A “Terrible Mistake”?: Regret And The Politics Of Abortion
Nicki Minaj has revealed she made a “terrible mistake” when she made the decision to abort her first child.
The Anaconda rapper was 15 when she found out she was pregnant with her then boyfriend Aaron’s baby, but she terminated the pregnancy so she could focus on her career. – “Nicki Minaj’s Regrets Over Teen Abortion”, uk.news.yahoo.com, January 20, 2015
I rarely wade in to discussions about abortion. First of all, as a man, I believe it is long past time for men to shut up and allow women to make these decisions on their own. That my identity is wrapped up in my faith also puts a spin on things; people would assume, regardless of facts, that I am “pro-life” just because I self-identify as a Christian. I have had to deal with folks “yelling” at me online precisely for this reason. Which leads me to my final point: feelings run very high on this matter, and while I am not one to run from a fight, it becomes nearly impossible to offer a perspective on something as volatile as abortion politics without the whole thing to collapse in to bitterness and rage. My preference is to be positive, and offer thoughts that stimulate constructive action. In regards to abortion, that doesn’t seem too likely most of the time.
All the same, the story linked above concerning Nicki Minaj’s comments got me thinking about the whole rhetoric of regret in the larger context of abortion politics. I find it fascinating that the article, such as it is, headlines the way it does. It is true she claims “regret” over her abortion; the rest of the article, however, indicates a lack of regret. Minaj is nothing if not self-possessed: she knows what she wants, how to get it, and refuses to allow things to get in the way of achieving whatever her goals are. That she recognizes that parenthood at 16 would have limited her options displays a great deal of understanding. She continues to insist that while she wants to be a parent, she also is not ready yet. The article, in fact, demonstrates little – other than the comments quoted – in the way of “regret” for her actions. In fact, she seems to understand she acted as she did for many excellent reasons.
They why the statement of regret? I believe that so much of the discussion around abortion, whichever side one takes, has spiraled down to a matter of the personal feelings and reactions of the women involved. Regardless of facts and circumstances, regardless of the religious or non-religious preferences of the women involved, regardless of the legal questions that continue to swirl around abortion, it seems that on this, at least, the pro-life/anti-abortion forces have scored a victory: Women are supposed to express regret over terminating a pregnancy. That the whole article from which both the title and above quote are taken make Minaj’s statements of “regret” far more problematic than a simple glance might suggest is one example that these alleged regrets are more pro forma than they are real.
There is a website dedicated to collecting the stories of women who refuse to bow to such pressure and deliberately detail their experiences as missing “regret” as an emotional component.
We talked a great deal about the pregnancy and how we both felt about it and how a baby would impact our lives. He expressed no real opinion and only said that he would support me and be an active father if I chose to have the baby. I decided that it was just not okay to bring a baby into the world when I was just 18, hadn’t finished school, wasn’t in a committed relationship with the father…how was that fair? So, I made an appointment and terminated the pregnancy.
I don’t regret it…not really-not in the kind of way where I sit around wishing I had not terminated the pregnancy. I regret that the situation happened. I regret that I allowed it to happen, but I KNOW beyond any doubt that my life would have taken quite a different turn~maybe some of it would have been “better”,but a lot of it would not. I don’t think that the father and I would have made it together. Statistics were against us under the circumstances. No way was I prepared to carry a baby for 9 months and take care of a newborn. No way.
What is the point of the rhetoric of regret, within the framework of abortion politics? It should be clear enough: Shaming women not only for becoming pregnant; shaming women who make the choice to terminate their pregnancies regardless of circumstances. In one sense, it’s odd the anti-abortion forces would include such a tactic in their arsenal. It adopts a point of view rooted in choice, yet demonstrating that in fact such a choice leads to feelings of shame and regret. It asks women to consider whether they would prefer to live with such feelings or with a baby they might neither be emotionally or otherwise ready for or perhaps even want. The subtext, of course, is familiar enough, and explains why this tactic is used: The women who make this choice have already acted irresponsibly and immorally by becoming pregnant in circumstances where they do not feel prepared to raise a child. An abortion would only increase their moral culpability, while adding the additional layer of guilt for having terminated the pregnancy.
It seems that women are supposed to express regret for having had an abortion, that a story like the one above – and there are many others – exposes some kind of moral fault, perhaps even a psychological defect (I have often read such persons described as “narcissistic”, even though the word wouldn’t actually apply), which is the contemporary substitute for inherent moral viciousness. In my life, I have known several women who have had abortions. In all cases, they were friends who told me after the fact. In all the cases, I discovered the decision was neither arrived at easily nor unemotional. Yet, only one of the women expressed any kind of moral angst, asking me if I thought she was going to hell. In all the cases, I thought the decision a good one for them, for their partners, and recognized the difficulty of arriving at the decision. I also thought even the woman who wondered about her damnation showed a great deal of moral and emotional strength in doing what they did. “Regret” is hardly something one should feel, or express, in the aftermath of such a life-event. Regret, a sense of personal failure, a desire to make right a wrong from the past – these are expressions of emotional and moral shallowness that do not usually follow from what I know from experience to have been decisions reached only after much thought, deliberation, and even emotional expression.
To say one “regrets” having had an abortion is to reduce the event to something facile, such as “regretting” which college one chose to attend or what one chose to wear to work one day. Even the woman who expressed her fears to me did not “regret” what she did; I can say that because I asked her point black, and she said she did not. As a matter of fact, this woman feared her damnation from a combination of childhood religious upbringing to which she no longer held and her own sense that what she had done was right and she felt neither shame nor regret for her actions. It wasn’t the abortion, I told her, that was making ask me those questions; it was, rather, the insistence that she should feel a particular way afterward that led her to feel the way she did. I asked her if she still believed hers to be the correct choice. I also asked her if any other things in her life made her believer herself damned, and she admitted she didn’t really believe “in that kind of stuff”. So I told her not to worry about it. She hadn’t come to the decision lightly, and did what she felt was right. That, I said, was enough.
I am intrigued by the idea that something as complicated as abortion is reduced to matters of personal emotional responses, particularly when I have yet to encounter a woman who has not come to the decision without serious consideration of all the matters involved. For anti-abortion forces, however, the word “choice” seems to reduce the act of abortion to an easy one, for which the emotional cost is high only afterward. By viewing women facing this question as already morally corrupt, and further entertaining an act that will only corrupt them further, the rhetoric of regret and shame seems well suited. That it has nothing to do with the realities women face is not surprising, rooted as it is in a view of women as already more morally culpable than men. I just wish that more people wouldn’t play the “regret” card. In Minaj’s case, it is evident her “regret” wasn’t all that deep. Just using the words, however, plays in to the hands of reactionary forces that would force birth upon women, which would produce not only greater regret, but sews seeds for all sorts of emotional, financial, and psychological damage.
If a person feels they made the wrong choice having an abortion, expressions of remorse would make sense, and they should be aired. On the other hand, I have yet to meet a woman who went through the procedure who didn’t do so after much agonizing. I honestly have yet to meet a woman who really “regrets” the decision, and Nicki Minaj is no different, as long as you read the whole article carefully.