The latest issue of First Things (November 2013) contains a poem from Bryce A. Taylor entitled “How to Have an Abortion.” I found it startling, poignant, and moving.

Don’t think about the freckles he, or she,
Might have, or how much hair, how big a grin,
Or whether swimming would come naturally,
Or whether–it?–might play the violin.

Don’t think of prom, don’t think of puppy love
Or calculus, or snow, or spring in bloom,
Or anything that might remind you of
The future now contained within a womb.

Don’t feel anxiety, don’t feel regret,
Don’t fret about some otherworldly guilt.
Don’t feel the bond of parenthood, don’t let
Insane outmoded Don Quixotes tilt

At private windmills–don’t spill any ink
Examining yourself. Don’t feel. Don’t think.

As you should with all good poems, read this one through slowly, and a few more times.

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16 thoughts on “How To Have An Abortion”

  1. Paul Reed says:

    No doubt a well-intentioned poem, I’m sure, but problematic for the pro-life view. Everything in the poem is about the baby’s potential — freckles, hair, swimming, prom, musical ability. The poem could equally apply to a couple who simply decides to forgo sex, use birth control, or does anything to not have a baby. The poem could have just been easily called “How to practice abstinence”.

  2. Ben says:

    I think the line “The future now contained within a womb” covers your concern.

  3. anaquaduck says:

    In my experience…

    The title is connected to the poem like a cord that is not easily cut. Mothers (& fathers) filled with hope at the wonder of new life often speculate on many levels in a joyous way, even the kicks & movement in the womb. It continues on as the child/children grow & develop. Who’s eyes…who’s nose, height etc. I couldn’t get away from it in my observant family, much to my dismay at times as a youngster.

    Having something so precious as human life inside & connected on so many levels can only cause a parent to think… on how tired they feel, what food & drink they should & shouldn’t have as they exercise parental care & wisdom.

    To shut all that off requires much suppression I would think,hence the don’t think at the termination of human life.That much I bond with strongly…it’s a thoughtful poem but I don’t understand “At private windmills–don’t spill any ink.”

  4. Matt says:

    Paul,

    I see what you’re saying, but I think you’re mistaken.

    Lets look at this in the light of a train moving leaving the train station and moving along its tracks towards a destination.

    In the case of an abortion, the train has already left the station. The life in the womb is on its way to actual experiences in life, actual relationships and activities. It has actual potential that will be realized unless the “train” gets stopped and destroyed.

    In the case of abstinence and other forms of birth control, there is no “train.” The train doesn’t exist. There is no life and no process taking place moving towards these experiences in life. There is theoretically the potential to have a train, but no train yet exists. Thus instead of stopping something that has already started and will continue, you simply don’t start it. This is the difference between destroying a built and moving train vs. never choosing to build a train.

  5. Paul Reed says:

    @Matt

    An interesting analogy, except that one could also say the same thing about an unfertilized egg. Moreover, the majority of the eggs don’t even get implanted in the uterus, so it’s hardly analogously to a train steadily moving along on the tracks.

    Anyway, I just wish the poem had something of the fear of God somewhere in it.

  6. Moving captures it. It feels like the response Im reading in the comments moved towards different camps of interpretation and maybe that was the authors intent— instead I read it and saw a picture in my mind of a conflicted young woman battling with ideas she may have heard from her parents, youth leader, people ranting on the street with signs against what she is pursuing or a friend, boyfriend, teacher, expressing how valuable it is and how this baby would change her life and limit all the great things she could do.

    don’t let
    Insane outmoded Don Quixotes tilt

    At private windmills

    wow. Powerfully hits me at a culture that looks at anything “traditional” and says, fools, you are jousting at giants when in reality they are simply windmills.

    Damn. Don’t fret about some otherworldly guilt. Don’t think about a conscious that may have been put there by the GOd of the universe…that says you are taking life.

    This poem for me rings of an issue that almost feels lost on a culture that is wanting non gender specific bathrooms…abortion….not even on the table anymore. Thats almost a non thought.

    Moves me to wrestle with what it means to be salt and light in the world.

  7. Melody says:

    Paul

    Write your own poem and we will critique it.

    Your analogy doesn’t fit at all. God decides when those eggs are fertilized, not people. He decided and we took life away. All the potential for that child that He knit together in the womb. All the things that make that child an individual. All the things that a woman wonders about when she is carrying a child that she desperately wants.

  8. Karen Butler says:

    Good poem, indeed. Especially the insane outmoded Don Quixotes tilting at windmills line — it moves from sentimental to ferocious pretty quick.

    @anaquaduck:The private windmills refer back to Cervantes’ character Don Quixote, who jousted at windmills, thinking they were giants. To me the line alludes to privacy rights and the spilling of blood, and the ink that a tormented conscience would use to journal a decision.

  9. Paul says:

    I wondered if the poem could be changed to reflect making abortion the easy decision. Let’s say the poem was being read by a pregnant 15-year old. It talks about freckles — sorry, her body will now have stretch marks. It talks about swimming and violin — sorry, but you won’t have time for swim class and band while taking care of a baby. It talks about calculus — sorry, but try studying for calculus while waking up at night to comfort a crying baby. It talks about prom — sorry, but no guy is going to want to go prom with a mommy.

  10. Justin Dickmann says:

    Paul,

    I hear you on stessing the importance of abstinence. I was a youth pastor for years and I was always supprised at the emphasis place don having “safe” sex while neglecting the fact that, from purely a worldly view, abstinence is the safest by far. That reduces your chances for unplanned (your plans anyway) pregnancy and STD’s to nearly 0% (granted didn’t work for Mary, but that was a different situation…).

    My only concern about your inverse poem idea is the amount of shame woven through it. You may have just threw some ideas out their quickly, but “no guy is going to want to go to prom with a mommy”? Ouch. I’ve seen quite a few young girls make terrible decisions that led to premature parents, and at that point, the last thing they need is to be shamed. And the inverse of a girl that isn’t in that position where a child is on the way, but is rather being taught abstinence, I don’t know if shame is the most effective means of getting that across. Not saying that we should shy away from the the weight of sin, but what of the joy of obedience?

    Not trying to tear you down of jump all over you, but I wonder how we could encourage abstinence without it being all about guilt, shame, and inconvienence.

  11. Julia says:

    How to help women not have an abortion:
    – have adequate supports in place to help unwed mothers and their children (health care, childcare, job training, housing, etc.)
    – stop the judgement and shaming and start caring for these women
    – make the young unwed fathers step up – women bare the majority of the health and financial consequences of pregnancy
    – put back together the broken families many of these girls come from
    – provide good education about sex and access to inexpensive, effective birth control (realistically, not everyone is going to wait until they are married, even though they should)

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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