Sat | Nov 28, 2020

Michael Abrahams | Pro-choice is not pro-abortion

Published:Monday | June 3, 2019 | 12:26 AM

Last week I attended an obstetrics and gynaecology medical symposium. The last item on the programme was a discussion on abortion. I was on the panel with a lawyer who is anti-abortion, and an epidemiologist (a scientist who studies diseases in defined populations) who, like me, is pro-choice.

Before the discussion began, the moderator asked the audience to indicate, by a show of hands, who is anti-abortion, and who is “for abortion”. The epidemiologist and I immediately and vociferously objected to his remark and corrected him by letting him know that being pro-choice does not equate to encouraging abortion. Being pro-choice simply means that one believes that a woman has a right to make decisions about her body.

Speaking for myself, I am unapologetically pro-choice. However, I do not like abortion. I do not encourage abortion and do not believe that it should be used as a method of birth control.

EMOTIONAL STORIES

Recently, a patient of mine, during a consultation, related a story to me that moved me to tears. She reminded me about a conversation which took place at the beginning of our doctor-patient relationship. At the time, she already had a daughter and had gotten pregnant again but did not want the pregnancy. She visited a doctor who gave her some pills to take to induce an abortion, but they failed to work. So, hell-bent on terminating the pregnancy, she visited my office and asked me to assist her.

After listening to her story and examining her, I looked her in the eyes and told her that I did not think she really wanted to get rid of the pregnancy. I wrote her a prescription for some pre-natal vitamins and told her to consider having a second child. She did, and her daughter, now twelve years old, is a bright, witty, loving and charming child. We both became emotional as she thanked me profusely for encouraging her to carry her pregnancy to term.

At around the same time, another patient visited me and discussed a problem she was having. She was about to start a Masters degree programme and discovered that she was pregnant. She did not think she could manage to carry a pregnancy and deliver while studying, and had made a decision to not go through with her pregnancy.

I told her that, in my opinion, her reason was not a strong enough one, and shared with her the fact that my wife was pregnant with our first son while she was doing the very same course, and that she completed it successfully. With my wife’s consent, I gave the patient her number and asked her to call her. They had a conversation, and the patient decided to keep the pregnancy.

Interestingly, her daughter ended up attending the same preparatory school as my son. I would see her frequently in the parking lot when we would drop off or pick up our children, and she has often expressed gratitude to me for encouraging her to have her lovely daughter.

I share these stories to illustrate the fact that being pro-choice does not mean encouraging women to abort pregnancies.

Speaking for myself, my view is that a woman should be entitled to make informed decisions about what happens to and inside her body. Some may argue that an embryo or fetus has different DNA and is not, strictly speaking, a woman’s “body part”. But the fact remains that when a pregnancy is carried, it will affect a woman’s body. I am not pro-choice because I am evil and promote a “culture of death”, as some anti-abortion advocates would say. Rather, I am pro-choice because I feel profound empathy for women who find themselves in situations where abortion becomes an option.

I support the law being changed because I believe that it is unfair to force a woman who does not wish to be pregnant to carry her pregnancy to term, or to punish her for deciding not to, knowing that the pregnancy has the potential to affect her physical, mental and social well-being and significantly alter the trajectory of her life.

I believe is it utterly cruel and reprehensible to force a woman who has been raped to carry a resulting pregnancy to term.

HORROR STORIES

Anti-abortion folks love to regale us with stories of rape victims who carried their pregnancies and delivered children who are now alive. However, they shy away from the horror stories that can take place when a rape results in a pregnancy.

Allow me to share one such ghastly and horrific tale. A woman I know was raped at the age of 15. She was not sexually active before the incident and did not realize she was pregnant until the process was well underway. When she was examined by a doctor, the pregnancy was at a stage where termination would have been unsafe. Not only that, but she was also carrying twins.

The delivery was traumatic, and to make matters worse, one of the twins died. So there was now a teenager dealing with the traumas of rape, pregnancy and a new-born death.

Not surprisingly, she and her daughter have had a tumultuous relationship. When her daughter was a teenager, she expressed an interest in meeting her father. The man lived abroad, but a meeting was arranged on one of his visits to the island. The girl finally met her father, then experienced what her mother had, as he sexually assaulted her, his own child, too. Both mother and daughter now suffer from chronic depression and have been suicidal.

Pro-choice is about empowering women to make a particular choice. It does not mean that abortion is being encouraged and promoted.

The above-mentioned patients of mine who I encouraged to keep their pregnancies and chose to do so. It was their choice, and I supported them.

I am pro-choice, but I would be a happy man if all pregnancies were planned and wanted and no abortion would ever be performed again.

- Michael Abrahams is a gynaecologist and obstetrician, comedian and poet. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and michabe_1999@hotmail.com, or tweet @mikeyabrahams