Abortion and Infant Circumcision
HOW THEY RELATE and DIFFER
First of all I have repeatedly emphasized that our ongoing opposition to forced circumcision on infants and minors not be intertangled with other “hot button” issues. Doing so would only confuse and dilute the public’s perception about intactivism’s message. However, probably because both issues involve babies, the question of our stand on abortion comes up all too frequently. Therefore I’ve finally decided that it’s time to address both issues simultaneously, explore how they differ and how they interrelate.
Intactivism is ONLY focused on unnecessary genital cutting, particularly for infants and young children who cannot consent. While most of us prefer that babies be born naturally, nourished by their own mothers’ milk, and welcomed into stable, loving environments, we have no official stand on other lifestyle or personal choice issues. I will admit that I am personally opposed to what I call “convenience” abortion, but my feelings are mixed and probably would not please every reader on either side of the abortion issue. Among intactivists as a whole, to the best of my knowledge no one has taken any poll about our views on other subjects. From discussions I’ve heard my guess would be that we are divided about 50-50 pro or con if asked about abortion. Therefore the views expressed here are simply mine.
My own feelings on abortion are strongly colored by some traumatic experiences in the past. Besides giving birth to 6 healthy, full term babies, I also experienced 3 horrific miscarriages. The first was at around 12 weeks and was caused by an IUD. The second and third were both at around 19 weeks and were caused by fibroid tumors.
I did not just expel some amorphous clumps. Each time there was a small fetus, a miniature baby, … head, body, arms and legs … that came out and I had to see, touch, and say good-bye to. (And yes, I adore my 6 living children. They are all totally special! But their existence does NOT negate the reality of these other 3 children that I couldn’t carry to term.) Sadly, public acceptance of abortion on demand with the dismissive “fetal non-personhood” rhetoric is deeply offensive to those of us who lose our wanted babies. (Non-personhood is also insulting to the pregnant mother who develops a love bond to her baby kicking and growing in her womb.) Please check out the following link for further information on my experiences with perinatal loss: Coping With Miscarriage
However, my sympathies also go out to other mothers who may be in horrific life situations – rape, spousal abuse, poverty, mental health issues, etc. – who understandably want desperately to get out of a difficult situation. I was a college student in the late ’60s all too familiar with the inevitable party scene. No matter how high ones personal ideals may be, it can be all too easy to ingest too much alcohol or worse (at that time we didn’t have the “date rape” drugs!) and wake up in the morning filled with regrets and foggy memories!
Even with a planned and wanted pregnancy it can be difficult during the early weeks to focus on the reality of the growing child inside, especially for the mother who has never given birth before. For some women early pregnancy can be a nightmare of new sensations, hormonal changes, deep anxiety and nausea, especially if the pregnancy was unexpected. (Some opponents of abortion appear not to recognize or care about the mother at all.)
I was sexually molested by an older teenager when I was barely past my 13th birthday. (Some day I might have the courage to write about the details of this event.) I was not actually sexually penetrated, but nonetheless my “innocence” was lost from what was a traumatic, frightening situation. An overly sheltered upbringing with Puritan values left me scarcely able to process the event, leaving me with much fear, shame and confusion – one that has had a lifetime effect on my sexuality. No counseling or other healing measures were available during that early ’60’s, unenlightened era. Therefore I cannot help but wonder – what if he had penetrated me and a pregnancy had resulted from that nightmare? How could I possibly have dealt with the stress, burden and confusion of pregnancy at that tender age? (Knowing my conservative parents there would have been much screaming and crying. I would have been harshly shamed, hidden away, forced to give the child up for adoption and then expected to go on with life as usual with the unspeakable event never brought up again.) Conversely, what if a pregnancy had resulted and I had been forced to undergo an abortion. Could I have coped with the nightmare of what I even then would have known was the beginnings of a developing child being forcibly torn away from my womb? All I can say is that I’m deeply thankful that at least this dark horror from my early teenaged years did not have even more troubling results than it did.
My first three babies were boys. Somehow for me carrying a boy agreed with my system. Each time I experienced a minimal amount of nausea during early pregnancy. Certain smells didn’t appeal to me. Certain foods that I normally liked seemed repugnant. However, this diminished quickly and carrying my sons to term was a relative “breeze.” But with my next pregnancy I found myself overwhelmed with severe nausea, distinctly different in “flavor” from my others. There was a certain repulsive bitterness about this nausea, to the point that I could hardly function. I wondered if there could be something wrong or if I might be carrying twins. The doctor had said that he felt fibroids in my uterus but gave it little concern. The nausea finally subsided by midpoint in my pregnancy and our healthy, full term daughter was born.
My next two pregnancies both ended in late miscarriages, these two times caused by the fetus being implanted where the fibroid would not allow nutrients into the placenta – an extremely difficult fate for me to accept that my own body had betrayed me and killed my babies by growing this horrible foreign object. Those babies were both girls. During both of those pregnancies I had again endured the same type of bitter, horrid, overwhelming nausea that I had undergone when I had carried my first daughter. I recall leaving the hospital saying “All that nausea for nothing!!”
After that catastrophic phase of my life it occurred to me that carrying a girl, severe nausea and fibroid tumors were somehow interrelated for me. Fibroids are stimulated by estrogen. Nausea during pregnancy is also caused by estrogen. And it stands to reason that carrying a girl would also produce a superabundance of estrogen in a mother’s system.
I was scheduled to have tubal ligation, but deeply traumatized and desperate to have another live baby in my arms. I cancelled the surgery and then suddenly found that I was again pregnant. A part of me was terrified of facing yet another pregnancy and possible loss. But I also realized that I was not experiencing the same vicious, debilitating nausea that I had undergone while carrying my daughter and the other two girls that I lost. I was having the far milder nausea that I had experienced with my sons. I was not terribly surprised when the
ultrasound at 22 weeks confirmed that I was carrying another boy. Also, curiously, what had been a fibroid tumor was now a mere “myomatous thickening.” Soon our healthy, full term fourth son was welcomed to our family. By this time I thought I was through with having babies and could put all the emotional trauma behind me.
Fast forward another 3 1/2 years, age 42 now, and I’ve missed my period. Waves of vile, acrid bitterness again – “Oh, no, …. this is ‘girl nausea!!'” It seemed like this time the nausea attacked with a vengeance and with it an avalanche of fear, dread and memories of my prior grief that I thought I had finally left behind. The desperate urge to get out of a nightmare of a situation was there. But I had made a personal commitment to myself that I would never have an abortion unless there was something terribly wrong from a medical standpoint such as a severe deformity inconsistent with life. I had to tell myself “OK, Rosemary, you talk the talk, you walk the walk.” Also with the pain of my miscarriages so fresh, I could not imagine deliberately imposing the same thing on myself. I consider myself to be a Christian so must adhere to my own deeply instilled convictions which can sometimes mean doing things the hard way because it is the right way (or what Catholics call “The Way of the Cross.”) Actually I only wanted the severe nausea to stop so that life could be bearable again. The rest of pregnancy I could deal with, as long as this would result in a healthy baby. An early ultrasound at 7 weeks revealed a tiny embryo safely implanted at the back of my uterus while a fibroid tumor was again growing at the front where it would not harm this baby to be. I cried with relief knowing that this child would be safe.
Pregnancy at age 42 is not usually easy, but our second healthy, full term daughter was born that year and having another beautiful little girl was like winning the $50,000,000 lottery for me. So worth it … but I NEVER wanted to be pregnant again. (My husband later had a vasectomy.)
I don’t think anyone is truly “pro – abortion” itself, in the sense that they think an abortion is a wonderful thing – however “pro-choice” they would proclaim to be. This is our common ground. A step in the right direction could help to eliminate the need for abortion.
What I truly wish is that everyone could understand and appreciate the awesomeness of life itself. The fact that a whole separate being could originate and grow within my own body has always seemed totally amazing to me. Each child is truly a precious gift. It has astonished me that others, even some mothers carrying planned and wanted babies, don’t appear to share this sense of awe and wonder over the fact that this happens. For myself, ever since I became pregnant with my first child, I have been a different person than what I was before.
What are ways to minimize the wish for abortions?
Abstinence: This is what many want the schools to teach. Many of us do abstain from sex due to personal convictions, physical limitations or lack of a desirable partner at any time in life. However the fact is that people are biologically programmed so that our bodies develop and our sexual desires kick in at some point during our teenage years. Unfortunately, in modern day society, this sets in many years before most young people are financially or socially ready to settle into marriage or family life. In prior societies in which abstinence outside of marriage was highly valued, people usually were considered marriageable quite young (for girls – at the time of first menses.) Young people, especially girls, were relatively sheltered from outside contact. In today’s society, where sexual maturity often begins at least a decade before marriage yet young people are afforded relative freedom, it’s inevitable that most young people are going to be sexually active. Yes, I agree that some people (young and old) are quite reckless in their actions and decisions and I personally wish people would only have sex within caring, committed relationships. However we have no “bedroom police” about this and I’m sure we never will.
Birth control: No method of contraception is 100% pregnancy proof, but there is no doubt that widespread use of birth control does prevent unplanned pregnancies. (Yes, even though I experienced 9 pregnancies in all, my husband and I did use various methods of birth control.) Most people are baffled by the fact that some abortion opponents also oppose contraception. (So is everyone supposed to either produce huge families or be totally abstinent recluses?) Yes, it’s a lofty ideal, but unrealistic since again, we can’t control people’s bedroom behavior. Also, I have known people, some of them married and faithful, who openly say “If I ever get pregnant (or pregnant again) I will have an abortion … but they’ve never had an abortion because they’ve always used birth control.
Positive care, encouragement and information for the pregnant mother:
Some abortion opponents appear to care only about zygotes, embryos and fetuses as if the woman herself is merely the vessel for its life. However, many other pro-life activists have set up crisis pregnancy centers which offer tremendous help and support to women having difficult pregnancies. Of course information about embryological and fetal development can do much in helping her realize and respect the life growing within her. But understanding, support and healing of the mother’s needs, and respecting her as an individual (too often with horrific traumas in her own life) could go a long way towards minimizing her desire to terminate the pregnancy.
I have presented to advocates on both side of the issue that one way to drastically cut the abortion rate would be simple. Find an effective way to eliminate the nausea of early pregnancy. As I’ve said, for me carrying a boy was a breeze with only mild nausea. Somehow my daughters were a lot meaner to me. The sensation was bitter – a distinctly different flavor. Acrid, horrific, overwhelming – difficult to describe to anyone who has never encountered this. Men, women who have never been pregnant and even women who have only experienced easy pregnancies have no idea what this is like. It is cloying, repulsive, often compounded by severe depression, and goes on for weeks and weeks. True, a woman who sincerely wants to be pregnant will figuratively crawl through alligator swamps to finally have a baby in her arms, but for the woman who is ambivalent about her pregnancy, and wavering about her decision, the overwhelming attacks of nausea may tip the scale and send her running to the abortion clinic. I do not understand why others who share the concern over abortion have pooh-poohed this suggestion when I have presented it.
When does life begin?
When the baby has reached “viability” (i.e. is capable of living outside the womb)? Although it is rare for premature babies born earlier than 24-25 weeks gestation to survive, amazing strides are being made to increase the survivability of even the tiniest of preemies. I have heard of babies surviving and thriving who have weighed less than a pound at birth and/or who have been born at as early as 21-22 weeks gestation. Although most abortions take place very early in pregnancy, I have heard discussions among hospital personnel who have been deeply disturbed by attending abortions that have resulted in fetuses that are larger and more developed than the preemies that the same hospital is managing to save.
When the mother first feels the baby move? But some babies, although perfectly healthy, don’t move very much in utero or are only felt later in pregnancy while others are bouncing around and kicking from very early on. Also, with ultrasound scanning we know that the little fetus is already moving long before the mother can feel it.
When the implanted egg first differentiates into an embryo? It is amazing how fully formed it is from very early on in gestation.
When the heart begins to beat? During very early pregnancy at 7 weeks with my youngest child I had an ultrasound which (to my fascination) revealed a tiny speck of a being with a pulsating little heartbeat.
When the fertilized ovum implants in the uterine wall?
When the sperm first penetrates the ovum?
To echo the opinion of a well known person, the answer is also beyond my pay scale. Of course it’s alive and of course it is human. A friend recently expounded the belief that the soul does not enter the body of the fetus until roughly halfway through pregnancy – but how could anyone truly know that? All kinds of philosophizing could spring from this. Can we even define what the “soul” truly is?
I would admit that to me denying a fertilized ovum the chance to implant is nowhere nearly the same as killing and dismembering an already formed and developing fetus at any later stage of pregnancy. Yet I could not pin-point any distinct spot along the way where validity and “personhood” begins. (At one time I had decided that should I ever get raped or make an otherwise foolish decision, I would avoid facing an abortion by getting a “morning after” pill. I could accept the possibility of a fertilized ovum not implanting. Tearing an already growing fetus apart or burning it in harsh saline is not an option I could live with. Then I learned that some who oppose abortion consider morning after pills an “abortion” as well. Fortunately I did not ever have to face such a catastrophe.)
However, denying the reality and validity of the growing child within has too often been used as a mere smokescreen for excuses to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. I’m all too familiar with the conventional “f*** -em and forget -em” mentality of the hedonistic, screw around world. The tragedy here is not only the destruction of the child, but the destruction of love, commitment and caring in the sexual relationship. Abortion itself is often based on abortiveness in our relationships. Forget the outer demands to conform to society’s dictates. It is our inner hearts and minds that matter most. In a bed-hopping world one must first abort ones feelings, abort oneself away from caring, compassion, commitment and love in relationships – so that aborting the resultant child becomes the next inevitable option. (And no, I’m no ethereal saint on a pedestal here. I’ve made some mistakes myself along the way before becoming true to myself and my own needs.)
Okay, back to circumcision concerns. Contrasted to abortion the two issues have many significant differences:
The abortion dilemma centers on whether or when the fetus acquires life and validity. But circumcision involves babies that are already born. There is no question that he is a human being and has life and personhood of his own.
Secondly, abortion involves both the mother and the baby. Circumcision involves only the baby.
Thirdly, and most significantly, if a woman is pregnant and does not want to be, an opponent to abortion is demanding that she carry that baby to term and either give him or her up for adoption or raise the child. Right or wrong, this is asking a tremendous physical and emotional toll, with much sacrifice and commitment on her part. However, leaving ones child intact, (once one knows the facts – i.e. leave the foreskin alone) is usually a matter so simple that it bears scarcely any action or commitment on her part (aside from fending off critical relatives, especially if she lives in the U.S.A.) In most parts of the world people do leave their children intact, know not to bother their genitals, and never give the matter a second thought.
In conclusion I would admonish every person who campaigns for the rights of the unborn child certainly has a responsibility to give equal consideration to the already born child. (Yes, except for the occasional tragedies, the circumcised infant does go on living, but many contend that the traumatic operation kills some of the life spirit of the child and eventual adult who can never know the full extent of his sexuality.)
For all intactivists (i.e. opponents of forced circumcision of infants and others), when we cry out out for the rights of infants to be spared the pain and deprivation of circumcision, how relevant can our message be if we do not care about his rights before birth? (Some intactivists see circumcision and abortion as twin acts of violence and invalidation of our little ones.)
by Rosemary Romberg © 2014
P.S. I will admit though that some intactivists have observed the publicity, slogans and tactics of both sides of the abortion debate to glean ideas and strategies for our work. The phrase “His body, his choice” is often heard in reference to the incontestable personal choice of the individual about alteration of a normally functioning body structure.
Meanwhile, Petrina Fadel and I came up with the following meme to illustrate the importance of the infant’s rights and feelings:
“When they say the decision about circumcision is between new parents and their doctor, they are forgetting someone.”