Abortion is not the opposite of motherhood — it’s part of it

IF NOT FOR my abortions, my partnership of 35 years with Casey would not exist. He would not have become a teacher. He would not influence the lives, paths, futures of hundreds and hundreds of teenagers.

If not for my abortions, our two sons would not exist. Lloyd would not work with a women-run NGO in Costa Rica. Or the advance team for Bernie’s campaign. Or in progressive politics in Pennsylvania. A generation of mothers would not have looked toward his younger brother and ask, “How do our sons grow up to be like Aidan? Kind. Generous. Smart. Curious.”

If not for my abortions, my career as an educator would not exist; the students I taught from Puerto Rico are would not have been gently shepherded into learning the language of a new nation. Their families would not feel the warm welcome of the end of the school year barbecue on my back deck. Dana would not have learned to read, either; her teacher, the one who was so persistent that she could go on to become a lawyer, would not have existed. Willie would not have had the teacher who redirected his antics, and he might not have gone on to serve this country as a Marine, two tours. Bobby certainly would never have known what it is to have a friendship outside of his neighborhood with a pen pal across the world.

* * *

IF NOT FOR my abortions at 16, my younger siblings would have been left reeling in the fallout of our parents’ divorce, our mother’s addiction to alcohol, and our father’s preoccupation with prestige. I would not be equipped to serve as the stabilizing force in the chaos of their young lives. The youngest of my siblings might not have had a safe haven to go to when Mommy was drunk. The middles might not have had a place to live when they were kicked out of our father’s house. The older might not have had anyone to call.

If not for my abortions, I would have become a mother at 16, been forced to drop out of my high school, been on the receiving end of familial and cultural shame, social rejection, and isolation. I would not have studied abroad and graduated with honors at the top of my class. Hundreds of staff members would never have experienced the unique work community that I shaped at the Crab House during the summers before I became a teacher.

If not for my abortions, I would have followed in my mother’s, my grandmother’s, and my great-grandmother’s footsteps, each woman denied the choice of how her future would unfold, the first two born before women could vote. Bonnie, my mother, would have four daughters before she began to drink at the age of 30. Lila, my grandmother, would have five. Birth control was illegal.

If not for my abortions, I would not be the fierce advocate that I am for marginalized people, particularly women and children. I would not be a beacon for my nieces, an example for my nephews, a champion of my sons, a devoted partner to my husband, a volunteer of many years in myriads of ways in my communities — food shelves, beach clean-ups, school committees.

If not for my abortions, I would have given up my name, my identify, my agency, my plans for the future, me.

If not for my abortions, I would not know the delight of two lines on a pregnancy test and the news that, despite the bleeding and the previous two miscarriages, that everything looked all right.

If not for my abortions, I wouldn’t have been equipped to coach my peers in high school and college about birth control. I wouldn’t have spoken so directly to my sons and the women in their lives about sexuality, its pleasures and perils and privileges and responsibilities.

If not for my abortions, my sons and I would not represent an international NGO each spring at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) with advocates from around the world.

If not for my abortions, I wouldn’t have been there to save the child who fell into the water. I wouldn’t have been there to soothe my classmate who was suicidal. I wouldn’t have written the piece about my abortions at 16, the piece that was read by a stranger in faraway land who was thinking about taking her life because she felt all alone after her abortion choice.

If not for my abortions, that stranger would not have gone on to study medicine and to work with women and children as a community physician.

* * *

ABORTION IS NOT the opposite of motherhood.

Abortion is part of motherhood.

Just as miscarriage is part of motherhood. Just as infertility is part of motherhood. Just as conception and contraception are part of motherhood. Just as bleeding and menopause are part of motherhood. Just as orgasm.

Abortion and motherhood are not separate. Not for me.

I’ve had six pregnancies.

Two elective abortions.

Two spontaneous abortions (a.k.a. miscarriages).

And two babies.

My sons wrote to me to say how sorry and angry they are today, Friday, June 24, 2022.

There is no end to abortion.

There is only the auctioning of the inalienable rights of women and girls.

Kelly's essay was published in The Commons days after the Dobbs decision was announced in June 2022.

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  1. Thank you for this magnificent, detailed celebration of life and justice. It marks all that you have courageously and generously lived and will be an inspiration for all who read it.

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