Books

What the US Supreme Court needs to know about the path to motherhood

In dehumanising women who need abortions, the lawmakers who overturned Roe vs Wade ignore the tragic reality for mothers like me, writes author Anna Hogeland.

Illustration: Katherine Lam

I wrote my debut novel, The Long Answer, during a time of grief, rage, confusion and shock. I had recently lost my first pregnancy – a late-term abortion inspired by a heart defect that made my baby all but incompatible with life – and I’d lost my second pregnancy in an early miscarriage. I wrote it during the course of my third pregnancy, when I was carrying, though I was never convinced of it at the time, my healthy daughter. The novel is a curation of stories of women who have experienced pregnancy, abortion, miscarriage and infertility – whose path to motherhood did not go as they’d hoped. It explores not only how these losses impact the women, but their relationships too, particularly with female friends and sisters.

I needed to read this book. I could not find it anywhere else; I knew I must write it myself. I did not plan – no one could have planned – that my novel that prominently features the importance of reproductive rights, including a story of second-trimester abortion of a loved pregnancy that closely resembles my own, would be released in the US three days before the Supreme Court overturned Roe vs Wade.

It is difficult for me to know how to respond to the death of Roe. In truth, I don’t want to respond at all. I want to go back in time, close my ears and eyes, and refuse to acknowledge this as reality. Though the overturning was not a shock – we all saw it coming, long before the decision was leaked, and we could never fully take it for granted – but on June 24, when I read the news on a screen, I felt my body drawn to the ground. I didn’t cry; I couldn’t speak much. I handed my daughter to my in-laws and took to bed. 

Other writers and figures with much larger spheres of influence than mine have written so eloquently and persuasively on the subject, with thorough research, I at times feel I do not have much more to offer. And yet I feel I must offer something to salvage, or at least honour, the law that I, and many women I love have needed to protect our choices and our bodies. And the only thing I can uniquely contribute is my own story. 

In the weeks since, I have given more thought to how this happened, and what can be done. I don’t yet have answers, but I find myself associating to what I’ve learned about dynamics of abuse. I’m understanding how laws that harm women are passed, in part, because the idea of abortion, and what kind of woman gets an abortion, is abstracted and therefore dehumanised – it is in this way that laws of all kinds that discriminate against certain types of bodies are endorsed, and have been throughout history. If we think of a group of people as other – which is to say, less human – it is easier to subjugate them, it can even rationalise it. We can more readily tolerate abusing an object than a body that feels as much as our own.

Avid readers, I believe, have a harder time objectifying humans different from themselves. When you read a story, you are gaining access to another’s soul, intellect, wounds, vulnerabilities and powers. Before you even open the book you have opened yourself to this possibility. This willingness is an act of connection in itself. You are absorbed in their humanity; you cannot deny its presence. I have felt this over and over as I read. When I write, too, I try to inhabit a person, some who may be quite different from myself. Reading and writing are acts of listening, and if we are attentive, empathetic listeners we can often not help but see the story-tellers as whole.

The Long Answer by Anna Hogeland is out on August 11 (Serpent’s Tail, £16.99)

I feared, after the Supreme Court’s decision, that any influence my story and my novel might have was irrelevant, because the law is dead, it is too late. And, for many women in this country who will now be forced to carry and birth babies, it is too late. But for women of the future – my daughter included – I retain hope that the decision can be overturned again. Elections are near, this is not the end if enough of us refuse it to be.

I did not write The Long Answer to persuade those who believe abortion should be criminalised. Yet now I do have a hope that my novel and the stories within can possibly sway the fraction of people who have not fully considered all that the overturning of Roe will truly mean for women, and for their babies, those who would and would not survive outside the womb. This fraction might read my account, feel what I have felt, and come away still believing, perhaps, they would have continued with the pregnancy regardless of the baby’s prognosis, but they would have at least wanted the choice.

You can buy The Long Answer from The Big Issue shop on Bookshop.org, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops.

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine. If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member.You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.

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