My 12-year-old daughter recently asked me what I think about abortion. She walked into the kitchen, poked around the refrigerator, then spun around and blurted it out: “I can’t decide what I think about abortion. I want to know what you think.”
My daughter is an avid consumer of the news. Unlike myself at her age, she’s genuinely interested in political news — news about climate change, racial and gender justice, and the next election. As her question hung in the air between us, I knew immediately that she had read the news that our home state, Ohio, had just banned nearly all abortions with no exceptions for rape or incest. Kentucky had already done so, in a law that’s since been blocked by a federal judge. Alabama would soon follow. Several other states were lining up in the queue, eager to strip women of the right to choose.
I took a deep breath. Her question took me by surprise, and yet I had been waiting for it since the day she was born. I always knew the time would come when I would have to tell my daughters the truth: I was raped. And I had an abortion. One day, you may face these challenges too.
By age 45, nearly one in four women in the United States will have had an abortion, despite a steep decline in abortion rates since 2008 that experts say is due largely to increased availability of contraceptives. The likelihood of rape is also high. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in five women will be raped in their lifetime. This estimate strikes me as absurdly low, given what I know about my close female friends and family members.
年满45岁时，美国近四分之一的女性将会有堕胎经历，尽管自2008年以来堕胎率急剧下降，专家说主要是由于避孕药具更容易获取了。强奸的可能性也很高。根据国家性暴力资料中心（National Sexual Violence Resource Center）的数据，五分之一的女性一生中会有遭受强奸的经历。以我对亲密的女性朋友和家庭成员的了解，我觉得这个估计低到荒谬的地步。
I did not call my mother after I was raped, but I called her immediately after I learned that I had gotten pregnant as a result. It was my first semester of law school and I was terrified that everything I had hoped for my future was suddenly unraveling before my eyes. At the time, my father was unemployed. My mother was working a minimum-wage job. Miraculously, I was at Stanford Law School with a chance to pursue my dream of being a civil rights lawyer. But now everything was falling apart. I was devastated, emotionally wrecked, not only because I had been raped but because I was pregnant with my rapist’s child. I wondered aloud whether I should just quit law school and give birth to the baby that had been forced inside me.
My mother listened quietly. She then told me that she, too, had been raped at about my age. She was raped by her boss when she was 20 years old. It was her first sexual experience. As she choked back tears, she said she never wanted her own daughter to experience the same fate. I begged her to tell me what to do — should I have this baby? — but she gently refused. “This is your choice, Michelle. Thank God you have a choice.”
I found it difficult to face what had occurred. Like countless women, I found a way to blame myself: Why did I drunk-dial him at midnight? Why did I say he could come to my dorm room at that hour? Why didn’t I scream? He wasn’t a big man; he was rather skinny — muscular, but lean. Couldn’t I have fought him off? I did say no, over and over, and tried to stop him. But his hand slipped over my mouth to silence me and his forearm pressed down across my shoulders to pin me to the mattress.
I didn’t call the police — not after he left my dorm room and not after I discovered I was pregnant. I never once imagined that calling the police could help my situation. It could only make things worse. I envisioned prosecutors, courtrooms and interrogations. I was trying to survive my first year of law school, worried I might fail out, wondering how I would make it through my first round of exams. The last thing I wanted was to become a court case myself. Nor did I want a baby. I had no extended family to fall back on; no one who could loan me money to help raise a child; no place to go except to my parents’ rented home — a place that felt temporary, at best, given their financial insecurity and recent eviction. I did not want to give a baby away and I did not want to raise my rapist’s child.
At the time, I felt terribly alone but my circumstances were far from unusual. Black women have the highest rates of abortion in the country, undoubtedly due to the severe wealth gap between black and white families — a gap that holds even among the poor. The white household living near the poverty line typically has about $18,000 in wealth — primarily due to intergenerational wealth transfers — while black households in similar economic straits typically have a median wealth near zero. Although women of all colors who are poor are far more likely than those who have greater resources to choose to end their pregnancies, the situation for black women is especially dire. Although our families often want to help, as mine certainly did, that frequently proves to be a practical impossibility. A 2014 report found that for every dollar of wealth owned by the typical white family, the median black family owns just 5 cents. Even if I wanted to give birth to my rapist’s baby — which I did not — I, like so many others, could not turn to my family for help.
During my second year in law school, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a case, Rust v. Sullivan, that many worried might overturn the constitutional right to abortion established by Roe v. Wade. I recall some male law students arguing that abortion bans wouldn’t be so bad, so long as there were exceptions made in cases of rape. I wondered how a “rape exception” to an abortion ban could possibly help women, like me, who did not want to report a rape to the police and who could not possibly prove that a rape occurred if the man denied it. Criminal cases take months, even years, to be resolved. Would abortions be allowed based on mere allegations of rape without any proof? If not, what would a woman have to prove in a matter of days or weeks to get an abortion in the first trimester? How could she overcome the inevitable denial? What man would admit to rape knowing that he’d face a likely prison sentence?
在我上法学院的第二年，最高法院同意审理鲁斯特诉沙利文案（Rust v. Sullivan），许多人担心这个案件可能会推翻罗诉韦德案（Roe v. Wade）确立的宪法赋予的堕胎权。我记得一些法律系的男学生说，只要有强奸导致怀孕的例外，堕胎禁令就不那么糟糕。我想知道，堕胎禁令的“强奸例外”怎么才能帮助像我这样的女性，她们不想向警方报案，如果男性否认强奸，她们也无法证明强奸发生了。刑事案件需要几个月，甚至几年时间才能解决。在没有任何证据的情况下，仅凭强奸指控就允许堕胎吗？如果不能，那么在孕期前三个月里，女性需要在几天或几周内证明什么才能堕胎呢？她怎样才能战胜男方不可避免的否认呢？知道自己可能面临牢狱之灾，哪个男人会承认强奸呢？
My own situation proved to be highly unusual in one respect. The man who raped me admitted what he had done and apologized. I doubt if he would’ve done the same if I’d been legally required to report the rape to obtain an abortion. I know many women who’ve been raped; not one has called the cops.
My rapist called the day after he violated me and left an awkward message on my answering machine saying he was sorry about “what happened.” He did not use the word “rape.” He asked me to call him back. I did not. More messages were left in the days that followed; each time he sounded more distraught, more apologetic, more despondent.
On the day I learned I was pregnant, I finally decided to call. I wanted to punish him with the news. Look what you’ve done to me. I wanted him to know that his actions had consequences and this was something we’d both have to live with for the rest of our lives, no matter what I decided. When he answered the phone, he sounded relieved that I had finally called. I interrupted his efforts to apologize yet again to deliver my news. After a long silence, he asked quietly, “Are you sure it’s mine?” I nearly threw the phone against the wall but instead steadied myself and told him coldly that yes, you did this.
“Oh, no,” he sighed. A long pause. “Are you going to keep it? It’s your choice, totally up to you.”
“I know it’s my choice,” I replied.
An even longer pause followed. The silence stretched between us and I refused to be the one to break it. Then he said slowly: “I know you don’t believe me, but I am sorry. I didn’t give you a choice. I will never forgive myself for what I did.”
I know many women yearn for an apology like that. Eve Ensler, the renowned feminist playwright, just published a powerful book, “The Apology,” that lays out in wrenching detail what she wished her father had said to her after years of brutal violence and sexual abuse. What I experienced in my dorm room was far less horrific but I still couldn’t accept his apology. I didn’t even think I wanted one. I told myself that I wanted nothing from him. I refused his offer to pay for the abortion. I refused to allow him to drive me to the clinic or to care for me upon my release. I refused to allow him to believe that there was anything he could do to make up for what he had done.
我知道很多女性渴望得到这样的道歉。着名女性主义剧作家伊芙·恩斯勒（Eve Ensler）刚刚出版力作《道歉》（The Apology），以令人揪心的细节描绘了经过多年的残酷暴力与性侵之后，她希望父亲对她所说的。我在宿舍的经历远没那么恐怖，但我依然无法接受他的道歉。我甚至从不觉得自己想要这个道歉。我告诉自己，我不想要他的任何东西。我拒绝了他主动提出承担堕胎费用的请求。我拒绝让他载我去诊所或在出院后照顾我。我拒绝让他相信他可以做些什么去弥补他的所作所为。
And yet, years later, I realized that I was free. I no longer felt fear, anger or resentment toward the man who raped me. Without even realizing it, I had forgiven him. It’s difficult to imagine that I would feel the same if he had shown me no care or concern, or if I had been forced to endure a fresh wave of trauma in our court system, or if I had been forced to give birth to a child that I did not choose.
My daughter listened to my story with wide, frightened eyes. She did not want to hear that something like this had happened to me or that it could happen to her. Eventually she asked whether I thought my rapist’s apology was truly sincere. Her skepticism was well founded. After all, many abusive partners apologize over and over again for the harm they’ve done even as they continue to do it. I would never tell my daughter or any woman to accept an apology or to forgive a man who abuses her. Nor would I tell any woman whether she should or should not terminate a pregnancy. Those are not my choices to make.
What I did say to my daughter, as she sat perched on our kitchen stool, is that I am filled with gratitude for the women who came before us — women who fought for the right to choose, who dared to imagine that we had the right to control our bodies and who said loudly and proudly that we should not be forced to bear children against our will. Roe v. Wade is rooted in a basic understanding that women’s lives matter and that we have rights, needs and interests that don’t vanish when we become pregnant. Pregnancy and childbirth can be extremely difficult — emotionally and physically painful — and bringing a child into the world is an enormous responsibility. Deciding whether or not to give birth may be the most important decision a woman will ever make, potentially changing the course of her life forever — or ending it. Black women, in particular, have high mortality rates during pregnancy. In some areas of Mississippi, black and Latina women are more likely than women in some of the poorest countries in the world to experience a pregnancy-related death. Forcing any woman to see a pregnancy to term may be risking her life as well as her physical and emotional health.
I said to my daughter, as a young woman, you will be faced with many difficult choices in your life and I cannot protect you from all that may come your way. You will have to decide for yourself what you think about abortion and everything else. I will always respect the careful decisions you make. But since you asked me, I will tell you: If we want to continue to have the rights and freedoms that were won in the generations that came before us, if we want gender and racial equality, and if we want the right to control our own bodies and destinies, we are going to have to stand up, speak out and fight for our right to choose.
本文作者 Michelle Alexander于2018年成为时报专栏作家。她是民权律师和倡议者、法律学者和《新吉姆·克劳法：色盲时代的大规模监禁》（The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness）的作者。打赏