Abortion kills 25 million women a year, he wrote. Women.
In the storm of controversy surrounding the (pink ribbon, race for the cure) Komen Foundation’s decision to defund breast care at Planned Parenthood–and their subsequent reversal–people I call pro-birth are out in force. On the Komen Facebook page, one sneered at those of us he sees as hypocrites because we value both the work that Planned Parenthood does to save women’s lives and their contraceptive and abortion services. Abortion kills 25 million women a year, he said.
I’ve grown used to the ways that these people, the pro-birthers, caught in the righteous certainty that all life and death choices should be theirs, manipulate our instinctive desire to protect children from suffering and harm: “It has a heart-beat.” “It has fingernails.” “It has a head.” I get annoyed, but I have my mantras too. “A fly has a heartbeat.” “It has an empty cranium.” “It’s a half-inch long.”
But women?! I am woman. I am more than my heart-beat and fingernails. I am more than my skull. I am –speechless, so insulted that I am left staring at the wall when I try to find words for the feeling in my gut.
Let me tell you about woman.
I am woman because I spent a long time being a girl, and a teenager, awkwardly trying to find my place among friends, trying to pray away bulimia, trying to find the clothes that would make my sturdy Italian body beautiful.
I am woman because my husband loves me, and his love nourishes me, and because my mother loved me before him and nourished me for nine months from her body, then another nine from her breasts and another seventeen years from her kitchen table.
I am woman because the world’s pain calls to me; makes me ache, leaves me certain that I will never be completely content with my little heaven while others are suffering in some version of hell.
I am woman because my legs are scarred from surgeries and broken bones, and my joints twinge, and my belly has wrinkles from carrying two daughters.
I am woman because I lie awake at night making lists of little things: the blackberry pastry I promised the girls, a call from my mother I forgot to return, the thermostat on the oven, the stains on the couch, the appointment with the pediatric orthopedist.
I am woman because I have had migraine headaches that took me to the emergency room, because I have known the death of a parent, because Schindler’s List left my body and soul shaking.
I am woman because I aborted a pregnancy we both wanted.
I am woman because I am never fully free of the fear of men, their ability to physically force me, to force my daughters, to force my sisters, to leave us torn or dead.
I am woman because I can remember the hot Arizona pavement on my bare feet and Puget Sound in August so cold I could barely breathe.
I am woman because my friends demand my company when I get too cave-bound, and feed me dark chocolate, and tell me that my writing is unnecessarily rude.
I am woman because I am fully a person. In me the universe is momentarily, minutely self-conscious. I know myself to be. I feel pleasure and pain. I can form preferences and intentions. I can lie awake in bed angry to the bone because someone values my life no more than that of an embryo.
If I could stand before that righteous pro-birther, the one on the Komen page, I would say to him. “I want you to look my daughter in the eyes and tell her I am no more precious to you than an embryo or fetus or near-infant. I want you to look my mother in the eyes and tell her that I was just as valuable before her body went to the work of closing my neural tube and developing my digestive system, before she went to the trouble of hanging 4000 diapers in the sun, before she made all those trips to the library, before she sat at the graduation ceremonies she had earned. Tell them.”
The pro-birthers are smart when they call what grows in a woman’s womb a baby or child or person. They know that those terms mean something sacred to us, they elicit a complex of emotions, intuitions and obligations that go deeper and wider than our rational minds can grasp. The blueprint that gets locked in when a sperm fertilizes an egg, the microscopic blastocyst, the embryonic lizard-thing, or the humanoid fetus with a hollow head isn’t substantial enough on its own to trump the hard won personhood of women.
It’s wisdom born of pain, I say to my daughters. But look how much I’ve gained. If you have to, you can do anything. You are strong. You are woman.
Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington. She is the author of Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light and Deas and Other Imaginings, and the founder of www.WisdomCommons.org. Her articles can be found at Awaypoint.Wordpress.com.