Abortion -- Solution for Abusive Husbands?

by Brenda Fine
Rightgrrl Contributor
November 06, 1998

Although I've been prolife for eight years, during the past few months, I've 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: http://www.sapphireblue.com/25years/. 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 have been 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 false: "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 both.

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.