Jewish Woman Who Aborted Her Baby: My Religion Needs a Ceremony to “Honor” Abortions

Opinion   |   Micaiah Bilger   |   Jun 14, 2016   |   5:07PM   |   Washington, DC

Every year during Yom Kippur, Stosh Cotler remembers her abortion during a special part of a service set aside to mourn dead children.

But Cotler’s attitude toward her abortion isn’t what you would think. In a column for Forward, she went through a series of mental gymnastics to argue that she does not regret her abortion even though she knows she destroyed “another presence within me.”

She is more honest about her experience than some abortion advocates and acknowledges how the “pro-choice” rhetoric does not always match women’s actual feelings about their abortions.

“… perhaps it’s because we haven’t figured out a way to discuss something that feels too taboo — to know that one is ending a potential life for a range of legitimate reasons, to feel deeply connected to that potential life and then to end the life without regret,” Cotler wrote.

She aborted her unborn child 15 years ago when she and a long-term partner got pregnant after their birth control failed. Cotler said neither of them wanted to be parents, and she felt “entirely confident” in her decision to have an abortion.

Yet, her writing betrays an inner struggle that has not gone away. She wrote:

There was a mismatch between the frameworks those of us who identify as “pro-choice” use to talk about pregnancy and the experience I was having. I very much understand and support the need to use language such as “the fetus” when describing pregnancies before birth, instead of using language like “the baby” — we who support women’s reproductive freedom know how the conservative and religious right has used words like “baby” to manipulate, scare and guilt trip women into keeping unwanted pregnancies.

That said, I experienced something more than a set of cells forming within me and something different from a baby — the closest I can describe it is that I sensed a spiritual being coming into existence. It wasn’t scary, it wasn’t sad, it just was. And on some level, during those two weeks of waiting, I did my best to let that spiritual being know that it was deeply loved by the universe, but it was not going to be born.

Cotler said she wanted her unborn child to feel loved, but then she killed it in an abortion. These types of contradictions continue throughout her column.

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Cotler went on to write about how she cries every year during the Yizkor service on Yom Kippur when they mourn lost children. Her tears are for a “connection I chose to end.” Someday, she said she hopes the Jewish community will create a public ritual to honor abortions.

“These are not tears of guilt, or shame, or second guessing,” Cotler wrote. “These are tears of recognition that something holy transpired within me and I am forever changed.”

Cotler comes so close to recognizing that her unborn baby was a valuable human being who should have lived. Though her abortion was early in her pregnancy, her unborn baby’s heart likely was already beating and his/her brain and spinal cord were developing. His/her arms and legs probably were visible. Her unborn baby’s DNA already had determined the sex, eye and hair color and other traits.

In recognizing these facts about human life, many women who have had abortions find healing. Some pro-life groups and post-abortion healing programs even hold ceremonies to remember and mourn aborted babies. These ceremonies do what the abortion industry and its advocates refuse to do — recognize that unborn babies are valuable and deserve a right to life.