The Answer to “What if I Hadn’t Been Born?”

25 Oct

Over at Slate, Rachael Larimore has written a somewhat convoluted piece, partially in response to Amanda Marcotte’s earlier article in which she explores the trend of touring “I was almost aborted” speakers. Larimore argues that pro-choicers are actually afraid of the “What if I hadn’t been born?” question because it challenges our supposed perception that “…some ‘unwanted’ children actually grow up in loving homes and become responsible, even successful, adults.”

Perhaps it is too much to ask that this belief can be dispelled by pro-choicers simply saying, no, we know that some “unwanted” children do okay. We also know that many women who decide to proceed with an unplanned pregnancy end up being fantastic parents. We also know that some adopted kids have great lives and contribute a lot to society. We even wish for these things, and try to facilitate the frequency of these events by supporting many things that help make them possible: accessible, funded daycare and childcare; the de-stigmatization of single motherhood; financial and emotional support for new parents; and on and on. Pro-choicers have a wide range of concerns outside of abortion (that’s why we call ourselves “pro-choice” and not “pro-legal-abortion”) – we would like to see pregnant people have access to all the information and resources they need regardless of their chosen pregnancy outcome.

Larimore thinks that we are scared to answer the question: “What if I hadn’t been born?”, but personally I don’t think it’s that difficult. Putting aside the fact that, had that one thing changed, an infinite number of alternate worlds is created, the answer is quite simply: “then you wouldn’t be here.” There’s a lot more to it of course: maybe things would have been a little easier for your mother; maybe she would have had another child later on, that she could have loved and cared for more; maybe things would have been worse for her, and having you saved her from going down a difficult road. Maybe someone more competent would have your job; maybe your partner would have fallen in love with an unstable person who killed them in a jealous rage, changing a lot of other lives; maybe everything would be exactly the same; maybe maybe maybe.

The reason pro-choicers often deflect this question as meaningless is because it is. There is no way for us to know what would happen if a different choice was made. The question itself is a shameless emotional baiting tactic that anti-choicers use in two ways: 1. asking it about themselves to make you feel like a jerk if you don’t care about them not being born, or 2. asking it about you to make you feel like you’re so lucky to be alive – as if you would even know or care if you had been aborted. “What if your mother aborted you?” the anti-choice protesters would hurl the question over the fence at us, back in my clinic escort days. “Then I wouldn’t be born,” we would answer back. What if the moon were made of blue cheese?

Everyone makes decisions in their lives without knowing how things might have been if they had taken a different path. That is part of being human. You can tell a pregnant woman what could happen until you’re blue in the face, but at the end of the day she can only choose one of two options – continue the pregnancy, or terminate it – and then she lives with the outcome of that choice. The pro-choice movement is not interested in the game of telling women what *could* happen. All we want is for her to be free to weigh those possibilities and make that decision herself.


15 Responses to “The Answer to “What if I Hadn’t Been Born?””

  1. elburto October 25, 2011 at 1:34 pm #

    Why do they think “Some of them turn out fine” is a rebuttal for anything? Child rape victims often grow up to lead full lives, adult rape survivors do too, people escape genocide, famine, murder and slavery and turn out “OK”. Doesn’t mean we should let all of those things slide.

    Like you, I’m not stumped by their “What if you hadn’t been born” (excuse for an) argument. I wouldn’t be here, but someone else would. None of us are so special that the world would stop turning if we ceased to exist.

    I won’t rest until every child is born wanted and loved, to parents who will care for them, educate them, and cherish them. No amount of anti-choice, pro-forced birth politicking will ever change my mind.

  2. Odile October 25, 2011 at 3:16 pm #

    ” the answer is quite simply: “then you wouldn’t be here ”

    One must be careful about hurling such a trite answer. We like to point out to pro lifers that women from all walks of life terminate their pregnancies – single women, mothers, Christians. Do we care about all women? Then we should care about women of faith, who know that humans have an immortal soul, that it’s not a simple matter of ‘you wouldn’t be here’, but a question of eternity. We should care about women who know that it’s a life, a baby, that they are terminating, not a simple matter of a baby not ‘being here’. We must care for women regardless of what they believe about their pregnancy, who will compare week for week the gestation of their terminated pregnancy with the pregnancy of their last child, the women who will remember the anniversary of their due date, and the anniversary of their abortion. We must care for women who will look into their other chidren’s eyes and wonder ‘what if?’. This statement dismisses all but a small segment of the 1.3 million women who have abortions every year by trivializing their experience because you want to diminish a pro life argument. Pregnancy, no matter how short, occupies time and space. It’s simply not true to the majority of women who choose abortion, that “you simply wouldn’t be here”. We must care for those women.

  3. Peggy October 25, 2011 at 3:30 pm #

    Of course we care for the women who believe in the soul. My point is not to be flippant about matters of mortality. My point is that “what if this had happened?” is not a valid argument. If you say “What if your mother had aborted you?” I could say “I wouldn’t exist” or I could say “My soul would be in Heaven” and either way, it proves nothing.

    As an argument, it does nothing to persuade the listener because it totally depends on their already established spiritual/philosophical beliefs.

  4. Dee October 25, 2011 at 5:33 pm #

    I get the question “What if you had been aborted?” so many times from antis, I find it hilarious at this point.

    First of all, it presupposes that I consider my existence on this planet to be crucial to it. I don’t. I find the notion of the necessity of my existence to be extremely self-centered, so I always view the question “What if you had been aborted?” as an extremely self-centered one.

    It presupposes that I value my existence here above things like my mother’s happiness. I don’t.

    It presupposes that the planet is automatically better for having me in it. That’s debatable at best. Perhaps my absence would have indirectly led my little sister to cure cancer. Who knows? It’s a laughable theoretical exercise.

    Simply put, if I had been aborted, I wouldn’t be here to care. End of story. Yawn. Nonexistence is not creepy or scary to me, particularly if it happened before I was conscious of my own existence.

    As for Christians who choose to abort, I can’t comment on that (being an atheist), but I assume they’ve squared away their decision with the faith.

  5. Odile October 25, 2011 at 5:44 pm #

    A confirmed pregnancy proves the existence of life (in context, please – the division of cells in a fertilized egg is a division of LIVING cells not dead cells). Terminating a pregnancy causes that which exists, to cease its existence. The question better stated – “what if your mother had aborted you?” “Then I would have died before I was born.” We’re not talking about something that never existed. We are talking about an existing pregnancy and everything that means, which for many, many women, lends credence to a very persuasive argument. To ignore this fact in the abortion discussion would be something less than caring, IMO.

  6. Odile October 25, 2011 at 5:53 pm #

    … main point being – the answer to the question, at least for the woman who chooses abortion, is not necessarily simple. Depending on time and circumstance, I do know some people who might not like my answer if they asked me, “what if I would have been aborted?” >:)

  7. Peggy October 25, 2011 at 6:38 pm #

    Odile – you are missing the point. It doesn’t matter what your personal answer to the question is. You can answer it any damn way you want to, as can anyone. The point is, IT’S NOT AN EFFECTIVE ARGUMENT AGAINST ABORTION. Or at all. We can’t ever know what if, so asking what if is an exercise in fantasy – it can be fun, but it doesn’t really help the situation.

  8. freewomyn October 25, 2011 at 7:28 pm #

    Peggy, thank you for pointing out that pro-choicers are about much more than abortion. We’re about supporting whatever choices women make for themselves. This is the bigger/more important point, imho.

  9. Dee October 25, 2011 at 8:15 pm #

    “A confirmed pregnancy proves the existence of life (in context, please – the division of cells in a fertilized egg is a division of LIVING cells not dead cells). Terminating a pregnancy causes that which exists, to cease its existence. The question better stated – “what if your mother had aborted you?” “Then I would have died before I was born.” We’re not talking about something that never existed. ”

    I never said I would have never existed. I said I wouldn’t have existed long enough to care. We all have been nonexistent for billions of years before we’re born, and one way or the other, we will all become stardust again. Whether it’s abortion or getting hit by a bus, our time is finite, and so’s my ability to care about going back into nonexistence, especially as an nonsentient embryo.

  10. Odile October 25, 2011 at 11:11 pm #

    I’m sorry, Dee – Your comment must have been posted before I was finished typing mine. I really didn’t see it, and actually was not replying to your particular comment.

  11. Courtney October 28, 2011 at 11:07 pm #

    Odile, to be clear, no one KNOWS if anyone has a soul. You can BELIEVE someone has a soul but until scientists prove that human beings have a soul, we don’t know if human beings have a soul. Besides, even if we did, what does it add to this discussion?

  12. Susan October 30, 2011 at 8:48 am #

    “I never said I would have never existed. I said I wouldn’t have existed long enough to care.”

    The same could be said of a newborn.

  13. Sophia October 31, 2011 at 2:13 am #

    Peggy: excellent article.

    Odile and any other Anti-choice readers:

    This is the thing, “if you hadn’t been born” is a great way to keep talking about anything other than the MOTHER”S RIGHTS AS A BORN HUMAN THAT IS LIVING, BREATHING, AND POSSIBLY SUFFERING FROM AN UNWANTED SITUATION. The point in the argument of “what if you haven’t been born” in talking about the fetus’ and cells-that-divide and “newborns” , is to move the “argument” from the fact that being anti-choice kills /hurts/harms women , that being anti-choice would deny more than 50% of the humans on earth (that I believe have souls, by the way ) the right to live fully as they choose.

  14. Odile November 1, 2011 at 10:38 am #

    Courtnay – Thank you for proving my point by so eloquently missing my point. It’s not your prerogative to determine what an individual believes, nor is it a scientist’s, nor a theologian’s. I’m merely pointing out that you can not dismiss a large group of women by stating that the answer to the question is “simple”. What it adds to the discussion is respect for the beliefs of an individual when discussing the potentially significant ramifications of terminating a pregnancy.

    Sophia – right out of the gate you have used, what in your mind, is a disparaging remark about me without proof of it’s validity. Quite a barrier to any communication with you. Suffering is not restricted to women with unwanted pregnancies. It can also be a reality for women who have terminated their pregnancies and have regret due to particular beliefs they hold. Do you have to be ‘anti-choice’ to care about the welfare of these women? Don’t you think that it’s better to reach them where there are before they suffer a lifetime of regret? Is it ok to turn a blind eye, just because our research suggests the number of these women is small? Do you truly think that just because an abortion is a woman’s choice and right, that the potential feelings of guilt, regret, self-recrimination, etc., will evaporate when she is reminded of this fact? Are you that unwilling to talk a woman out of an abortion?? I think it’s past time to take the discussion out of the cold, steel world of the militant activist, and care about the ‘born, living,breathing, maybe suffering’ people. Doesn’t it seem apparent, that the reason abortion carries stigma, and probably always will, is because of what so many women believe about their pregnancies? Here’s how Tanya DeBuff nailed it in her comment on ‘Fear, Loathing, and Dancing Genitalia’ on 21 October,

    “Listen, women are not as clueless as you believe. We know abortion is ending a life. We fucking know it.”

    Dee – An argument about sentience is a slippery slope. Never thought it was a good idea to enter that argument.

  15. Dee November 1, 2011 at 9:13 pm #

    My argument was on tangentially about sentience. It was about nonexistence, and the fear thereof, a fear which I lack.

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