"How dare anyone presume to judge me or any other woman who has experienced this?" Readers respond to Ayelet Waldman's essay about her second-term abortion.

Published February 12, 2005 11:32PM (EST)

[Read "Looking Abortion in the Face," by Ayelet Waldman.]

I see things very differently than Ayelet Waldman. I am a mother now, and before my successful pregnancy I had one pregnancy ended by a second-trimester miscarriage. In neither pregnancy did I ever think of my fetus as a "baby" or consider it a living person. To me, these fetuses were each simply the possibility of a person. One possibility became my wonderful and beloved son; the other was just not meant to be. I recognize that many pregnant women do think of their fetuses as "babies," but many of us don't. It strikes me as not a healthy or beneficial way of thinking. A baby is a discrete person who can be cared for by almost any adult. A fetus is a parasitic "lump of cells" dependent entirely on one woman. I, and many other people, have no difficulty seeing that distinction.

The pro-choice movement is broad enough to encompass every person who values the health and lives of women. I respect Waldman's views, but disagree with them. What I do not respect is Waldman's assertions that "everyone knows how early a fetus becomes a baby" and that "contemporary women know the truth about abortion, and those of us who remain firmly committed to a woman's right to choose need to accept and acknowledge that truth, or we risk losing our right completely." Yes, she has her version of "truth," very similar to the propaganda of those who work so hard to devalue and degrade women through the anti-choice movement. It is not, however, a universal truth. Those of us who see things from a "clump of cells" perspective have a healthy, rational and beneficial truth of our own. Waldman is asking us to listen to every woman's truth, and I agree.

-- Kim Stahl

Thank you, Ayelet Waldman, for your article on your abortion experience. It will make people realize that it's not an easy decision for a woman, that it can involve a lot of emotional pain and that nonetheless it can still be the right choice.

-- Jennifer Schneider, M.D.

Ayelet Waldman's essay articulates brilliantly an issue that those on both sides sometimes oversimplify. Pro-choice/pro-life. Either/or. Black/white. Unfortunately, life is rarely that cut and dried, especially when the decision being made is difficult, painful and irreversible.

I wonder what the senator who exploits the term "partial-birth abortion" would do if his wife were gestating the genetically damaged, faceless baby Waldman describes her friend Tiffany choosing to abort. Would he watch his wife labor to bring this child into the world, knowing it would live in pain? Quit his job and change feeding tubes and diapers himself? Pay the hospital and long-term-care bills for the duration of the child's life? Oh, that's right. He personally cares for a child with colossal needs; he no longer has a paying job. No job? No insurance, either. Allow the unending need of this child impact the quality of life of his other children, and bankrupt his family?

It's easier to have black/white positions when you don't have any personal skin in the game -- or have never known the bowel-loosening fear that even a missed period can wreak. There are no easy answers on this subject. Indeed, abortion should never be an "easy" choice. There is pain, mourning and regret when a woman of reproductive age exercises her legal rights. But many times the decision is being made, as Waldman states, based on other complex factors that would cause even more pain and regret.

Thank you, Ayelet Waldman, for your story.

-- Tammy Hoganson

I enjoyed Ayelet Waldman's article. As someone who had an abortion several years ago, I have been at times almost confused about how I really feel. I am very firmly pro-choice and can't see myself being any other way, but that somehow seemed to be in direct conflict with the way I mourned over my aborted child -- how I knew her name and dreamed of her. I finally made peace with both my strong beliefs and my grief, and reading your article I felt comforted reading that someone else feels similarly. Thank you.

-- Jessi Still

What a powerful, even beautiful essay about a heartbreaking subject. I am and always will be pro-choice. I have had more than one abortion. While I regret my carelessness (or denial) as a teenager and young adult, I will always know I made the right decision for my future, my health and even the health and well-being of any children I might have had.

We are at such a critical juncture when it comes to a woman's right to choose. Hillary Clinton's recent remarks on finding common ground with pro-life forces are frightening to me but also, perhaps, the road we will have to take to ensure women's rights are protected. Perhaps appealing to pro-life people who are not dead-set against birth control or women's freedom to be sexual, and collaborating with them on preventing unwanted pregnancies instead of focusing on abortion, could be helpful. I harbor no illusions about the right-wing pro-life zealots ever supporting women's issues, but we cannot stop trying.

-- Rose Eckstein

I am very sorry for the author's loss and appreciate her putting a face on the issue of abortion. There are many people who think abortion is an abused right that should be revoked. It is important for people to realize that the decision does not come easily and without any thought. Abortion is not the easy solution some make it out to be. Also, it is hardly a decision our politicians should be making for us. It is a personal decision that should be made by the individual with their own chosen means of guidance.

-- Jacky

I just read Ayelet Waldman's story of her second-term abortion. It left me unsettled, as this subject is apt to do. I support a women's right to choose whether she remains pregnant or not; however, I do have problems with some of the reasoning behind terminating a pregnancy. For example, Waldman mentions that her friend Tiffany has had two "partial-birth abortions" because she is a "carrier of a terrible genetic abnormality." She also states of the fetuses, "They were doomed. The only way to extract them without hurting her chances of ever having another baby was through a D&X."

How many does Tiffany have to have before she realizes that perhaps she should not reproduce? That as a "carrier of a terrible genetic abnormality" perhaps she is unable to bear a healthy child? Also, does she only become aware of these problems in the last trimester of her pregnancy? Would her doctors not be looking for them sooner, seeing her history? I think defending a women's right to choose would be easier if abortions were limited to first-trimester procedures. I know some abnormalities cannot be detected until the second trimester and so some abortions must be performed then. But into the third trimester? I have a hard time swallowing the argument for abortions this late in a pregnancy. So do, I think (unfortunately for the pro-choice movement), most people.

-- Shannon Paul

After reading the article "Looking Abortion in the Face" by Ayelet Waldman, I took her advice to "listen to the pregnant woman." Unfortunately there was another voice getting in the way, the voice of the unborn child saying, "Love me, Mom. I'm precious and have something to offer you, my siblings and this world. Don't kill me."

-- Rich Zmijewski

The subtitle of the article says it all:

"My second-trimester baby had a genetic abnormality, and I decided to terminate my pregnancy. I know exactly what I did, I wept for the fetus I killed ..."

It was a baby that had a genetic defect, and a baby that she killed. But when she confronts her act, she calls the beneficiary of her services a fetus. It makes me wonder if she would have done the same if the defect had been discovered after birth.

-- Dave Thomas

Why didn't Ayelet Waldman consider the possibility that some other family would be willing to adopt her less than "genetically perfect" baby?

-- David P. Graf

When Waldman decided to share her decision to end the pregnancy as she did, she should have decided to share the most relevant details that went into the decision. What exactly the genetic defect was is an important question that I want the answer to. This article leaves me hanging.

-- Mike Gates

I am a pro-choice woman who understands that abortion can be a very painful, difficult choice for everyone involved. No one wants abortions to happen. So it was with great interest that I read Ayelet Waldman's "Looking Abortion in the Face."

However, as I reached the end of the article, I became disgusted. Waldman tells us the story of her friend Tiffany, who carries a genetic defect that has caused her to conceive two "doomed" fetuses, both of which she aborted in order to preserve her future fertility.

I suppose this story was supposed to arouse sympathy, but all it aroused in me was disgust. Why does Tiffany keep getting pregnant? Why does she wish to do so again? Will she just keep aborting babies until she conceives a nondefective one? This is a selfish and abusive use of abortion.

Waldman says that Tiffany mourns the deaths of her babies, but she obviously doesn't care enough to not risk killing another baby. Rather than an example of the necessity for late-term abortions, she is a striking and horrific example of their abuse.

-- Priscilla Lane

Thank you for bringing the issues in this article to light. Our religious, moral president and his followers insist on seeing everything in the stark contrasts of black and white. "Abortion is wrong." "It is murder." "No exceptions."

Those of us who have gone through the harrowing experience know differently. I, too, got pregnant, happily, and was very excited and eager to have my first child. Without a care in the world, I sailed into my second trimester only to discover, during a routine ultrasound, that there was something wrong with my baby's skull.

I will not go into the sheer, heart-twisting horror that my husband and I went through. After a follow-up appointment and a Type II ultrasound, it was discovered that my precious baby, the one whom I had already dreamed up a life for from diapers to college, had a rare, fatal condition called anencephaly.

Anencephaly literally means "no brain." With this condition, the baby's neural tube fails to close and the brain doesn't fully form. In some cases, there is only the brainstem. Also, there is a zero percent survival rate for the child. The condition, as the doctors so eloquently told me, is "incompatible with life."

My choices were that I could have gone on with my pregnancy and delivered a baby who would shortly die, within hours or at the most days, or I could terminate.

I chose to terminate. I chose to start my mourning, my painful grieving for the child who would never smile or laugh or grow.

This was my choice and my husband's. It was not the government's. It belonged to us, the parents, and I would not have those rights stripped from us by a bunch of self-righteous, narrow-minded folk who only see the world the way it is experienced in their own little circle.

How dare anyone presume to judge me or any other woman who has experienced this or another similar circumstance?

If this administration had its way, I would have been forced to carry a doomed baby, one who had no chance of life ... to watch my belly getting bigger, to feel that life every day for five more months, to know that as soon as the baby's tie with me was broken, there was no more hope. I can't even imagine it.

I will never forget my son. My precious child, my David. For the few months he lived inside of me, a part of him will live with me for a lifetime. Yet those are my memories, my choices, and I would not relinquish them.

I ask and beg everyone to not allow our society to go down the path of shackling women to someone else's whims and to another's beliefs. We must retain control of our bodies and our choices. I can only hope that more people wake up and realize what is happening before we wake up one day with all choices removed.

-- Daniella Sigal

By Salon Staff

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