"What if your mother had aborted you?" It’s almost always a question some frustrated anti-choicer asks after a presentation; I’ve probably been asked that question a hundred times. In the beginning, my answer was fairly abstract, philosophical. I’d note that the "I" who stands before them is not the "I" that was once a fetus. The I of today is the result of a mother who continued a pregnancy and the process of becoming that made me who I am today. But over time, I felt a need to give a more personal and direct answer, something about me, my mother and the relationship between children and their mothers.
I feel a need to turn that question around and to ask instead: What if your mother’s life would have been significantly happier and healthier if she had not had you? If you as a fetus had the capacity to make decisions, would you have given your life for your mother’s life, health and happiness?
My mother, Florence, the last of seven children in a harsh Polish immigrant family, left home at 17 and came to New York City. She got pregnant, chased the soldier who impregnated her and ended up with me. As you might imagine, she was an interesting and difficult person. Frankly, she never should have had children. She had her good qualities, but mothering wasn’t one of them. And she had a miserable life. Four kids, two husbands, both of whom abandoned her and us. When the second one left, she had to go to work to support us: a low paying job as a telephone operator working the 11pm to 7am shift and a two hour each way commute was her lot in life.
That life began to change when the youngest of us graduated high school and I offered her a job as the head of the telephone appointment staff at the abortion clinic I was directing. The pay was better, the company included young, empowered women and she flourished. By 1980, she had moved to DC and was the practice manager for a busy orthopedic practice. Her pleasure and first time security was cut short by lung cancer and at the age of 58 she died.
As a fetus I would have gladly given up my chance to enter the world and become Frances Kissling to have given my mother a better chance at happiness. Far too much is made of a mother’s obligations to her children and far too little of what a child’s love for her mother means. If fetuses could love, I think they would be as passionate in defense of their mothers as born children become.
If we are going to imagine, as some do, fetuses as part of the human community, we are going to have to accept that if they could make decisions, they might be as willing to sacrifice for others as we demand that women and only women be.