In a letter published this week by the Vatican, Pope Francis says he will now allow priests to forgive “the sin of abortion.” The Catholic Church’s view is that terminating a pregnancy is a great evil and a violation against an unborn human life. The letter describes abortion as “one of the serious problems of our time” and a “tragedy.”
In all these cases, a woman’s decision to terminate an unwanted pregnancy is looked upon as “profoundly unjust.” Even so, the letter concludes, “The forgiveness of God cannot be denied to one who has repented.”
While many on the Internet have applauded his stance, I say, you can keep your mercy. I have no interest in being accepted by the Catholic Church, but if I did I’d be put in a position: own my truth or submit to “the word of God” as spoken by one man who clearly knows less on the matter than I do.
Though I do not argue that Pope Francis has met many women “who bear in their heart the scar of this agonizing and painful decision,” this is simply not the experience of all women who’ve had an abortion. Certainly, it wasn’t mine. The abortion I had in my mid-20s was no existential ordeal. It was a medical procedure, not a moral failing.
My abortion wasn’t an agonizing decision. Instead, I’d call it a no-brainer. I was 22 years old, an undergraduate in college, and living in New York City, working an unpaid internship during the day while working nights as a stripper. I was sleeping around on my boyfriend when I missed my period. Two weeks later, I took a pregnancy test in this guy’s friend’s cruddy bathroom.
The abortion I had in my mid-20s was no existential ordeal. It was a medical procedure, not a moral failing.
When it came back negative, I won’t lie: I felt an enormous sense of relief. Two weeks later, when I still hadn’t gotten my period, I couldn’t help but know the truth.
An abortion is a simple procedure. If you haven’t had one, it feels very similar to having an IUD inserted. For those who’ve had neither: The doctor tells you to relax, then there’s a sharp pain, which is probably when the doctor injects the anesthetic, followed by a spell of dizziness and nausea. Some women complain of cramping and spotting, but this wasn’t my experience.
Within a minute or so, I was fine. I didn’t look, but what came out of me probably looked like a chunky period. At four weeks, there are no baby noses or tiny feet. I was relieved and went about my day. There was nothing to grieve. I had no regrets.
Today seems like a good day to tell .@Pontifex that I DON'T REGRET MY ABORTION & I DONT NEED FORGIVENESS!!!📢📢📢
— ¡bote aquí! 🚮 (@sariweather) September 1, 2015
I had an abortion. At Planned Parenthood. And I don't regret it. That's mostly for the Right to Lifers showing up in my mentions now.
— nanarchist (@nanarchist) August 4, 2015
But the view looks very different from where Pope Francis is sitting. He claims that women who terminate a pregnancy do so with a “superficial awareness, as if not realizing the extreme harm that such an act entails,” but as Rebecca Traister writes a recent essay for New York magazine: “[Women] know more about blood, innards, fetuses, and the babies they may become—in short, about life in reproductive bodies—than anti-abortion activists seem to understand.”
Traister’s article was a response to the recent push to defund Planned Parenthood following the release of undercover videos, in which sparked a surge of interest in medical uses for tissue from aborted fetuses. Similar to the graphic and misleading signs hoisted by anti-abortion activists outside clinics, the heavily edited videos feature clinic workers talking frankly about the procedure in a way that’s meant to shock viewers.
Like Pope Francis, these activists seem to think that abortions are had by women who must not comprehend its implication. Otherwise, the choice is being made by women with no other option.
An abortion is a simple procedure. If you haven’t had one, it feels very similar to having an IUD inserted.
The common view—even among liberals— is that abortions are had by women who are desperate, and that the procedure is emotionally and perhaps even physically damaging. There’s no medical evidence that abortions have later physical repercussions.
For some women, the decision to have an abortion is every bit as agonizing as the Pope says. There are women who believe that terminating a pregnancy means ending a life, and women who are scared and ashamed by anti-abortion activists’ scary images and shaming rhetoric. These women, for reasons unique and important to them, go ahead with their abortion anyway.
There’s a study that found 53 percent of women who’ve had an abortion describe that decision as “difficult.” But this same study found that 95 percent of all women who’ve had an abortion say it was the right decision for them.
I am one of the 95 percent. When I look back at my 20s, I made a lot of mistakes—like cheating on my boyfriend and not using protection. But having an abortion? That was the one decision I wouldn’t have done differently.
I’ve heard stories from women who had abortions earlier in life that have later struggled to conceive and have subsequently regretted the decision, but over a decade later, I’m as confident now as I was then that having an abortion was the right thing to do. Of everything going on in my life at the time, the fact that I had gotten pregnant was the least of my “sins.”
Many are praising the Pope’s decision as “progressive” on Twitter but, to me, feeding women’s shame is no win for women’s rights. Those 95 percent of women—many who have dealt with feelings of anger, fear, and heartbreak to come to a place of acceptance—don’t need Pope Francis’ forgiveness. He needs theirs.
Melissa Petro is a freelance writer living in New York City. She has written for Salon, Daily Beast, and the Huffington Post. She holds an MFA from The New School, a Masters in Education from Fordham, and a BA from Antioch College.
Photo via Seattle Municipal Archives/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)