Kudos to reality TV star Kourtney Kardashian for honestly sharing the
process she went through deciding whether to keep or terminate her unexpected
pregnancy, a revelation that resulted in headlines on all the gossip
blogs. She could have played the happy "always wanted this"
mom card, and lovingly patted her bump. Instead, she admitted that she
had skipped birth control pills and considered abortion. She gave the
world a peek into the messiness of women’s reproductive lives and decisions.
Her openness may go with the reality TV territory, of course, but even in our exposed celebrity-laden
world, a glance into that particular aspect of women’s existence is
However, it’s also almost needless
to say that the end result of Kardashian’s decision is that she’ll be
keeping the pregnancy. If she had decided on abortion, we would never
have heard about it, because no stories about celebrity abortions–even
though they’re allegedly having them left and right–make it to the
surface. People would not have written a long piece about her choice,
and the story wouldn’t have been picked up by CNN. So while women ostensibly
have freedom of choice, one choice brings attention and a fawning spread
in dozens of magazines, while the other choice means silence. (To be
clear, it appears that Kardashian has certainly made a decision she’s
happy with. Analyzing her story and
the coverage of it isn’t meant to criticize her decision in any
way, but to talk about the way the "choice" process is framed
in women’s lives and reflected the media.)
Here’s what Kardashian told
People in her own words:
"I definitely thought
about it long and hard, about if I wanted to keep the baby or not, and
I wasn’t thinking about adoption. I do think every woman should have
the right to do what they want, but I don’t think it’s talked through
enough. I can’t even tell you how many people just say, ‘Oh, get an
abortion.’ Like it’s not a big deal."
Funny, but if there are tons
of people out there saying "Oh, get an abortion," in a flip
or casual way, I’ve never seen or heard of them. Instead
of hearing about abortion being a casual choice, lately, I’ve seen more and
more stories like hers.
And that’s because Kardashian’s story fits in to the mainstream narrative
about abortion, popularized in movies like "Knocked up" and
"Juno" and even on TV shows like "90210" and "The
Secret Life of the American Teenager." Stories like these and celebrity
stories like Kardashian’s (and even, to some extent, Bristol Palin’s and
Jamie Lynn Spears’s stories, too) all pay lip service to the notion of
another option besides carrying the pregnancy to term. The "Knocked
Up" narrative acknowledges the importance of the ultimate choice
belonging to the woman–this, at least, is a victory of the pro-choice
movement. But the flipside of this narrative is that there’s a right
choice and a wrong choice, particularly if you’re a white, middle-class
or otherwise privileged woman. In that case there appears to be no legitimate
reason not to want kids, and if you want kids, no legitimate choice other than to
carry a pregnancy to term.
In this new paradigm a woman becomes pregnant, agonizes over her options,
gets dismissively told to "get rid of it" by a callous pro-choicer
(the mom in "Knocked Up," the lollipop-sucking clinic worker
in "Juno" and Kardashian’s "oh get an abortion"
masses) and ultimately decides to go forward with the pregnancy, earning
smiles and attention. In America, abortion is always a choice that "someone
else" makes–except in this case someone else is a huge percentage of
the population. Kardashian’s story advances an
anti-choice agenda while being ostensibly pro-choice. No wonder Americans
where they stand. The acceptable position is to frown on the practice
but begrudgingly insist on its legality in case "someone else"
desperately needs it.
The problem with this popular narrative is that if "the other option"
always gets presented as the bad one, how do we view the women who are
picking it? The answer is that they’re either desperate or selfish.
Here’s what Kardashian said.
For me, all the reasons why I wouldn’t keep the baby were so selfish:
It wasn’t like I was raped, it’s not like I’m 16. I’m 30 years old,
I make my own money, I support myself, I can afford to have a baby.
And I am with someone who I love, and have been with for a long time.
If Kardashian, with all her financial advantage and a supportive relationship,
had nonetheless genuinely felt that she was not ready to have a child,
why would it have been selfish for her to have an abortion? Having children
is a risky, life-changing high-commitment. It’s not selfish
to defer it or decide not to do it. Compounding the
aspersion cast at those who may choose "the other option,"
it appears that Kardashian may
have come across some suspect information:
"I looked online, and
I was sitting on the bed hysterically crying, reading these stories
of people who felt so guilty from having an abortion," she recalls.
"I was reading these things of how many people are traumatized
by it afterwards."
According to Kardashian, her
doctor encouraged this point of view, saying that she would not regret
having a child, but might regret having an abortion. He was incorrect. Both decisions are liable for regret. Furthermore,
post-abortion syndrome has been debunked but postpartum depression is
very real. Pregnancy brings health risks, both physical and mental,
and a lifetime of commitment and concern about another human being. Asks Anna N at Jezebel,
But is it really her
doctor’s place to tell her what she will and won’t regret? Many moms
have some occasional regrets about having children, even if they love
these children very much, and to promise Kardashian that motherhood
will be a totally uncomplicated decision seems unrealistic and irresponsible.
Kardashian’s "on again
off again" boyfriend also urged her to keep the pregnancy–and
it’s effected a reconciliation between them. So it seems like even Kardashian’s
doctor and partner are buying in to the "Knocked Up" narrative
wholesale. And that’s a problem.
While Kardashian’s forthrightness should
be praised, we need to start facing the reality. The women who choose
"the other option" aren’t selfish, desperate, or someone else.
As Lynn Paltrow reminded
percent of women having abortions are already mothers. By the age of
45, 84% of all women in U.S. will have become pregnant and given birth
and 43% will have had an abortion." They are our friends, our neighbors,
and often, us.
The "Knocked Up" narrative isn’t true, but
it dominates the way we talk about abortion. And in order to win more
legal rights, we have to get rid of the stigma that spreads so quickly
it’s even reached reality TV royalty. We have to not only paint abortion
rights as a necessity, but the right to make a choice as a moral good.