movement. This is the same group that targeted Dr. George Tiller, the medical director of Women’s Health Care Services in Wichita, Kansas. First Dr. Tiller’s clinic was firebombed by an anti-abortion activist, then he was shot by another anti-abortion activist, and eventually he was assassinated by yet another anti-abortion activist while attending church.
I grew up with insider knowledge of the fundamental dishonesty of “crisis pregnancy centers,” whose staff and volunteers justify misrepresenting themselves to pregnant women because the stakes are life and death.
Crisis pregnancy centers lure desperate women by telling them that there will be counselors available to discuss options. Then the counselors tell these women that the only valid option is carrying the pregnancy to term.
Some counselors say that women who have abortions become infertile, or suicidal, or racked with guilt forever after.
Some counselors say that if you have an abortion, God will never forgive you.
I grew up amidst the conflation of pro-life beliefs and an obsession with “sexual purity.” I grew up under their combined suffocating pressure.
I saw sobbing pregnant teenage girls stand at the front of my church sanctuary during a Sunday worship service and confess their sin and shame to the entire congregation.
I grew up around girls who consented to unprotected oral and anal sex because they thought virginity was about their vaginas, and because their parents didn’t let them attend sex ed classes, and because the only thing they knew to fear was pregnancy.
I watched women who’d had sex marry men they didn’t love because they thought of themselves as damaged goods.
I watched straight men and boys get away with almost everything.
I saw how “pro-life” family values subordinate the actual lives of women, children, and queer and trans people to the abstract and arbitrary ideals of patriarchy. I saw that a commitment to “the sanctity of human life” was completely compatible with forcing women to submit to male authority, and shunning and shaming queer kids, and kicking trans teenagers out of the house and out of the church
I grew up with absolutely no sense of the history of pregnancy and fertility and miscarriage and abortion, and no sense of how recent and unprecedented the “life begins at conception” doctrine is. I didn’t know that for most of history pregnancies weren’t actually considered persons. I didn’t know that before my lifetime American evangelicals and Republicans were often untroubled by the idea of legal abortion. I didn’t understand what a strange modern invention anti-abortion culture is.
It took me a long time to understand how much I had been lied to by earnest, sincere, well-intentioned people.
I’m not sure exactly when I began to believe that every woman should have easy and shameless access to abortion. But I have seen enough to know that purity is not possible in this world, and to know that I wouldn’t want it even if it were.
I know what it’s like to have sex without marriage and feel joy and relief and no guilt at all.
I know what it’s like when a condom breaks.
I know what it’s like to wait for the results of a drugstore pregnancy test while calculating the impossibility of supporting myself and a child on a graduate school stipend of less than $20,000 a year, and then realizing with a sudden sickness that feels like morning sickness that the man I’m dating would make a terrible father.
I know what it’s like to have ambition and ovaries.
I know that what grows in a womb is an in-between thing, a baby to one woman and a cluster of cells to another, and that both experiences can feel true, but legally that doesn’t change a thing.
I know that women feel many things about their abortions, including nothing. I know they have a right to feel whatever they feel.
I know what it’s like to love my friends through their abortions, and I know what it’s like to see them later become the mothers they eventually wanted to be.
I know what it’s like to see a baby take his first breath, and to see in the faces of everyone around him how utterly loved and wanted he is.
I know what it’s like to feel fertility as a gift, a curse, a dream, a nightmare, a responsibility, an everyday chore, and an hourglass running out.
I know that my life and freedom and peace of mind depend on access to birth control, abortion, and other reproductive health care. And I know that this is true for women of every religion and every age, in this embattled country and around the world.
Briallen Hopper: Raised by well-intentioned wolves.