Why is This Day Different from All Other Days?
The most famous words from the Jewish Passover meal are spoken by the youngest child in attendance, who asks: “How is this night different from all other nights?” The Passover celebrates God’s protection of the Jewish people from the 10th plague — the plague of the firstborn. Of all the plagues, this was the most horrifying. Jews were instructed to use the blood of a lamb to mark their doorposts. An angel would pass over homes with the bloody mark and the first born was safe; homes without the mark in blood lost their first born sons.
I’m not sure what to call March 20, 1976.
No big deal?
The first day of spring?
A series of unfortunate incidents?
The day a group of invasive, rapidly multiplying cells were surgically removed from my uterus?
The day I had an abortion?
The day I had my baby put to sleep?
The day I murdered my baby?
My baby’s death day?
I was 22 years old and approximately 6-8 weeks pregnant. In those days, I drove a 1975 Toyota Celica with two slogans balanced on opposite sides of my rear bumper — Sexism Is a Social Disease and Motherhood is Optional. The prior December, I had sent out Christmas cards that cleverly read, “And I heard him exclaim as he drove out of sight, ‘Merry Christmas to all and to all Equal Rights.’”
It’s been 43 years so I’ve had a lot of time to think about that day. I thought I would share some of my reflections.
I Didn’t Want the Baby … So I Said
It is unlikely that having an abortion will hold a relationship together. Do not expect your sacrificial decision to endear you to your partner or that your life together will simply go on as it had been before. For one thing, you have revealed yourself to be an unreliable sex partner, one who does not have the wit to prevent conception.
I was lying to myself and to my partner when I immediately insisted I didn’t want the baby. At that time, I presented myself as a woman who knew her mind. So in my partner’s defense, I didn’t give him any say in the matter.
It took me a long time to admit this, but what I really wanted was for him to vehemently protest my decision and assure me this was actually wonderful news! Remember Danny’s Song? “Now I see a family where there once was none/ Now we’ve just begun/ Yeah, we’re gonna fly to the sun/ Even though we ain’t got money … .” That’s what I wanted. But that song and those sentiments had been a hit five years earlier. Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover hit the Top 40 on February 7, 1976, and I was pretty sure those lyrics were going to be a better approximation of my partner’s reaction.
Emotionally, it was easier for me to make the preemptive strike and end the pregnancy than to announce the news and hear him say he didn’t want the baby. Notice I said, “it was easier for me.” Not long after that, he didn’t want me either.
March 20, 1976
No one at the abortion clinic is going to explain that there are options other than abortion. I get that. They’re an abortion clinic, not a pregnancy counseling center.
Related to the above: No one at the abortion clinic is going to ask you, “Are you sure you want to do this?” In my case, clinic staff intimidated me when I began to hint that I might want to change my mind. I don’t remember precisely what they said. I just remember feeling pressured and demeaned.
The experience was almost unbearably impersonal. In 1976, credit and debit cards were not available to pay for this kind of “service” so this was a cash only deal. No checks — and you paid in advance. They were going to get their money.
There was no consultation with a doctor prior to the procedure. I was never introduced to the doctor. I never knew his name. He was masked. I never saw his face. He never spoke to me.
During the pre-op group “counseling,” I learned I would be awake during the procedure. I had no idea that would be the case! It sounds ridiculous now, but I’d recently had my wisdom teeth pulled, and I thought an abortion would be similar to that — I’d be given laughing gas, fall asleep, and wake up — oblivious to what had happened. When I learned I was going to have to actually see and hear what was happening…
As the abortionist prepared to begin, I started to cry. The attending nurse took my hand and squeezed it, trying to comfort me. She told me it would be over fairly quickly. I’ll never forget her kindness.
One More Thing…
There are lots of things about that day I’ll never forget. My partner and I had just gotten a new puppy. She was gorgeous — a German Shepherd mix. We had named her Sasha. Before leaving for the abortion clinic on that bright, first day of spring, I was going to take her across the street to the park to use the bathroom. I didn’t have her on leash. She got away from me, ran out into the street, and was hit by a taxi. Sasha was dead.
It is an understatement and doesn’t begin to capture the ominous nature of the day’s events, but it is certainly accurate to call March 20, 1976, the day I’ll never forget.
I posted the above reflections on my Facebook page to help promote the opening of Unplanned. Two very committed pro-abortion friends provided additional insights in response.
Friend #1 assured me that abortions are much more humane now, suggesting that my experience is not representative of how women are experiencing abortion now. In a private message to my friends I compared sharing my abortion experience with that of a Buchenwald survivor who tells what is happening in the concentration camps only to find that s/he is not believed.
One friend said my comparison was “shaming and disrespectful.” She was oblivious as to how her discounting of my experience as outside the norm was hurtful and disrespectful. Neither of these women have had an abortion. As far as I know, neither has set foot in an abortion clinic. On that topic, I am the expert, at least in comparison to them. They are not in a position to set me straight, and yet they felt perfectly comfortable doing so.
I’ve had a number of exchanges about abortion with these two women. The one who felt my Buchenwald/holocaust denier analogy was disrespectful condescendingly wondered why I was so “haunted” by my experience, even after all these years. I’m not haunted. Honestly, I wish I could feel more grief. Instead, I am angry. The women’s movement cheated and lied to millions of women about abortion.
My writing on the topic is not my way of “healing.” It is about exposing the lies and the very real danger of abortion. The truth is, one cannot predict how one will respond to an abortion. And that’s just a fact. Maybe a woman is fine at first. But years later, when she wants to have a child and is unable to conceive — how does she feel then?
Let’s be clear about what a sham the women’s movement was and is. It was supposed to be about equal pay for women, affordable child care, paid maternity leave, sexual harassment. While we have made progress on equal pay, we are still waiting for affordable child care, paid maternity leave, safe working environments, but by golly, we have our no-strings attached sex and our abortions!
Interestingly, one of my friends expressed concern about “the current climate of anti-abortion activism.” I count that statement as evidence that the pro-life movement is being increasingly effective. Hearts and minds are being changed!
Kristine Christlieb Canavan’s work has appeared in the Fort Worth Star Telegram, Christianity Today, The Christian Standard and on the website Church Militant. She has also done documentary film writing for Nebraska Public Television and has been an editor for Syracuse University Press and Great Plains Quarterly.