The editor and publisher of On the Issues Magazine, Merle Hoffman, has been involved in providing abortions for over 40 years. In Where the Reality of Abortion Resides: Intimate Wars, she bears witness to
…so much vulnerability: legs spread wide apart; the physician crouched between white, black, thin, heavy, but always trembling, thighs; the tube sucking the fetal life from their bodies.
A poignant thread runs through so many of her clients' stories.
"I would want to keep this pregnancy, if only…" I learned that it is in the "if only" that the reality of abortion resides…
If only I wasn't fourteen.
If only I was married.
If only my husband had another job.
If only I didn't give birth to a baby six months ago.
If only I didn't just get accepted to college.
If only I didn't have such difficult pregnancies.
If only I wasn't in this lousy marriage.
If only I wasn't forty-two.
If only my boyfriend wasn't on drugs.
If only I wasn't on drugs.
If only . . .
Yet Hoffman concludes:
The act of abortion positions women at their most powerful, and that is why it is so strongly opposed by many in society…the assumption — the myth — that women should not be trusted with this ultimate power.
But Hoffman's perspective does not leave any room for the very real motives for the stance that All Our Lives-takes against abortion. We trust women to exercise power-with, nonviolent power. Power-over, for people of any gender, is another matter. However, we don't agree to begin with that abortion "positions women at their most powerful."
I do not question Hoffman's intent to help women in difficult situations. But I hear in this claim a strange reminder of certain antiabortionists who also believe that abortion is women's "ultimate power."
Unlike Hoffman, they take this as the ultimate reason to oppose abortion. They harbor a virulent suspicion and hatred of women who dare to exercise any kind of power. Let alone any power over life and death of the sort that men have traditionally and territorially staked out for themselves. This is precisely why they can behave as if life begins at conception and ends at birth without becoming so ashamed of themselves, they crawl under a rock.
Even conceding (however briefly, for the sake of argument) that women are at their most powerful in the decision to have an abortion: what does this say about the severity and gravity of the constraints that still bind women's lives? If abortion is an exercise of women's "ultimate power"-isn't that a cause for weeping? And isn't that a cause for ensuring that no woman and child/as few women and children as possible ever end up in that position?
All Our Lives opposes abortion-and tries to build substantive alternatives-because we believe it is so often a sign and symptom of women's powerlessness.
Powerlessness to prevent unintended pregnancies, powerlessness to get through and beyond difficult pregnancies.
It is not fear or mistrust of women's power that moves us. It is sorrow and distress and outrage that women are so robbed of power, on such a massive scale, in such an intimate, painful, lifetaking way.