Untitled watercolor by Adra Fisher
Untitled water­col­or by Adra Fisher. (Click to enlarge)

Like wall­pa­per and ele­va­tor music, legal abor­tion has been an abid­ing back­ground pres­ence through­out most of my adult life. My child­bear­ing years were just begin­ning in 1973 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Roe v. Wade. And now, half a cen­tu­ry lat­er, the years dur­ing which I might have need­ed, want­ed, or con­sid­ered hav­ing an abor­tion are decades past.

Thanks to easy access to afford­able birth con­trol, I nev­er expe­ri­enced a sur­prise preg­nan­cy (or any preg­nan­cy, for that mat­ter), but I know plen­ty of women who have. Some were delight­ed, some were mor­ti­fied, but most fell some­where in between. All, how­ev­er, were able to decide for them­selves how to pro­ceed. And each did so with much soul-search­ing and care­ful deliberation.

I’ve been think­ing a lot about those women late­ly, won­der­ing how they feel now that many states, includ­ing Kentucky, are pass­ing increas­ing­ly restric­tive abor­tion laws and the Supreme Court appears poised to over­turn the 50-year-old Roe deci­sion this summer.

No mat­ter what your views are on abor­tion, they are prob­a­bly deeply entrenched. This issue has become so polar­iz­ing that as a nation we now iden­ti­fy our­selves (and one anoth­er) as either “pro-life” or “pro-choice.”

This bina­ry label­ing dis­turbs me because I have nev­er met any­one who wasn’t lit­er­al­ly both: who doesn’t favor life over death and hav­ing choic­es over hav­ing no choic­es? Pro-life and pro-choice des­ig­na­tions gross­ly over­sim­pli­fy the issues sur­round­ing abor­tion and per­pet­u­ate polar­iza­tion, which keeps us divid­ed and angry.

Maybe it’s time for a less reac­tionary, more real­i­ty-based approach. 

We all know that abor­tion is not going away, whether it is legal or not. It nev­er has and it nev­er will. So rather than draw­ing lines in the sand and engag­ing in divi­sive rhetoric, maybe we should try work­ing togeth­er so that our shared val­ues of pre­serv­ing life and per­son­al free­doms are upheld in the actu­al world in which we live: the world in which peo­ple some­times become preg­nant when they don’t want to be and take dan­ger­ous mea­sures as a result.

Imagining our­selves in such a sit­u­a­tion might be a good place to start.

Becoming preg­nant, under any cir­cum­stance and for any length of time, is life-chang­ing. There are risks and con­se­quences, phys­i­cal­ly and emo­tion­al­ly, no mat­ter how a preg­nant per­son pro­ceeds. I’m hard-pressed to think of a more pri­vate and gut-wrench­ing sit­u­a­tion, which is why it is so upset­ting that women’s repro­duc­tive rights in gen­er­al — and abor­tion, specif­i­cal­ly — have become such incen­di­ary polit­i­cal fodder.

No one I know is “for” abor­tion, includ­ing the women who have had one. And hon­est­ly, wouldn’t any­one con­sid­er­ing how to man­age an unplanned preg­nan­cy — in their actu­al body and life, not some patri­ar­chal polit­i­cal pawn game  —  want to have a full range of safe, legal options?

When those seek­ing to over­turn Roe v. Wade and/or restrict access to safe and legal abor­tion speak, I lis­ten care­ful­ly. I want to under­stand what dri­ves their efforts. What I usu­al­ly hear is an argu­ment in defense of an unborn child, which I under­stand and respect.

In an ide­al world, abor­tion would not exist. Every preg­nan­cy would be wel­come and safe­ly car­ried to term by a woman who is ecsta­t­ic to be on the cusp of moth­er­hood. Every new­born would be cher­ished and reared accord­ing­ly. Cradle-to-grave sup­port would be a birthright.

Sometimes I hear the words “mur­der” or “mur­der­er,” which indi­cate to me that the speak­er is mov­ing into that right­eous-indig­na­tion red zone where polar­iza­tion — not real­i­ty-based prob­lem solv­ing — proliferates.

At such a junc­ture, step­ping into a preg­nant person’s shoes might be illu­mi­nat­ing because there was noth­ing remote­ly mur­der­ous about the expe­ri­ence I had in the late ‘70s accom­pa­ny­ing a col­lege dorm mate to her appoint­ment at a Louisville clinic.

Instead, terms like self-deter­mi­na­tion, courage, com­pas­sion, and grat­i­tude come to mind when I recall that event. What I wit­nessed that day, up close and per­son­al, was a thought­ful young woman at a pro­found cross­roads in her life, mak­ing a dif­fi­cult and deeply per­son­al deci­sion with the help of car­ing med­ical professionals.

While pro­tect­ing the unborn is a noble endeav­or, don’t we first and fore­most have an oblig­a­tion to respect and pro­tect those who already walk among us — the liv­ing, breath­ing women who live next door, work in the adja­cent cubi­cle, go to school every day, ring up our pur­chas­es at Walmart, dance down­town at Rock the Block? Haven’t we assured these women through­out their lives, implic­it­ly or explic­it­ly, that they are strong and pow­er­ful, smart and self-determining?

The women I have known who expe­ri­enced unplanned preg­nan­cies in the 1970s and ‘80s were all of those things and more. One thing they were not was crim­i­nal. Some chose to remain preg­nant, oth­ers did not. None made their deci­sion light­ly, and all were grate­ful to have options.

I’ve lost track of most of these women now, but I imag­ine in con­tem­pla­tive moments they enter­tain mul­ti­ple “what-ifs.” Don’t we all?

The fab­ric of our lives is woven one stitch at a time, each stitch being a choice made in a par­tic­u­lar cir­cum­stance, fol­lowed by the con­se­quence of that choice. Don’t we each, as cit­i­zens pur­port­ed­ly equal under the law, have a right to make our choic­es and then live with them? 

In an ide­al world, abor­tion would not exist. Every preg­nan­cy would be wel­come and safe­ly car­ried to term by a woman who is ecsta­t­ic to be on the cusp of moth­er­hood. Every new­born would be cher­ished and reared accord­ing­ly. Cradle-to-grave sup­port would be a birthright.

But we do not inhab­it such a world. So how do we proceed?

Abortion is just one of the harsh real­i­ties we must reck­on with in the com­ing months and years. Climate change, gun vio­lence, COVID-19, racism, and war are among the major issues loom­ing large on the horizon.

I sug­gest we all make a con­cert­ed course cor­rec­tion and rec­og­nize emo­tion­al manip­u­la­tion, mor­al­iz­ing, group­think, and stub­born rage-fueled sides-tak­ing as the destruc­tive polit­i­cal tac­tics that they are.  Our “lead­ers” on both sides use them because they keep us worked up, polar­ized, and stuck.

The cur­rent debate rag­ing over abor­tion rights is just the lat­est exam­ple of how blind­ed we have become to real­i­ty. The stakes in this debate alone are mon­u­men­tal, and cur­rent signs indi­cate we will become even more frac­tured polit­i­cal­ly, racial­ly, and socioe­co­nom­i­cal­ly if we con­tin­ue on our cur­rent trajectory.

Like my dorm mate so many years ago, we are at a cross­roads. And like her, we have choic­es to make. Chief among them is whether we want to come togeth­er and solve prob­lems or remain polar­ized and divid­ed. We might do well to keep this in mind as we move for­ward after these recent pri­ma­ry elec­tions, and as we con­sid­er how to pro­ceed come November and beyond.

Surely we can do bet­ter. Can’t we?

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    Adra Fisher grew up in Winchester, moved away in her ear­ly 20s and returned a quar­ter of a cen­tu­ry lat­er. She enjoys all types of art and encour­ag­ing oth­ers to live creatively.