A long time ago in a place that seems far away, I stopped after work to visit a woman I’d been dating, and she told me she’d had an abortion that day.
I didn’t know she was pregnant, didn’t even know she was worried about being late.
I’ve never been able to recall my immediate response, probably because I was in shock.
But I always remember her reaction to whatever I’d said. She said she was glad that I hadn’t asked whether I was the father. The possibility that I wasn’t hadn’t really occurred to me until then, so I asked, which was totally the wrong thing to do and only served to compound my subsequent regret.
Of course, I was the father. That’s why she was telling me.
That’s a memory I normally keep pushed way back in the recesses of my mind. It pains me to know that I was careless enough to put her in that position — and too clueless to provide the proper support in the aftermath. It’s something I try not to think about and never discuss.
So why am I bringing it up now, and in public, no less?
Because it’s weighing on my mind more than ever these days with abortion so much in the news, as some states move to criminalize it, while Illinois pushes back in the opposite direction — both sides anticipating a potential Supreme Court reversal of Roe v. Wade.
Also because I keep thinking that, for every woman who has an abortion, there was a man somewhere in the equation, his part an unexplored secret.
And finally because that long-ago abortion was probably one of the pivotal events of my life, as it must have been for millions of other men, and that’s something that ought to be acknowledged aloud without detracting from the idea that abortion is a matter in which a woman’s views should take precedent.
I’m pro-choice. My experience definitely informs my position. I believe a woman has the right to make her own decision on whether to bring a child into this world. It’s her body.
In my case, that’s exactly what happened. My girlfriend did not include me in the decision-making on having an abortion. She didn’t even ask me to accompany her to the doctor.
I can’t say exactly what her thinking was, whether she decided she wasn’t ready to be a mother, or I wasn’t ready to be a father or, at least, wasn’t the right prospective mate.
I was an ambitious young reporter on the make in more ways than one, still immature in many respects. Just stating facts, not making excuses.
She was an independent-minded woman embarking on a career and not interested in marriage quite yet, though I believe she had family aspirations.
We had taken birth-control precautions but obviously hadn’t been careful enough.
What if she had wanted to go through with the pregnancy and have the baby? What if she had wanted me to marry her? Would I have felt an obligation to do so, as was customary at the time?
How might that have changed the course of my life?
Profoundly, I’m sure. And not for the better.
I’ve always been grateful in retrospect that she made the difficult decision entirely on her own.
My own thoughts on abortion were not yet fully formed before that day, but this is where I have landed. I appreciate the gravity of terminating a pregnancy. I believe I understand the strong moral conviction of those who stand in opposition, although I don’t share that conviction. I don’t advocate abortion, only a woman’s right to have one. If that’s splitting hairs, I’m OK with that.
After the abortion, the relationship didn’t last much longer. The abortion was probably a factor but not the only one.
For me, there would always be a sense I had let her down. There was shame or guilt as well, not that I’d done something immoral but that I’d messed up her life. On her part, there might have been lingering resentment, although I don’t believe that was ever spoken aloud.
You’re wondering, no doubt, how the abortion affected her life later, as do I, but I’ll never know.
We lost touch. I got married, raised a family.
As best as I can recall, my wife and I had spoken of this only once. Showing her this column in advance makes twice.
There is some debate in pro-choice circles about whether male voices even have a legitimate place in the abortion discussion, which seems extreme.
It’s not my place to tell a woman what she can do with her body. But surely there must be room for me to speak out against others who would do so.
And, at least for me, being honest about my own experience with abortion is an important step in that direction.