Kathleen Murphey

Kathleen Murphey is an associate professor of English at Community College of Philadelphia.  In addition to academic writing, she has been writing poetry and fiction addressing women’s and social justice issues.  To learn more about her work, please go to her Website.




Contemplating having an abortion—

what a horrible situation to be in.

Guilt, grief, shame, and pain.

Why does the ultimate responsibility

for saying yes, for being protected, for not being protected

fall on a woman?


Guilty for being careless—

But what about him?

Guilty for being loose—

But what about him?

Guilty for being callous and terminating a life—

But what about him?

Grief for terminating a life—

Because she can’t get away from that

no matter what language she uses.

Women write about that grief:

Gwendolyn Brooks’ “The Mother,”

Anne Sexton’s “The Abortion,”

Ntozake Shange’s “Abortion Cycle #1,”

Maria Virginia Estenssoro’s “The Child That Never Was,”

and now, Jessica Valenti in Sex Object.


Add shame to the mix.

Shame for the physical proof, i.e., a baby,

of being sexually active

and shame for having all those

judgmental eyes

directed at her for

not only getting pregnant

but for daring to want to end it

because, responsibly,

she knows she isn’t ready,

or too young,

or not financially able,

or just getting on her feet,

or single or whatever—

Not Ready for that responsibility

—the life of a child.


Then there’s pain,

physically and emotionally,

the surgical procedure

and an act, however necessary,

that will haunt her the rest of her life—

wondering about “the child that never was.”


Don’t believe in abortion, don’t have one.

Why a man has anything to say on the subject,

when he doesn’t have a uterus

and will never be faced with such a choice,

I just don’t understand.

And women condemning other women

—being “holier than thou”—

Christ said only those without sin could cast the first stone

—Get off your high horse

and give a sister a break.

You can’t know the dilemmas and demons she faces.

Madeleine Albright said there was a special place in Hell

for women who failed to help other women.

Take that to heart.

We all have only our own souls to answer for,

and if there is a God, doesn’t he only ask

that we repent and regret our sins?

Didn’t the Pope proclaim a Mercy Year?

Didn’t the Supreme Court rule in favor of Whole Women’s Health?


Don’t believe in abortion, don’t have one,

But don’t take away other women’s abilities to control their fertility

and have responsible families.

Having a child is momentous undertaking

—emotionally and financially

—having a human being dependent on you

for eighteen years and often more.

Because it is such a huge responsibility,

women have to contemplate having abortions.

Don’t let any of us make it worse;

it’s already too filled with guilt, grief, shame, and pain.


Children are gifts,

so let their mothers bring them into the world

in the best possible circumstances,

not the worst—

condemning mother and child to hard living,

insecurity, poverty, and misery.

For better or worse, it has to be Pro-Choice.