It’s a hell of a thing to hear your president call you a murderer.
That’s not quite the whole picture, though, of what President Donald Trump did to later abortion patients during the State of the Union speech Tuesday night. After he invoked the Madonna, a “beautiful image of a mother holding her infant child,” women abruptly vanished for the rest of the time he took to throw enough red meat to the anti-choice base to keep money from the evangelical coffers flowing. Instead, we disappeared into the “womb” from which “beautiful” babies are “ripped moments before birth;” we are nothing more than the “womb” in which “children … can feel pain.”
And then, mission accomplished, the president turned from describing children as the “holy image of God” to pronouncing—in the same oddly emotional tone of voice—that the “final part of my agenda is to protect America’s national security.”
It wasn’t an accident that his plea for the control—the security—of the nation’s wombs got shoved up next to the legacy of the military-industrial complex. We are mere ciphers of mothers, of women, of humans to be secured in the fight for an “America First” jingoism that has members of Congress chanting “USA! USA! USA!” like deluded fascist schoolboys, stars in their eyes.
But we are here, and we are not wombs, and we are not ciphers, and we have had enough. Although “late-term abortion” is an unscientific term—and thus, a ban on late-term abortion could refer to a range of policies—conservative politicians have fixated on the idea of 20-week bans, themselves nothing more than part of an explicit strategy of legal incrementalism designed to end in a total ban on abortion and the enshrinement of fetal personhood in the Constitution. A 20-week, second-trimester abortion may make people deeply uncomfortable, but it does none of the things the anti-choice movement says it does: A 20-week fetus cannot feel pain and is not viable. Abortions sought after 24 weeks, which New York recently allowed in some cases, are not “moments from birth.” The women who access abortions during the second half of the second trimester are compelled by a diverse and compelling set of circumstances, some of which society deems more appropriate than others.
But I am not one of these women. I have had a third-trimester abortion—in other words, an abortion after the 28th gestational week of pregnancy—and have gone on to speak about it under my own name. To my knowledge, there are only two other women who have done so in the United States. Behind us are hundreds of others across the years who cannot speak out because of stigma in their communities, because of overwhelming grief and trauma, because of shame, because of fear. In the year since my story first came out, I have (among other things) been told my uterus should be forcibly removed so I can’t have more children. I have been called a bloodthirsty murderer who only wanted a “perfect” child. And I have been told that I am a selfish, murderous eugenicist for not choosing perinatal hospice rather than abortion—an accusation that rings hollow, considering that hospice, in the dystopian news cycle following the passage of the Reproductive Health Act in New York and the introduction of a similar bill in Virginia, has evidently come to mean “executing a baby after birth.”
When President Trump talks about ripping “a baby from the mother’s womb moments before birth,” we are whom he is referencing. (As this apparently has to be said, no, babies are never aborted “moments before birth,” but yes, abortions in months seven and eight do, rarely, happen.) And a year and a half after my abortion, after listening to woman after woman unburden their hearts in the relative safety of private support groups, I still do not know how to shove the tangled realities of our stories into a similarly pithy soundbite. Life and love in extremis do not lend themselves to the slogan, to the vulgar cheer of the crowd. All I have is the truth, as much of it as I can hold in my hands. And the truth is that as much as I still hurt, in the quiet everyday moments, as much as I miss the child whose face I never saw, I can find in myself no regret, no shame, and no fear.
If that makes me a monster, then perhaps this administration needs women like us to be monstrous, one of many in the arsenal of human terrors the president would apparently use to keep Americans afraid and in line. In response to such politics of fear, I have nothing to say but this, from the psalm I sang at my son’s funeral: Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me. And I am not afraid.