Abortion -- Solution
for Abusive Husbands?
by Brenda Fine
November 06, 1998
Although I've been prolife for eight years, during the past few months,
been experiencing renewed interest - and renewed outrage - with respect
to the issue of abortion. Like many prolifers, much of my research and
activism has been online. In exploring the facts, attitudes, and opinions
surrounding the issue, I've visited both prolife and prochoice websites.
The second of these visits yielded this site:
It's dedicated to Gerri Santoro, a woman who died of an illegal abortion
in 1964. Headed with the police photo of the dead woman, which should "to
anyone with their priorities
straight...be far more disturbing than any photo of scraps of
post-abortion fetal tissue", it tells the story of the events of
Santoro's life which led to her death. Abused by her husband and
frightened for her two daughters' safety, Santoro, pregnant with another
man's child, was moved by fear to abort this third child. Illegal
abortion killed Santoro, the illegality of it propelling her out of the
frying pan, straight into the fire.
Those who have used Santoro's story as argument for abortion rights can
be assured that I did find the site disturbing - perhaps even more
disturbing than the photos of "post-abortion tissue" that prolifers have
shown me. But it was not the photo, disturbing as it is, that upset me
the most. What did, was the tone of the story and the conclusion that its
author apparently drew.
"No fetus was ever the loving mother of two daughters, as was Gerri
Santoro," the story begins, prefacing a string of similar parallel
constructions. Nor did any fetus "[endure] the verbal and physical
abuse of a spouse for the sake of the marriage...and then [leave] the
marriage for the sake of the children", we learn; and nor did any fetus
"put her life into grave peril to try to keep her husband from taking her
children" when she "panicked at what he might do when he found she was
pregnant by another man". Indeed, if it were the objective of the
prolife movement to save fetuses and kill women, these sentences might
compelling on more than a stylistic level. As it stands, I know of no
prolifer who holds as ideal a society in which pregnant women are abused
by their husbands and perpetually frightened for their lives.
The final sentence in this story slips from the dramatic to the downright
"No fetus was ever left to die...in a motel room by the man that operated
on her using borrowed medical implements and a textbook," ends the story.
I have it on good authority that at least one fetus - Gerri Santoro's -
did, and to deny this aspect of abortion is creative, irresponsible, or
However, that wasn't what disturbed me about the page, as well as about
the Gerri Santoro story in general. What bothered me about it was the
analysis and conclusion drawn by abortion rights proponents. The story
outlines the problem quite clearly: Gerri Santoro was verbally and
physically abused by her husband; she left him to protect her children;
she feared that he would harm her and her daughters when he found out she
was pregnant. Implicit in the article is a reduction of Santoro's
problem to: Santoro was pregnant. And equally implicit is a solution: Let
her abort in a safe and clean environment.
And this is what I find disturbing, perhaps more disturbing than
photos of aborted fetuses. I don't have much respect for liberal feminists in
general, but I'll grant them this: if a woman were to express fear that
her husband would harm her and her children because she was ugly, not a
single self-respecting feminist would seize the opportunity to preach the
importance of the availability of makeovers. But when Gerri Santoro was
driven to her death out of fear that her husband and would harm her and
her children because she was pregnant, Ms. Magazine's response nine
years after the fact was an
enthusiastic vote in favour of the availability of legalized abortions.
It's the epitome of one of the very things that feminists have been
fighting against for decades: the practice of putting the responsibility
for every problem on the woman. We still hear - and justifiably so - of
court sessions that peg at least partial responsibility for rape on the
victim. And yet, when a man makes his wife fear for her and her
children's safety because she is pregnant, they shift the focus away from
him - let him bear no responsibility, and make sure his wife can abort
her baby to avoid his wrath.
Here's my analysis of Santoro's problem: Her husband was horrible, and
she had little or no support from her community. And here's my proposed
solution: Get the husband away from her and from their kids, and help
Santoro through her pregnancy and with raising her children.
The site about Santoro speaks little of what would have happened if
abortion were legal at the time of Santoro's death. I'll ignore the fact
that her life may well have ended under similar circumstances, as Roe v.
Wade said nothing about regulating abortions and that hence, she might
have died nonetheless at the hands of the same butcher, only in a white
room. Suppose that instead she had aborted, and had suffered no damage to
her health. How much time would it have been before she wore the wrong
dress, or showed up ten minutes too late, or committed some other offence
that would have left her afraid of what her husband might do? The website
ignores the fact that Gerri Santoro, battered, emotionally damaged,
desperate, and pregnant before her abortion, would have been battered,
emotionally damaged, and desperate after her abortion. I'm moved to
wonder if pregnancy is so horrible that 'curing' it eliminates the
necessity to deal with these remaining issues. The liberal feminists can
pat themselves on the back, for their championing of legalized abortion
has allowed abused, desperate women a choice: a choice, that is, between a
frying pan, and, well, another frying pan.
Gerri Santoro was a desperate woman, and her death was an unnecessary
tragedy. But her desperation resulted primarily from the fact that she was
at the mercy of an abusive husband - not from the fact that her body,
functioning properly, was housing a new life. And this is what makes the
website dedicated to her so disturbing. It places the responsibility for
her husband's abuse on her and not on him. It proposes to solve a problem
by killing a child, and not by restraining an abuser.
I hope that the feminists, who claim to be acting in women's collective
interest, will not continue to sanction this misplacement of
responsibility. And I hope that if ever I am battered, poor, and
pregnant, no feminist will avert her eyes from my bruises and declare,
"Well, we'd better get that baby out of you."
This article copyright © 1998 by Brenda Fine, and may
not be reproduced in any form without the express written consent of its
author. All rights reserved.