By Dave Andrusko
Editor’s note. While this post ran a couple of years back, it is 100% relevant to the battles we fight today.
I had not read or heard about the essay that appeared on the Jewish parenting site Kveller titled, “My Jewish Abortion” when it first ran in May. My first exposure was when I ran across an interview the author of that piece, writer Sarah Tuttle-Singer, gave to the NPR program “Tell Me More” that aired this week.
The title comes from the fact that she is Jewish and when she was a pregnant freshman at Berkeley, there were Jewish philanthropic organizations (as Tuttle-Singer put it) “that support Jewish women in this situation.” But what strikes the listener is the universality of what Tuttle-Singer has to say.
In a real sense the introduction by host Michel Martin is deeply misleading. There is this false dichotomy—during election season abortion is a “political” issue while for every woman who undergoes an abortion, “it’s a deeply personal, and often painful, choice.”
The headline is in the same vein: “One Writer Puts A Face To The Abortion Debate.” The implication is that either “politicians” merely trot the abortion issue out as they campaign and/or those who oppose abortion do so because they are unfamiliar with the real “face” of abortion.
What do I mean by the universality of her story? She was 19, in college and away from home, experimenting with the things college freshmen often do, and then “found” herself pregnant. But she also active in her faith, among other things teaching Hebrew on Sunday and Wednesdays.
The essay itself is thoughtful. We learn she is now the mother of two, living in Israel, and, unfortunately, “navigating through a separation.” The interview filled in many important blanks.
For example Tuttle-Singer tells Martin that she went public to encourage other women who’ve aborted to do so and because her public involvement “could lead to greater discourse, and greater understanding, between such opposing camps.”
Then the first of many revealing comments:
“And then I also felt, you know, setting that aside, that I wanted to share. This was something that–well, at the time, it wasn’t incredibly painful. It became incredibly painful later on, when I was pregnant with my daughter seven years later. And I had a hard time reconciling a previous decision with the excitement of seeing this tiny blip on an ultrasound monitor and saying wow, that’s a baby; that’s life.”
Though Tuttle-Singer is not second-guessing her decision, she is honest enough to admit that when she became pregnant again, there was incredible pain and great difficulty with reconciling what she saw and what she had done.
Another important reason for the essay and the follow up interview clearly was to reinforce that even “nice Jewish girls” have abortions. And, of course, that applies to “nice” Catholic, Methodist, and Lutheran girls as well–and to the “nice” boys who get them pregnant.
The point for pro-lifers is never to shame women who’ve aborted—whether church and synagogue attendees or areligious—but to help them (and women contemplating an abortion) to understand that abortion is not a “solution.”
Tuttle-Singer had no money as a freshman, and there was a $250 co-pay to have the abortion. But as important as the outside money (the “scholarship”) was to her was the
“huge relief to know that there were other members of my community who understood that these things happen. And they were there not to judge and not to blame, and not to say anything to make me question the decision I had already made; but to say OK, you’re in trouble, we’re going to support you, and we’re going to make sure that you can be safe and that you can heal.”
Again, the question transcends the particulars of her faith. Pro-lifers want such organizations to help a woman out of “her trouble,” not by financing the death of her baby, but by supporting her decision to carry the baby through an admittedly difficult situation.
Martin asked her, as a member of a minority group, if she felt “in a way, you kind of let down your side.” It had “crossed my mind,” Tuttle-Singer said, that in having an abortion she might be behaving in a way that “doesn’t represent the community as people would like it to be represented.”
But the fact that a fund was available consoled her with the thought “I was not the first, nor would I be the last, Jewish girl–nice or otherwise–to be in this kind of situation.”
The interview ends with this exchange:
“MARTIN: Before we let you go, Sarah, I just can’t hope but notice that I still hear a lot of emotion in your voice as we are speaking. And I know we just met, so I could be over-interpreting–and you’re kind of far away. But do you still feel a lot of emotion around this even now, so many years later?
“TUTTLE-SINGER: Sure. It never fully goes away. And while I don’t regret what I chose to do, I regret that I had to choose what I chose. And I really hope that my daughter–I have a daughter and a son–I hope that when my daughter is 19, that she will– that she will protect her body, and not get pregnant unless she really wants to be pregnant because it is a very–it’s an excruciating choice. And it’s one that’s never made lightly, not by any woman.”
It seems clear that the abortion ran head-on into her better instincts and that these many years later she is still wrestling with reconciling “a previous decision [the abortion] with the excitement of seeing this tiny blip on an ultrasound monitor and saying wow, that’s a baby; that’s life.”
And that having gone through this “excruciating choice,” she really would not want her own daughter to go through an abortion.
That says a lot, perhaps a lot more than she knows.