an After abortion

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Monday, January 26, 2004

Amy Welborn blogs this morning on a story from Oregon, which involves science fiction writer Ursula Le Guin speaking positively about her abortion in the 50s.

I looked up a few other online references to Ursula Le Guin and abortion.

In one quote, collected here, she says:

The preservation of life seems to be rather a slogan than a genuine goal of the anti-abortion forces; what they want is control. Control over behavior: power over women. Women in the anti-choice movement want to share in male power over women, and do so by denying their own womanhood, their own rights and responsibilities.

The most interesting thing about this quite hostile comment is the bit about pro-life women denying their own "responsibilities". What unexamined Freudian chamber did that come from? In Le Guin's own case, her parents "assisted" her in obtaining an illegal abortion. If I had to bet, since I've heard this sad story many times, I'd say that her parents referred to Le Guin's "responsibilities" when she was pregnant and trying to decide what to do. I don't know what the story was in her family, but in many such families, it is thought to be the responsibility of the pregnant daughter to get rid of the baby and go on to have a successful college experience and career in order to make the family look good, successful, effective.

A few more Le Guin comments I found make me wonder whether in spite of her strong support over the weekend for abortion, including her own, she doesn't actually have mixed feelings about it.

For instance, here's part of a speech she gave at her alma mater, Bryn Mawr:

Literature takes shape and life in the body, in the womb of the mother tongue: always: and the Fathers of Culture get anxious about paternity. They start talking about legitimacy. They steal the baby. They ensure by every means that the artist, the writer, is male. This involves intellectual abortion by centuries of women artists, infanticide of works by women writers, and a whole medical corps of sterilizing critics working to purify the Canon, to reduce the subject matter and style of literature to something Ernest Hemingway could have understood.

That comment makes abortion sound like a very bad thing, at least when it is done to the literary efforts of long-dead women. It makes it sound like an obviously ugly word--just the right word to use to describe a violent, cruel desecration.

Here's another part of Le Guin's mixed mind about abortion:

The germ of the story was in an article I read about the gender imbalance that persistent abortion and infanticide of female fetuses and babies are causing in parts of the world — our world, Earth — where only males are considered worth the bother.

That makes it sound as if abortion can be used to satisfy cruel and disgusting social standards.

I feel for Ursula Le Guin, because I've been there, trying to justify my own abortion and yet at the same time being repelled by other abortions. I'd put together these half-formed sentences in my head and then quickly repress them before they got too painful....

...Sentences like, "It is disgusting to abort female fetuses in order to satisfy a societal conviction that only men are worth the bother, but it was cool for me to abort my fetus in order to satisfy my desire to go to college, write books, and have other children."

It was always so hard to ruthlessly quell from my mind the recognition that having a baby would not have precluded any of those things, and even harder to quell the remorseless truth that pounded at my subconscious..."It was a baby. It was a baby. It was a baby". Even if I'd had to give up all those, career, the approval of my family that needed to be seen as together and was a baby and that baby should have mattered more than all of those things.

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