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Life Choices


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Recognized as a pioneer feminist, Linda Weber tackles abortion head on, with wisdom gained from a lifetime of working on it. She has been a psychotherapist and spiritual counselor for women for nearly forty years and was one of the first abortion counselors in the U.S. She lives in Boulder, Colorado.


Here is a beautiful and brave book about abortion -- a book I recommend enthusiastically, especially to people who are pro-choice but uncomfortable with aspects of abortion. Linda Weber will open your eyes and your heart to its depth and scope and profound importance in our lives. --Ava Torre-Bueno, author of Peace After Abortion 1970 New York City: Abortion had just been legalized in New York State, and the first abortion clinics opened in New York. Several women I knew who were active in the women's liberation movement had gotten a new type of job at one of the first abortion clinics in Manhattan. This job did not have a name yet, but came to be known as "abortion counselor". My friend Linda was among the first abortion counselors in the country. Because she worked at the Manhattan clinic at night, I babysat her two tiny girls. I recall Linda had very strong feelings about her new job, and talked about how she wanted to write about her experiences as an abortion counselor and feelings about abortion. Now, after forty years of counseling women seeking abortions, here is Linda's book, Life Choices: The Teachings of Abortion. As we mark in 2011, the 40th anniversary of the ground-breaking book Our Bodies, Our Selves, Linda Weber's memoir/guidebook is of the same genre -- interlocking the personal and the political to assist women in better understanding their own lives. Linda reminds those of us who are old enough to remember: When she began as an abortion counselor, there were no safehouses, no rape crisis centers, nowhere for battered women to go for shelter. No universities had women's studies departments and many prestigious schools did not admit women. There were no sexual harassment laws. Women earned half as much as men for the same work. We have come very far in those forty years. For many women, it is because they could legally and safely terminate an unwanted pregnancy that they were able to achieve their life goals. Though much has improved in women's lives, we live in a world where rape is shockingly common as an act of war around the world, where oppression and abuse of women are at the base of many, many cultures and economies, and in what is said to be a modern, developed country, physicians with the courage to provide comprehensive reproductive health services are murdered openly in their communities. A third of children in the United States live in poverty, while the same forces who would deny the most basic requirements to those children, hypocritically promote laws which would define the products of conception as a "person". Life Choices merges the personal stories of women having abortions with the historical and political context of abortion. One chapter, "History and Women's Lives", documents the history of abortion in the United States. In "Beyond Abortion" Weber discusses how the class nature of society and capitalism itself will have to change to permit full equality of all people. She discusses the "medicalization" of abortion and how it disempowers and dehumanizes women. Central to this book are stories of individual women, along with advice about coping with one's feelings about abortion. Chapters such as: "Why We Feel Bad About Ourselves", "Difficulty Initiating Decisions", "Wanting and Not Wanting to Be Pregnant" and "Moving Beyond Grief" make this book an indispensable guide for women of child- bearing age, or an informative gift to a young woman starting out in life. --Marilyn Albert, Portside.org Linda Weber was one of the first abortion counsellors in the United States in the 1970s, a founder of an abortion and women's health clinic in Boulder, Colorado and has been a psychotherapist and spiritual counsellor for women for almost forty years. Her new book, Life Choices, is the culmination of decades of her thinking about abortion, its relationship to the rest of life and what it has to teach us. In it, she asks her readers to "be open-minded," and to try to look at abortion with "curiosity and compassion," which is exactly what she has done here. Weber's work is feminist to the core. It is also holistic, stressing the interconnectedness of all life. She is part sociologist, part historian, part anthropologist, part psychologist and part philosopher as she examines the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual impact of crisis pregnancy in women's lives. She urges us to reproduce consciously. I appreciate the use of the word "conscious" when it comes to reproduction and everything it implies. While Weber always remembers that humans are part of nature, she also stresses that we are sentient and conscious beings, and able to make choices about the direction of our lives. Without abortion, conscious reproduction is not possible. As Weber says, "We are not free if we do not have reproductive freedom." (p. xvii) In considering the barriers to free choice, Weber offers a combination of old school consciousness raising along with what feels like an introductory Women's Studies course. She presents a primer on patriarchy. She describes mothering mythologies and how women have learned to subordinate our true desires within patriarchy, referring to feminist thinkers like Adrienne Rich and Carol Gilligan, among others. But she also refers to women she has come into contact with in her practice, giving them equal authority. She writes that choice is difficult. We sometimes fall back on our learned subordinate roles and allow others to make choices for us. As women, we sometimes do not know how to make our own decisions based on our own needs or are unaccustomed to making our own decisions. We have learned to be subservient, to place the needs of others before our own, to adopt the values of social institutions like churches and not to think for ourselves. She writes, "It is nothing short of revolutionary for a woman to define her own morality." (p. 58) Some women will balk at this description of themselves in patriarchy and refuse to believe they are subject to forces beyond their control. No one likes to be painted as powerless or under the control of forces they don't consciously understand. I've seen women utterly reject this notion in Women's Studies classes. But if this is your reaction, I urge you to keep reading. Often, we can't see the box we are in until someone makes us feel the edges of it. Yet, there is no place in this work for seeing women as victims. There is only opportunity for growth. A crisis pregnancy can teach women about their own true desires and to act in their own best interests, to know themselves and to take conscious control of their lives. Whatever choices are made, there is no blame or judgement. Weber writes, "Women make choices within the context of a society that is hostile to our choice making. Pressures come from within and without. We make our choices within the limits of our awareness. We do the best we can." (p. 39) Weber speaks of women who have positive experiences with abortion and who feel empowered by this opportunity to make a choice that is best for them. She reminds us that taking care of oneself is not selfish, and I think at this point in women's social history we cannot be reminded of this frequently enough. She also considers stories of women who struggle with the termination of their pregnancy. Yet, she never falls into the trap of blaming abortion itself for trauma, as many anti-choice people do. She writes, "Women need to be careful not to mimic the culture by using the abortion experience as a convenient dumping ground for feelings about other unresolved aspects of our lives." (p. 55) Further, she writes, "To find causes for these feelings we must develop a broader, deeper perspective about life as a woman in patriarchal society." (p. 55) Weber explains all of this in a tone that mirrors the curiosity and compassion she asks of her readers. Crises involving sex and death bring us face to face with our place in creation. Death is a vital and necessary part of life, yet our culture does not encourage us to think about death. Weber asks us not to shy away from the fact that abortion is a kind of death and to understand that death serves life. She challenges pro-choice people to engage in discussions, even when words like death and killing are used and not to deny that abortion can include feelings of loss and grief. To do better, we must know better. We must learn. Weber teaches by offering us the stories of women she has counselled and her own experiences. She extends her observations about these stories into an explanation of the social, political, historical and cultural context of our collective lives. In this way, she is able to illustrate how the personal is political. In this approach, you can see her roots in second wave feminism. Her work is a reminder of how powerful consciousness-raising can be as a tool for change. Sometimes I wish she delved a little further into the existing research and offered a few more footnotes. For example, she writes, "Scarcity of social support is the most significant contributor to psychological distress and confusion around abortion, especially in relation to morality and spirituality." (p. 15) I agree, but feel she misses an opportunity here to cite studies and provide the reader with something beyond her (admittedly vast) personal experience that we could use to support this point of view. The book isn't linear; she loops back to ideas, repeats them, adds to them. You have to read to the end to see her whole point or you risk categorizing her ideas wrongly. I have to admit that Weber nudges up against places that bother me. But, I kept reading with curiosity, as she advised. She is a bit new-agey for me. I imagine that this part of her thinking, as unappealing as it is to me, will appeal to others. At one point, she questions the importance of championing individual rights. I understand that in her holistic world view, rights can only be understood in relationship, but in the world the way it is now, I think we have to remain vigilant about respecting the rights of individuals. Finally, she calls her perspective "pro-life." I understand why she does this. Anti-choice people have taken up this moniker when they are really only pro-fetal-life. It is important to make this point. Re-branding is necessary, but I think it would be better to find a new term. Otherwise, as she admits, we risk blurring the lines between those who want to ensure women can make conscious choices about reproduction and those who would do anything to remove those choices. In another case, she does find the new term we need. She dismisses "family planning" as a descriptor because people are not necessarily planning for families when they seek birth control methods and information. She says what they are doing is "sexual planning," and she is right. We could all adjust our language here and better describe our work. This is one of many little gems scattered throughout the book and easily missed on too quick a read. Weber's final thoughts on how the dynamics of personal and political power will have to change in order for women to safely and peacefully determine what she calls "the flow of life" through pregnancy is inspired and hopeful. Life Choices is a thoughtful and provocative addition to the wider literature on abortion and has the potential to help many women (and men) come to a better understanding of the important place abortion has in our lives. --The Abortion Monologues This month at Feminists for Choice we've been making a conscious effort to count our blessings and consider all we have to be thankful for. I can't help but think I have the universe to thank for bringing Linda Weber, a pioneer feminist with over forty years of abortion counseling experience, and her book, Life Choices: The Teachings of Abortion, into my life at this particular time to help me recognize mine. Weber has a gift for making the most profound matters of human existence seem approachable, even debatable, without making them seem any less profound from the discussing. Much of this comes from the fact that she is fearless where others might turn away-or wish away-or never face in the first place. I absolutely believe in a woman's right to have an abortion, so I was surprised by my initial reaction to the book's subtitle. But there it was. Uncomfortably. "The Teachings of Abortion?" "Teachings?" Didn't that seem too ... upbeat? Too celebratory? It wasn't until I had started reading that I realized I had made exactly the sort of judgment Weber avoids. (And exactly the sort of judgment abortion opponents are counting on.) Where I was feeling there was either good or bad, Weber illustrates patiently, time and again, that there is only experience, and it is rarely uncomplicated. (And rarely, is it communicated with precision like this: "The moral position of most women in the abortion decision is neither pro-life nor pro-choice.") By letting women who have faced pregnancy crises speak for themselves, Weber places abortion in context-many contexts, actually-and makes it clear why that is the only meaningful way for the subject to be broached. Though happily Weber does not devolve into the murky academese I'm falling back on here, women are always already historically specific subjects in historically specific relationships to historically specific constructions of culture, gender, race, and class. To treat abortion as if it is abstract entity unto itself is probably the only way it could ever appear simple to anyone. I can't say I needed to read Life Choices to realize this; but just as I was surprised by my initial reaction to the book's subtitle, I was surprised that I found the disconnect between the teachings of abortion Weber presents and the permanent deadlock we seem to have in lieu of teachings in "real life" (insofar as political grenade-launching resembles anything real) strangely liberating. Somehow Linda Weber managed to communicate her sense of hope to my too-often too-pessimistic self. Given the opportunity to interview her, I couldn't resist asking her how she maintained a positive outlook. Here is her answer: I do my best to remember to follow my own advice(!), which consists of two main things. The first is to maintain a perspective about the way current social issues are reflections of the movement of history and the tenacity of patriarchy and class society. In other words, remember that deeply rooted power relations don't uproot easily. They change over the long haul and require the courage and persistence of the people seeking change. Second, I stay as engaged as possible with my spiritual practice, which includes meditation, prayer, music, journal writing, and feet on the ground of the mountains near my home. I walk on a regular basis and especially when I feel bothered or afraid or unclear about something that is going on. I literally look to the sky and its relationship with the ground below. This reminds me not only of the beauty that is all around, but also of the vastness of the Universe and all that it manifests. In other words, I try to remember where I am (Earth) and that I must surrender to the forces of the Universe and trust the process. Not always easy I have to say, but definitely the way to go. All the things I've mentioned are heart centering and, with the addition of good nutrition, help to calm down my nervous system, sort things out in my mind, and point me in the direction I need to go to be effective in the world. A third piece of self-care is to stay connected to my community. Talking with friends reminds me that we're all in this together. --Jodi, Feminists for Choice Get out your hi-liters and those little stick-on flags for the many passages you'll want to mark in this wonderful new book. This is a must-read for anyone who cares about the future of reproductive justice! Linda Weber was one of the earliest abortion counselors in the country in New York , 1970. She brings a lifetime of experience and a provocative and fresh perspective to the most difficult aspects of the age old discussion of abortion. In this exquisitely written book, Weber guides us on a journey deep into the heart of abortion. She approaches this journey from a perspective that includes an understanding of the natural world as well as the history and social reality of women's lives. Her narrative is beautifully illustrated by stories of women who have come to her for counseling over the years. She shows us how these individual stories are wrapped in thousands of years of history during which women's sexual status and their very identity is derived from their relationship with men. Weber even reminds us that as much as we talk about women's choices, Roe v. Wade was primarily intended as a statement of the right of physicians (in 1973 virtually all male) to decide whether or not a woman can have an abortion. This book addresses the powerful and sometimes forbidden conversations of the natural circle of life and death-of no longer necessary evolutionary benefit of women's submission to male authority-and of a time in which human beings will steward their sexuality and procreation consciously and intentionally. I was heartened and inspired by this book to be part of this powerful and necessary transition to a time of true full humanity for both women and men. I cannot wait for all of you to read this book. --Charlotte Taft, Abortion Care Network

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