Sunday, April 13, 2003

the pro-lifers were on the main pedestrian mall again yesterday.
just like the day before.

it's unusual to see them out on the streets round here. this is germany: the big old abortion debate is settled, has been settled, for a decade. sorry, seems it me that you've missed these latest development. you can pack up those 30 year old colour photos of saline abortions and go now. oh, and don't forget the little plastic foetuses.

a bit more than 10 years ago, there was much turmoil about abortion. the german democratic republic had completely unregulated abortion: you wanted one, you got it, -at least within the first trimester. the federal republic of germany had abortion under "indications", reasons that made abortion permissible. those included -among others- a "criminal", "medical" as well as a "social" indication, which obviously enabled every woman to get an abortion if desired.
after much debate, parliament decided that while abortion should be a criminal offence, it will not be prosecuted if it happens within the first trimester, and after unbiased pregnancy crisis counselling three days before the procedure.
so while abortion is technically illegal, and while it can be awfully difficult for women in the country to get pregnancy crisis counselling (especially since the catholic church disallowed catholic counselling services to offer pregnancy crisis counselling for abortion purposes), it works reasonably well, planned parenthood and even the women's group on the furthest of the left have stopped campaigning for completely unregulated abortion: germany is still a highly christian country, - it just won't happen.

when i saw those pro-lifers for the first time on friday, realising who they were, and what they were doing, and which pictures they were showing, i felt rage rise inside me.

they had the full deal, you know? the plastic foetuses. those posters of bloody, cut up foetuses. that picture of tiny foetal feet between adult fingers. a cardboard tombstone for the dead babies. references to genocide. the usual propaganda.
they were well organised. they had one of the best spots the town rents to people who want to put up stalls in the pedestrian mall. organised they were, those pro-lifers.

on friday, an old man offered me a pamphlet, and all i could say, in passing, was "no, i don't need your propagandistic lies, thank you."

yesterday, coming out of migros, i was tempted to argue with them, all looking so holy when approaching passer-bys (and there were many. this is a major town, at noon on a saturday), especially young girls. i was very tempted, actually.

i wasn't just tempted because i wanted to challenge the misinformation they were spreading. not just because most people at the stall were middle-aged men who apparently feel more of a right to decide about my body than me. not just because of the goriness of the propaganda in which they wallowed. not just because i wanted to tear apart their pseudo-arguments. not just because of their sorrow-filled, mournful eyes.

you know why? i thought about a woman i know from gym.

i haven't seen her since december.
she was a bit more than 3 months pregnant back then. when she first told me she was pregnant, in early november, she told me she hadn't wanted to get pregnant, but now it had happened, she was happy and excited and wholeheartedly wanted the kid, her second. she started to show very early, and we talked about her pregnancy a lot, when under the showers after our workout.
because she's already in her late 30's, in late november, she had an amniocentesis that she had been scared about for 6 weeks prior. after not seeing her for 2 weeks after the amniocentesis, i remember the sunday morning we met at the gym in early december, shortly before i went off to australia. the minute i saw, her, i knew something wasn't okay.
and i was right. the amniocentesis had had an okay result, but the ultrasound which they did at the same time, had not been okay.

the baby had been diagnosed with congenital diaphragmatic hernia, a hole in the diaphragm through which the internal organs move into the chest cavity, preventing normal growth of the lungs. she had started to show so early, because she had polyhydramnios, too much amniotic fluid; a common complication when the baby has cdh. she told me she had been told the prospects were grim at best and that she'd have to wait another three weeks, till the first week of january, for another ultrasound. that ultrasound would show whether there was hope the defect could be surgically dealt with after birth, or whether it was so severe that the baby would be born without any lungs at all. in case of the latter diagnosis, she and her husband had decided to terminate the pregnancy. - at the time of the second ultrasound, she would have been 19 weeks along.

she was heartbroken, but bravely talking about it, and about how she was trying to not think at all, to not worry at all, to distract herself by preparing christmas with her daughter.
i was shocked and heartbroken, too, unable to find the right words to say. i kept looking at her belly, trying to imagine what it must be like for her to be pregnant, being unsure whether she would still be pregnant three weeks from now.
we had talked about her amniocentesis before; she was sure she could not handle a disabled child. i was weary, and during our discussions i realised that right now i don't think i could ever choose a late term abortion based on a disability for myself. i hope that whenever i decide to become a mother, i will accept my child as it is - disabled, as well. how would i feel, what would it mean if i terminated a pregnancy because the kid has down's syndrome? i know so many people with down's who lead such happy, fulfilling lives...

in any way, i thought about her when seeing the gruesome images the pro-lifers had on show.
i haven't seen her since december, no one at the gym has. i thought about her lots while i was in australia, sending good thoughts her way, hoping all would be well. it might mean all turned out as best as possible, the defect hadn't worsened in those three weeks, and she's still pregnant right now, preparing for the birth and doubtlessly complicated aftermath and hence not working out.
it could however, just as well mean that all was as bad as it looked, that she terminated in early january, and can't face all who had commented on her pregnancy in gym. i don't know.

if she has terminated, i wonder what she would have felt seeing those images at the pro-lifer's stall. i wondered whether those self-righteous middle aged men gave a damn about women like her, about women at all, women who had to make a decision they really didn't want, never wanted to make in the first place
i wonder whether they really think that a woman ever has an abortion, "just because", light-heartedly.
they all obviously have never seen the women in the waiting room at planned parenthood, waiting for their appointments for pregnancy crisis counselling. i saw them, every day i volunteered, sometimes looking after their kids, reading out to them, while the women were talking to susan.
they were diverse, those women, of all ages, all social groups, some very much like me, others completely different. what united them was that they were all scared, all worried, pale, unsure. none of them was elated or happy about the decision they were about to make, but all at least had the chance to make that decision for themselves.

how can those middle aged man be serious about wanting to take that choice away from them? why do they think they have the right to force a woman to give birth to a child that will not survive because of a physical defect, or to give birth to a child when their life situation just does not allow for a child at the moment?

i don't get it.

i walked past their stall, feeling the rage, but not the energy to tell them the story of the woman at gym, the women in the waiting room at planned parenthood, how great choice is, and what a great tool the "lord" they so praise has given us: the mind, a mind to make decisions with. i looked at them all, at their propaganda, briefly, - and walked past.

i don't want to walk past them, silently, ever again, the more i think about it.
and i won't.