Sunday, January 06, 2013

Poll: how old were you when you first learned about abortion?

How old were you when you first learned that abortion is a thing that exists, and in what context did you learn about it?

I'm asking because I've heard stories of people (especially, but not limited to, catholic school teachers), both in the present day and when my peers were kids, lecturing kids about the evils of abortion when the kids were at an age when I myself hadn't yet even heard of abortion, and I find myself wondering if these lectures would end up teaching the kids that it's even an option.

I don't remember exactly when I first learned about it.  I know it wasn't specifically mentioned in the sex ed I received from my parents or my schools, and I can extrapolate from what I know of my learning curve that it wasn't in my sex ed book.

I learned how pregnancy happens around the age of 8 or 9, I reached menarche at 10, and I learned (on a theoretical level, fortunately) that rape exists at 10 as well.  So, starting at the age of 10, I had a quietly ever-present fear of being forced to gestate my rapist's baby, and hadn't the slightest clue that pregnancies could be terminated.  (I was thinking solely in terms of a rapist because I was still years away from being able to even imagine wanting to have sex voluntarily, even in a distant and hypothetical future.)

Several years later, I read something (I don't remember if it was an article or a work of fiction) where a girl who was pregnant thought that if she skipped rope for hours and hours, she'd have a miscarriage.  (I don't remember if she actually tried it or if it actually worked.)  This was my first exposure to the idea that miscarriage could be induced.  I was relieved to learn that such a thing might be remotely possible, and started brainstorming other ways to force myself to miscarry so I wouldn't have to gestate my rapist's baby.  I considered the possibility of simply stopping eating and drinking, thinking that if it didn't cause a miscarriage it would at least kill me, and, by extension, also gave some thought to suicide as a solution.  I was probably under the age of 16 when this happened, because I don't remember looking up ways to induce miscarriage on the internet and I'm pretty sure I would have if I'd had internet access at the time.

I became aware of the existence of abortion, as a medical procedure, sometime before the end of high school.  Weirdly, I don't remember any single moment of relief at the realization that you can just go somewhere and get it done professionally. There was a time when I knew it existed but didn't know the details of the laws governing its accessibility (I remember mentally debating whether it would be more effective to tell the doctor that I would commit suicide if I couldn't have an abortion or to actually attempt suicide, completely unaware that you don't need to convince them of that particular level of desperation) but I figured it out by the time I was in university.

All of which is to say that if, in middle school or early high school, someone had lectured me about the evils of abortion, they would have been teaching me that it is possible to end a pregnancy and that it is possible to do so with a proper medical procedure.  And if someone had taken my child or teenage self to an abortion clinic to protest, they would have taught me "This is where you can go to get an abortion."  It's likely this information is more accessible to the youth of today, but some of the stories I heard that inspired this post were about people who were older than me, who surely would have learned a thing or two about how to get an abortion if lectured on the evils of doing so in Grade 6.

What about you?  When and how did you learn that abortion exists?  If people had lectured your young teenage self on the evils of abortion, would they have been teaching you about its existence?


laura k said...

Your post makes me think about the psychological differences of girls beginning to menustrate at younger ages. In my time, the typical age to begin was 13. I was late at 14, but not freakishly so. Before 12 was almost unheard of.

Anyway, my answer. I learned that there was "an operation" that a girl would get if she became pregnant too young, i.e. as a teenager. This was framed as something that would "ruin your life", so it was best not to have sex. I was around 12 when I learned this.

I did know how babies were made, but didn't know about rape. I did know the concept of rape - the girl in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is almost raped - but wasn't clear on the details and didn't associate it with the possibility of pregnancy.

Abortions were mentioned on soap operas, too - always something shameful and horrible, but an option - and *the* option if you got pregnant too young.

By the time I was in high school and actually having sex, I knew girls who had had abortions, and then I had one. I immediately resented the "ruin your life" idea, I was furious that abortion was presented so negatively, when it was so clearly a lifesaver.

M@ said...

I don't remember when I first heard about abortion. I know for sure I knew about it in grade 9, when we were compelled -- in math class! -- to write letters to our MP in opposition to abortion.

I must have known about it before then (maybe because it was also talked about in church?) but I know I was well aware of what it was by the time I was 13.

laura k said...

"I don't remember when I first heard about abortion. I know for sure I knew about it in grade 9, when we were compelled -- in math class! -- to write letters to our MP in opposition to abortion."

Oh good lord. What would have happened to someone who refused to participate in the letter writing?

M@ said...

Actually one guy did, and nothing happened. He basically sat and harassed everyone else while they were working on their letters. It was maybe 20 minutes of class time I think. I thought it was pretty crazy at the time, too.

laura k said...

A lone dissenter! I would like to have seen that. What an abuse of power by the teacher.

M@ said...

Well, kind of. The guy's stated reasoning was "When I get some girl pregnant I want to be able to get rid of it" -- maybe not the first argument you'd go to if you were pro-abortion rights.

But it wasn't an abuse of power by the teacher, as far as I remember; it was an abuse of power by the school administration. I believe the entire high school was asked to do this in the first class of the day.

laura k said...

Not the best argument, and clumsily stated, but essentially true!

School administration?! ARGH.

impudent strumpet said...

So if I'd been a student M@'s class, (M@, was that a Catholic school?) they would have taught me about the existence of abortion in their attempt to get me to oppose it.

impudent strumpet said...

Your post makes me think about the psychological differences of girls beginning to menustrate at younger ages.

The weird thing is that on the internet I've seen people (including, most disturbingly, mothers of pre-teen girls) who are absolutely positively certain that early menstruation means, to put it politely, early sex drive. I was humiliated enough by what my body was doing, I can't imagine walking around with grownups thinking those kinds of things about me when I in actuality still found the idea of sex repulsive.

laura k said...

Ugh, that's awful. Are they worried their daughters are having sex, or worried that their daughters want to have sex...?

Just noticed my funny typo. Menustration, something from the restaurant biz, I guess

impudent strumpet said...

The ones I saw weren't specifically about their own daughters, it's just they were speaking negatively of girls who hit early puberty, and meanwhile had daughters who were young enough that they could still hit early puberty. Which makes me worry for their daughters...