[The use of "pro-choice" in the title is borrowing, purely for rhetorical effect, the pro-lifers' definition of "favouring mandatory, recreational abortion". This is in no way an endorsement by me of this clearly nonsensical definition.]
I learned an interesting piece of my family history while I was in hospital: in 1949, my grandmother was given the opportunity to have an abortion. (In fact, since abortion would remain illegal in the UK for nearly two more decades, she was probably offered an “emergency D&C”, but the intention was to terminate the pregnancy.) With three small children, one of whom was seriously ill, she had every reason to feel unable to go through another pregnancy, but she decided she was up to the task.
If she’d chosen differently, I wouldn’t be writing this now, because the baby she gave birth to grew up to become my father.
When I heard this, I thought about the question pro-lifers frequently pose: “What if your mother was pro-choice?” What if your mother (or in this case, grandmother) had chosen to end a pregnancy and, as a result, you didn’t exist? Knowing that the possibility was discussed brings me as close as I think I’ll ever be to answering the question, and my answer is a great big “So what?”
Yes, if my grandmother had ended that pregnancy, I wouldn’t be here. But I wouldn’t be able to resent my non-existence, and the rest of the world wouldn’t be aware of what it was missing; it’s hard to say that anyone would have been worse off. In any case, I clearly am here, so speculating about what if I wasn’t is a purely philosophical matter with no practical bearing.
What’s more, there are any number of choices that had to be made the way they were in order for me to exist. If either of my parents had chosen a different university, they would never have met and I could never have been conceived, but university choices aren’t subject to the same debate that abortion is. That doesn’t prove, in itself, that the debate isn’t justified, but it does go some way towards demonstrating that “What if your mother was pro-choice?” is a red herring as far as the debate is concerned.
Another favourite way for pro-lifers to express the sentiment is the bumper sticker that says “Your mother was pro-life”. But I’ve got no evidence to say anything of the sort about my grandmother. Yes, it’s possible that she chose to continue the pregnancy because she considered that the emergency D&C would be murder. It’s also possible that she enjoyed being pregnant and wanted, in spite of all the difficulties, to bring this new life into the world. (If that’s the case, it’s an attitude I inherited from her.) I don’t know, and part of being pro-choice is that I don’t feel I have the right to second-guess her.
She had access to abortion and she chose to give birth. I don’t know what pressures were on her to choose one way or the other, but from what I know of her and the way I heard the story, I’d guess she weighed up all the factors and made the decision she thought was the right one. And since I’ve seen no evidence that she wants to put pressure on any other woman to decide any given way, who knows? Maybe she is pro-choice.