In December 2018, I found myself unexpectedly pregnant. I have three children, the oldest of whom is in high school, and I had not planned on negotiating the difficulties of pregnancy and early childhood at this point in my life and career. Adding a decade or so of intensive child-raising to what I’d already committed to meant curtailing my ability to achieve what I both want and need to achieve in my finite lifetime. I asked myself, what are children for?
Under those circumstances, the question takes a practical, deliberative form: should I have an abortion? I discussed my predicament with a number of people: my husband, friends, family members and even a conference room full of philosophers at the annual Eastern American Philosophical Association meeting. I discovered that people—even committed pro-choicers—cannot handle this question. A friend wrote: “I do not believe in any kind of soul, so for me there is clearly a window where ‘the A-word’ is not a moral dilemma for a woman.” Notice: he thinks there is no moral dilemma, but nonetheless he cannot bring himself to use “the A-word.”
At the philosophy conference I was one of three speakers on a panel. In the question period—this was a first for me—not a single question was directed at me. Indeed, it seemed to me as I scanned the room that the members of the audience were avoiding making eye contact with me. At the end of the session, one person came up to talk to me—not to discuss the arguments I had made, or follow up on some point needing clarification—but to assure me that she would keep what I had revealed confidential.
I think if instead of “I am considering having an abortion” I had said, “I have had an abortion” or “I am planning to have an abortion,” they could have managed the overshare much better. I would have encountered a supportive, sympathetic response, which they could have set aside to focus on the (interesting!) philosophical point about misogyny and domination that I was using my own predicament to illustrate. If I had allowed them to “read” my situation as one of ridding oneself of a clump of cells, they could have moved past the personal narrative to the philosophical problem.