This week I saw and heard the collective cheers, the triumphant shout in the house, the pink lighting on the One World Trade Center, the smiles as Gov. Cuomo signed the new bill. Wow. Maybe you were cheering for women like me, who found themselves in an unplanned pregnancy at the wrong time of life. Maybe you are imagining how much suffering you can alleviate. Maybe you are thinking this is the ultimate empowerment for women: to free them from the physical and psychological strain of birthing and raising a child.
I know you're proud of this hard-won victory, that now women in New York can end the life of their child at any point in his or her formation for the sake of their own health. That we no longer have to even use the word "abortion," but rather we can speak of it all as "reproductive health choices."
I don't want to argue about the child, the human being in question here. I'd like to think for a moment about your main concern: the health, well-being and empowerment of women, because I believe in this as well.
I’m going to say this straight: I believe you think too little of us women. Are we so weak we cannot bear and birth a child, even in difficult circumstances? When I wrote Surprise Child: Finding Hope in Unexpected Pregnancy I interviewed 100 women from all kinds of backgrounds during and after their unplanned pregnancies. Every woman pressed on past her fears and concerns. Even when they despaired, they did not end their baby's life to end their own anxieties. Through the crisis, they emerged richer, deeper, wiser, more loving. Ask any woman how she feels about her child on the other side of a difficult pregnancy, and she'll tell you: "I can't imagine life without her." Don't exploit women at their weakest. Believe in their strength.
I saw a lot of men in that cheering company. In fact, the New York politicians and lawmakers are mostly men. Perhaps this is an even greater victory for men than for women? No child support payments, no fatherhood responsibilities, which go on for decades. Many women I talked to felt great pressure from their boyfriends, even their husbands to abort their baby. A few did. Is this more about men's empowerment and freedom than women's?
I know you are a supporter of women's rights, and as such I believe you also have a firm conviction against racism. This is a great time in our country, seeing so many working together to eliminate race-based injustices and violence. It's troubling, then, to discover that in New York more African-American babies are aborted than born. I am concerned for that community and all they are losing. Maybe you are as well.
Maybe your focus is larger, more environmental. Perhaps you are worried about overpopulation, about depleting our resources. Our annual population growth rate right now is .7%, less than 1 percent. (In 2016, there were just 62 live births per 1,000 women of childbearing age, an historic low.) Immigration is down as well. In terms of population density, out of 215 nations, the U.S. is 177th in population density. Demographers and economists are deeply worried: Who will fill our jobs, pay taxes, keep our economy viable?
But maybe it's all about women after all. I have no doubt that you would have looked on me with compassion 17 and 19 years ago, when I had a house full of four children already and then found myself in two unplanned pregnancies. You would have wanted to liberate me, to help me act on my fears and insecurities: how could I possibly love and provide for another, then another? How could I birth a baby safely at the ages of 43 then 45? What would happen to my teaching and writing career? My husband is a fisherman and travels much of the time--how could I raise six kids on my own half the time? How can I deal with two more babies out on our Alaskan wilderness island every summer, without toilets or showers? And I would be raising kids into my mid-60's. How could I possibly persevere?
I confess to you that I thought about abortion. If you had escorted me to the doctor at any point, he or she could have easily signed off on my poor health. (The New York law doesn't define what they mean by the mother's "health," but in a companion case, Doe v. Bolton, the U.S. Supreme court defined the mother's "health" as a composite of "physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman’s age" . . . ) I'm glad you weren't there to bring me, at my weakest point, to that doctor for my "reproductive health options."
I'm 61 now. I teach writing workshops around the country. I travel and speak around the world. I'm signing a contract for my twelfth book next week. But none of this is nearly as important as my kids. My two unplanned pregnancies, Abraham and Micah, are now 16 and 18. They’ve enriched my life beyond any system of accounting. They are the bright lights of our entire family. They are creative, generous, kind, smart, hopeful. They are as beautiful and talented as all the other children whose lives have been taken.
Let our children live. Let their mothers grow fierce and strong. Let fathers know their children. Let our country protect all its people again.
(And if you are one of the many whose son or daughter was lost through abortion and you sorrow over that loss, my sympathies are with you. Know that God offers forgiveness and grace. And I offer you prayers and hope.)
Leslie Leyland Fields
My two surprises, who surprise me still, every day.
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