A dreadful Choice

Sometimes, life is hard and all you can do is bleed. My friend Ayelet Waldman has a new book out that fills me with awe, that a person can feel so free about showing her wounds to the world. The title of her book, Bad Mother, embraces a criticism and turns it on its head, so that all you can say when you finish the book is, if only all mothers were so bad.

I mention her book now because one of the chapters is about abortion. And being Ayelet, there is nothing theoretical or once-removed about what she writes. “Moving” doesn’t begin to describe it. Raw, powerful, terrifying, yes; I can’t imagine a person reading it without tears. (She’s posted a much-abridged version of her story here.)

Abortion is terrible. Ayelet would agree. Yet the unavoidable hard fact is that sometimes, life requires terrible choices. Sometimes babies die. And sometimes their life is so dreadful, death is a blessing.

No one wants an abortion. Any woman who has an abortion lives with that knowledge the rest of her life. No one should ever have to choose to kill their baby. All children should be healthy, and wanted, and the result of a loving relationship.

An ideal world, and we do not live there. Until we do, until all women have the ability to say that they don’t want an egg fertilized this month, thanks; that they don’t want to bring a hugely damaged, pain-ridden infant into the world; that if they do, there is a chance that damaged life will not utterly devastate the lives of the family it is born into—until that sweet and utopian day, we need doctors who are willing to help women out of impossible, agonizing situations.

I was lucky. I never faced that devastating choice. Lucky: not clever or cautious or virginal. (You do know that even The Pill only claims a 99 percent rate of contraception, don’t you?)

Like the bumper sticker says: If you can’t trust me to make a Choice, how can you trust me to be a mother? Sometimes, a mother’s choice is that the life she carries is not meant to be.

In memory of Dr. George Tiller, please send some money to one of the agencies struggling to help desperate women. These are dedicated and caring people whose jobs are hard enough without having to feel a lot of powerful and rage-filled individuals breathing down their backs, and wondering which of those maniacs has a gun.


  1. Jessica on June 9, 2009 at 8:48 am

    Thanks, Laurie, for saying something. You didn’t have to. But I’m glad you did.

  2. Pat Floyd on June 9, 2009 at 9:29 am

    Thank you, Laurie, for speaking for women in often desperate situations who make this terrible choice. What especially distresses me is that many of the people who so vehemently oppose abortion also oppose public help for children and mothers in need.

  3. hooloovoo on June 9, 2009 at 10:17 am

    Abortion is one of those issues where both sides think the other is completely crazy. Whether you’re pro-choice or anti-abortion, it just seems so obvious that your position is the right one. I think that women like your friend write about their tragedies, it makes it much harder for the anti-abortion people to keep thinking in such black and white terms. As pissed off as I am about Dr. Tiller’s death, I am glad to see late term abortion back on the front burner. People are talking about it, and that can only help us.

    I think it’s really brave of you to post this. As an author, it’s in your best interest to avoid controversy. But I’m glad you don’t. 🙂

  4. Laraine on June 9, 2009 at 10:37 pm

    I think it is really easy to be ‘anti-abortion’ if you paint everything in black-and-white simplicity and ignore the reality of the complexities of LIFE. Life is messy, it’s not the least bit predictable (we deceive ourselves into believing that it is), and the humans who live it deserve a great deal more respect than is sometimes given by those who want to make absolute decisions for the rest of the populace. Thanks, Laurie

  5. Tonia on June 11, 2009 at 2:51 pm

    I am always so torn on this topic. I have been in and around situations where it all seems so hopeless and lost and yet I have also had the experiences of seeing those who I deeply love wait and wait for a beautiful child to come into their lives. I am anti-abortion and no I do not see the world as black and white. I think that there needs to be more education, more understanding, and more choices given. I also do not oppose help for mothers in need (I have been one) but once again the issues are not black and white. I know that I have never been through an abortion or an unwanted pregnancy and therefore cannot begin to see the pain and decisions that must weigh upon shoulders but it is heart wrenching to know that I would take that child in an instant and yet no one told the mother that there was that choice. (And yes…..this happens).

  6. Rafe McGregor on June 12, 2009 at 3:51 am

    A great post, Laurie, and best of luck to Ayelet with the book.

  7. Wanda on June 12, 2009 at 8:56 pm

    I am personally anti-abortion. Back in the late 70’s I became pregnant, was not married, and did not want to get married just because I was pregnant. I had my child and raised her with some family help. But I am strong willed and, even though I was in my early 20’s, was completely willing to accept the responsibility for MY decision.

    I am 100% pro choice for everyone else. If I am not willing to take on the responsibilities associated with having said child, and I am not, (and sorry, but how many anti-abortion crusaders are?) then the decision shouldn’t be mine.

  8. Kait B. Roe on June 13, 2009 at 3:34 am

    Thank you. Thank you for having the courage to say it out loud and with clarity and compassion. And if not conceiving while being sexually abused, then I am lucky as well. And thank the gods for it! Again, thank you.

  9. Lisa S. on June 14, 2009 at 4:35 pm

    Thank you for posting this. I heard an interview with Ayelet on Fresh Air recently and I was positively spellbound by what she had to say. As a mother I have so much respect for her heartbreaking decision, knowing what her limitations were as a mother and as a wife. There is nothing black or white about this issue and I thank God that I was lucky enough to not have to deal with these complex, soul searching issues. Safe, legal and rare is the ideal. Until we as a society give women sustainable and viable alternatives, abortion will not be as rare as it should be.

  10. Cynthia S. on June 18, 2009 at 10:31 am

    Thank you for speaking up. You made a point both compassionately and succinctly, and I am in total agreement with you.

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