How I Became Radically Pro-Choice

I was raised to be a pro-life activist. My life experiences and decision to educate myself led me to become pro-choice.

My mother plopped me down on a backless bench in the living room of a suburban house somewhere on the west side of Portland, Oregon. It was 1989 and the room was full of white women with pastel blouses and poofy bangs bustling around, as well as our church’s head pastor, Mike. It was a strange seating arrangement but I was used to being taken to different homes and plopped down while adults did their Bible study and I quietly did my own thing.

After a few moments, someone dimmed the lights and turned on the television. If I recall, my mom asked me if I could see. I could.

Dramatic music started and some words that I couldn’t read came on the screen.

On the car ride over, my mom had told me we were going to the home of someone in our church to see a movie about abortion. I had no idea what abortion was, and my mom didn’t have the abaility to explain it to me in terms that I could understand. There was something about a baby but I didn’t know I had a vagina, never mind a uterus.

The screen showed a grey image with what looked like bubbles moving around, and a very serious voice talking.

At some point, the texture of some of the gray changed. Saline, I realized decades later. The bubbles on the screen began to move upward, away from the advancing texture change, slowly at first, and then frantically.

I was supposed to understand that the bubbles were a baby, and the saline was meant to kill it. I knew babies lived in women. That day, I was told very gravely, some women - liberals, they were called - murdered their own babies and it would be my job to stop them.

I was five years old.

As a deeply empathic child, I hated seeing my siblings suffer. In an authoritarian home where punishment was always physical, there was a lot of suffering about which to empathize. I still remember where I was when my mother telling me about the sinking of the Titanic. There was a distinctly sick feeling in my stomach that morning as I stood next to the kitchen table and imagined myself as one of those poor children locked in the bottom of a boat as freezing water rose up around me. Because of this inclination, it was very easy to convince me that a fetus could feel everything, and to imagine the extreme suffering a fetus would experience.

My mother helped organize anti-choice demonstrations with Eagle Forum, and pushed for legislation that would ban all abortion in our home state of Oregon. I felt her work was noble. Holy, even. I believed God hated the suffering of the unborn in the womb and was taught that one day abortion would be compared to the Holocaust in terms of harm caused.

When I was about seven, there was a national conversation about abortions happening after 24 weeks, wrongly labeled “partial-birth” abortion. The local newspaper published a series of drawings, illustrating the procedure, which my mom made me read while she talked about evil Democrats killing viable babies. I didn’t know what viable meant but I knew that killing babies was wrong.

Part of the reason I was homeschooled from kindergarten through high school graduation was to ensure that I never became pro-choice. By the time I hit high school, I had been thoroughly convinced that there was never a justifiable reason for an abortion. I was informed that the right thing to do if I were raped, would be carry the pregnancy to term and then give the baby to a loving, Christian family to raise it. This to me seemed like a perfectly reasonable thing to do, and, with no functional knowledge of how difficult pregnancy is, I saw pregnancy resulting from rape as something of a blessing. I knew if that’s what God had in store for me, I would rise to the occasion FOR LIFE.

As a young adult, I was convinced that no matter what changed about my beliefs I would always be pro-life. I couldn’t bring myself to a morally justifiable reason why it would be acceptable for a mother to murder a baby. My pastors, church leaders, and parents taught me that since a human is a human, capable of experiencing the full range of feelings, emotions, and sensations regardless of how small it is or where it is located, logic dictated to me that abortion was morally wrong no matter what.

There was no real nuance in my views. I had black and white answers for everything. Pregnancy from rape and incest were undercover blessings from God. Congenital birth defects, disease, and fatal deformities, I had been informed, were often lies that doctors told patients in order to get them to abort and usually the baby was perfectly healthy. (That one STILL gets me. WHY would doctors love abortions so much?)

The Turn

I did one thing very wrong as an young evangelical Christian: I had non-Christian friends. Part of this was because I was poor, homeschooled, and brown, and we attended a church where my white middle class public school peers wanted nothing to do with me. Anyone who wanted to be my friend jeopardized their social status. But as an extrovert who had very few friends (individuals who were closer to siblings than friends, truthfully) I was eager to spend time with anyone who wasn’t a member of my immediate family.

My friends and I would gather at coffee shops and bars and restaurants around Portland and talk about everything. Then we would get on Facebook and talk more. Everything was up for debate. I had friends who gently challenged my views, and I kept an open mind in my discussions with them.

The groundwork was being laid for my conversion to being pro-choice. First was a friend Michaela, a scientist who always graciously answered my questions. I was deeply concerned about the way a fetus felt and understood pain, and she patiently explained that brain structures were not connected in such a way as to transmit pain signals from stimuli. She pointed out that non-viable fetuses move around because of electrical signals controlling reflexes, they are not consciously aware of their own movements.

The second was a quote, shared by my friend Jon, by Sister Joan Chittister, which you’ve likely read all over the internet by now. "I do not believe that just because you are opposed to abortion, that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, a child educated, a child housed. And why would I think that you don't? Because you don't want any tax money to go there. That's not pro-life. That's pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is."

Because empathy is my default, this quote haunted me. I was a standard issue conservative, opposed to “big government” and high taxes, arguing for the necessity of guns, and turning on Obama, who I had supported in 2008. I was a voracious reader who absorbed Dennis Prager, Thomas Sowell, Victor Davis Hanson, and Niall Ferguson like a sponge soaking up water.

Despite my commitment to pro-life arguments and conservative ideals, the term pro-birth made me feel deeply uncomfortable as a wrestled with the truth of it. I felt called out for my blatant moral inconsistency on the issue. I remembered my parents towering over me, fighting over how to pay for groceries. I remembered standing next to the couch while my mom tried to figure out if she could afford to take my brother, who was struggling to breathe, to the ER. I knew that no matter how I sliced it, bringing children into the world to suffer was not the intention of the pro-life movement but it would be the direct result of its success.

Still, I wrestled.

The Test

Early on a dark and dreary December morning, I very groggily climbed out of bed to drag myself to work. I stumbled into the bathroom and situated myself on the toilet and realized my period still had not started! While still peeing I managed to snag a pregnancy test, peel off the wrapper and stick it between my legs and hoping the last few drops of urine would be enough to get a reading one way or the other.

I turned it upside down at first, not wanting to imagine a double pink line where there was none but I couldn’t wait even the whole five minutes and flipped it over.

Pregnant.

Test in one hand, iPhone in the other, I sent a photo message to my friend Nancy before sneaking into  the bedroom to wake up my husband. “I’m pregnant!” I whispered, a huge grin on my face, and then I left to head to work.

As I drove to work I thought to myself, first try. How insanely lucky was I? I had gotten pregnant, no trouble, and now I had something to distract me from my miserable finances and mean, ineffectual bosses. Also my gynecologist had told me I had a bifurcated, tilted uterus, which, she explained to me, meant staying pregnant would be difficult. I figured it might take us a couple of tries to actually have a baby and I had made peace with that.

Within several days of the positive test my energy level started to drop, then free fall. It became a fraction of what it normally was. Usually a night owl, I would return home from work at 6 pm and fall into bed by 7.

Then came the nausea.

Morning sickness, I had been told, was a good sign. All day sickness was maybe a better sign, but it did not rest. I was sick from week 5 to week 14, which I can say with confidence were some of the most trying weeks of my life. On top of no energy and nausea, the woman training me for my new position at work was a chain smoker. Every minute felt like an eternity as I held my breath and tried to breathe as far away from her as possible.

I cried myself to sleep at night because I was so tired of being sick. Between the short, gray Seattle days and the nausea, I was more depressed than I had ever been in my life. Still, I wanted to be pregnant. I had a supportive partner. We were broke but I had enough to eat and enough money to buy prenatal vitamins and maternity clothes. My best friend Audrey lived across Lake Washington in Bellevue. She arrived at my door with homemade chicken soup and pre-made berries for smoothies, the only things that sounded good to me.

In an exhausted stupor from the couch during week nine or ten, I sent Audrey a text message.

I get why people get abortions now.

Now What?

It was still several years before I could proudly and unashamedly call myself pro-choice, but the realization of the amount of labor -- actual work and energy -- necessary to create a whole new human was not lost on me.

I did the math and pregnancy is the equivalent of working a full time, 40 hour a week job for three years.

If I demanded another person to do three years of free labor for me, I would be put in prison. My motivation would be irrelevant. I have no right to require another person do free labor for me, or for society as a whole, even if it greatly benefied society and myself.

People DESERVE agency. Yes, even pregnant people. For the law to demand that one person use their body to keep another person alive is immoral and erodes the foundation of human dignity and autonomy which are essential to freedom and democracy. This absolutely applies to pregnant people as well.

What can you do?

I can’t make any guarantees that anyone you know will change their minds on the issue of anti-abortion legislation. Most of us don’t hold beliefs because they are logical, but because we feel, deep down, that those beliefs are beneficial to us or morally right.

Here’s what I suggest when dealing with anti-choice people who are acting in good faith. Many people just want to scream at you, and generally those people are not worth your time and energy. You’re better off doing something productive and donating to a pro-choice organization than going into a depressive spiral because your aunt chose to verbally abuse you on Facebook for three straight days.

Keep the doors of communication open

If someone you know is anti-abortion and they are willing to discuss their beliefs with you, keep the door of communication open. Those are the people you are most likely able to reach.


Understand the process

When you dig up the soil, and place a seed in the ground, you don’t come back the next day to harvest. Tending is such an underrated concept in our society. People don’t change their minds over night. Perhaps someone else has sown the seed of pro-choice thinking in your friend’s mind. What can you do to water or tend to it?


Stand up for women and pregnant people

One of the most common tactics used by anti-choicers is shame. Another is lying. Name calling and slurs are a big part of this effort. Don’t fall for it. Defend the dignity and autonomy of pregnant people. Defend the humanity of abortion providers. Remind people that we are capable of making the choices that are best for us and our families. Pregnant people are not getting abortions on a whim while full term, and obstetricians are not performing full term abortions on a whim.


Hey, thank you so much for reading my words. It means the world to me. As a single mom, student, and educator, it would mean the world if you could support my work by sharing this essay with your friends and family.
If you find my work valuable, feel free to donate at any of the following places.
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xo, Tor

We Love You, Rachel

A love letter from a grateful escapee

Rachel Held Evans died on Saturday, May 4th, 2019.

My entire community is mourning the loss of her life.

I never met Rachel personally, but I was in awe of her from afar.

It’s difficult for me to put into words what Rachel did for our community, and I couldn’t do her life and work justice even if I tried. I also don’t want to sum up what I know everyone already knows.

Rachel stood up to the evangelical machine and called out their abuses. She sided with the marginalized and she didn’t back down. She provided cover for us to get out of our abusive churches.

While I am no longer a person of faith, Rachel’s work was holy. She protected the vulnerable people that evangelicalism tried to cut down, box in, and silence. While our churches forbid us from being fully ourselves, Rachel stood up for us. She validated our right to exist as fully ourselves and fully loved and accepted by God. At the same time. Our pastors and parents shamed us for our sexuality, stripped us of our autonomy, and offered conditional love. Rachel offered unconditional love and respect.

She validated our needs as human beings. She validated our questions.

So many people were able to leave toxic, abusive churches because of her. She gave us the language to articulate what we were experiencing, and gave us permission to be angry about it. Hell, she helped us realize that the way we were treated was immoral. So many of us didn’t even realize the way we were being treated was wrong.

At some point she followed me on Twitter, which was entirely undeserved, and her writing stirred me on a daily basis.

Even as I realized that faith wasn’t a fit for me, I recognized the deep importance of Rachel’s work. Escaping fundamentalist religion is often a very protracted process that frequently leaves one without any kind of support or familial safety net.

I’m thankful that my friends who are people of faith have found some small comfort in the thought of Rachel again someday. I find comfort in the fact that Rachel will live on, as her work has permanently altered the landscape of evangelicalism in America. She created a community that will exist for decades. She lives on in her children who literally carry her in their tiny bodies.

For so many of us, escaping fundamentalism has been the defining story of our lives. For probably hundreds of thousands of people, Rachel was instrumental in that escape. I will forever be grateful for her work and her life. I cannot wait to introduce my own children to her work.

America needed her voice. Those of us trapped in spiritual abuse needed someone who had the grit and tenacity to affirm our humanity to some of the most powerful men in the country.

Rachel Held Evans is no longer with us, but I am convinced that the work she did to rescue us will change the world.

We love you, Rachel.

Rest in peace and rise in glory. - Father Broderick Greer


If you are at all able, please consider donating to this fundraiser that some of Rachel’s friends have put together for Rachel’s family. She leaves behind a husband and two small children who need to adjust to life without their wife and mama. No amount is too small. Thank you.

Rachel Held Evans

Rachel Held Evans


Evangelical Exhibitionist

Your Body Is Evil

I spend a disproportionate amount of time thinking about the first time I was explicitly told to be ashamed of my body. I was naked standing in front of the mirror checking out my 9 year old body in all its childish glory. “DON’T DO THAT!” roared into my ears from a whole foot away. Even though I wasn’t doing anything. I was looking at my body. I wasn’t touching myself. I was examining myself. Admiring myself.

“Don’t do what?” I asked, terrified because I was always terrified of my parents, and curious because I really had no clue what I had done that was so offensive.

“Just don’t do it!” he sputtered furiously, as he rushed to undress my siblings and get the bath started.

In my family, body shame was caught as much as taught. My parents never allowed us to see them in ANY state of undress. To this day I find it initially shocking to see my parents in swimsuits.

I have thought of the bath incident frequently as I have aged. At some point it dawned on me that my naked little body, hand on hip was an inherently sexual pose. In our criminally insane evangelical context, naked bodies are inherently sexual. No matter who owns them. No matter what context. Never mind the fact that I was a fucking child who had a right to not have my body sexualized ever. Within the context of evangelicalism, nudity is sexuality.

On its face, the belief that nudity is sexuality is disgusting. It’s objectifying. It tells little girls that their bodies are objects of shame and it tells old men that they are completely at the mercy of the whims of their sexual desires.

I was frequently told about the deep and abiding humiliation of a picture which had been taken of my mother, then a tiny child, in a splash pool in the front yard of her parents’ house. I was assured, as I sat through many lectures on sexual purity, lust, and godliness, that I too would be deeply embarrassed if I’d ever had a naked photo taken. Even as a child. This always sent my brain to a state of unfathomable confusion -- perhaps conditioning, perhaps ADHD, perhaps spectrum things -- but I learned from an early age that I wasn’t typically allowed to question godliness.

Still. Who is embarrassed about being naked? I thought. Being naked is awesome. Needless to say, my frequent requests to have my mother take photos of me in the bathtub went unfulfilled.

My parents assumed that I would follow them in their body and sex negative beliefs, and in retrospect, I have no idea why. My parents are smart and observant. It shouldn’t come as any kind of a shock to people who lived with me for 22 years that I… wasn’t fully buying into the “Modest is hottest” narrative being pushed by evangelical purity culture. But they had been promised buy a lot of powerful, rich white Christian men that a steady diet of the Bible and frequent beatings (called “spankings” because words are things that don’t always have consistent definitions) would set me permanently on the straight and narrow.

Turns out, you can’t unplug your child’s sexuality the way you disconnect a hard drive from a computer. Largely, humans are who we will be, and no amount of Bible readings and beatings can ever effectively change that.

Purity Culture and Other Abuses

It took me until adulthood to realize that I was an exhibitionist way before I hit puberty, in large part because I lacked the language. My parents and pastors certainly saw my *ahem* tendencies… and desperately tried to shame and beat them me out of it. They were convinced, and told me to my face, that I would be raped before I reached adulthood. I was told in very different language that female exhibitionism (and, for men, being queer) was the result of experiencing sexual assault. “All porn actresses have been sexually abused. All sex workers have been sexually abused. All gay people have been sexually abused.” The list of victims who needed to be blamed went on forever. (These were all statements that were explicitly made to me, not statements that I believe, just so we’re absolutely clear.)  Adults in my life worked nonstop to instill within me fear of men’s sexuality, which couldn’t be controlled, and disgust of my own sexuality, which I was told shouldn’t exist.

Within the evangelical framework, all men are hyper-sexual and all women are demisexual. Women, we’re told, aren’t sexually aroused until someone - a man, specifically, our future husband - awakens that part of us. (Pardon me while I vomit.) We are told that our value is directly connected to our sexual purity (read: virginity) and that we are torn pieces of paper, chewed up gum, water swished with chewed up Oreo cookies and spit back into a cup once we have sex EVER with someone we aren’t legally married to. (The legal part mattered A LOT for reasons no one in the church could ever explain to me.)

Exploring our bodies alone was a sin. Exploring our bodies with a partner was reserved for those who were married and copulating with a person of the opposite sex.

But with explicit instructions to never look, never touch, never explore alone, how was one supposed to have the confidence, joy, and knowledge necessary to explore with a partner. You’ve never been intimate with yourself, and you’ve been told for decades that your body is sinful, so how would you know what you liked or if it was even ok to like it?

You’re Crazy

As people who grew up in church slowly began to filter out, I would be quick to whisper that they were having a breakdown. When I left, I was called crazy by those still in church. It’s nice to know that some things never change.

But even after leaving, I never ever explored my own sexuality because I “knew” it was wrong.

It took me until now - four years removed from white evangelical Christianity, and two years removed from religion - to realize that I’m not crazy. This is exactly who I’ve always been. It brings me joy. And it brings other people joy. And it doesn’t hurt anyone. So I’m going to continue to be myself.

I frequently joke that I missed my calling as a sex worker because I am an Enneagram 2, so I love bringing other people joy, and i am an exhibitionist so I love being naked.

Since childhood, it was ingrained in me that bodies are instruments of shame and sin. That is a fundamental aspect to evangelical culture and its insistence that power be reserved for those at the top, and those on the bottom are unworthy of autonomy, agency, and dignity.

Never take a photo of yourself that you wouldn’t want on the cover of the newspaper

I have learned to love my body, even though I was taught to hate it, and I’ve never much cared about people’s opinions, even though I was taught that other people’s opinions matter A LOT. That’s the only way you can maintain power, isn’t it? To convince people that your opinions matter the most?

It was implied as a child, and explicitly stated when I was a teen that any kind of exhibitionist behavior was a sure sign of sexual abuse.

So of course I knew it was sinful that at 13 I was doing naked gymnastics in front of my open bedroom window, but also it brought me joy and I couldn’t help it.

The body negative messages continued, and I eventually was able to moderate my personal exhibitionism and accept that I had to cut off a part of myself if I were going to be allowed to stay in the club of Good, Wholesome Christians. I managed successfully to amputate that part of myself, along with essentially all of my sexuality, by the time I was about 23. I knew it was part of who I was. Just like I knew that my sexual attraction was practically limitless. But I had to submit to evangelicalism (which was conflated with the Bible) so I didn’t have any say in my sexuality.

As it turns out, I would be honored if there was a naked picture of me on the cover of the newspaper! Have you seen how great I look?!

I am not obligated to be ashamed of my body simply because Christians are or because Christians believe I should be. I am not obligated to be ashamed of my body because you see it as a vessel of sin or destruction when really it is a vessel for creating literal human life and joy and pleasure.

I have no interest in shame when there is so much goodness and joy and beauty left to be discovered. And your attempts to put your shame on me aren’t going to work. You know, the same way American dollars don’t work for making purchases in Canada. I know what it is you’re trying to give me, but I’m under no obligation to accept it.

Mother's Day for single mom friends, Friendly Atheist, Blog's Back!

Welcome back! My stuff is like... getting around.

Wow, it's been a really crazy week for me. I relaunched this little blog I posted an essay on evangelicals and their insistence on invoking black abortion rates every time Black Lives Matter comes up, while completely disregarding the quality of black of lives after they are born. It was surprisingly well-received and was even written up over on the Patheos blog, Friendly Atheist.

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Mother's Day is next week! Reminder to check up on your single mama friends.

I wanted to share some ways you can help the single mamas and moms with less support because of deployments, illness, being far from family, less-than-supportive partners, etc.

Free or cost negligible

  • Send an encouraging text. Address what she is going through, not just a generic “Happy Mothers Day!!!1!” Affirm that she is a good mom doing hard work and changing the world.
  • Offer to babysit. This costs you nothing but your time, and it benefits your mom friend’s mental health. Be specific. Say I’m available Saturdays, the 20th, the 27th and the 3rd from 9-12 or 6 pm to 10 pm.
  • Invite her over for dinner.
  • Offer to come over and pick up the house, take care of the dishes and do laundry. I know this sounds crazy but for a mom who doesn’t have much support, having one less thing to do is HUGE.
  • Use your social media to do a cash-infusion. If you know a mom who needs help financially, use your social media to boost her. Get her PayPal, Venmo, Cash app user names, find a cute picture of your friend, and write a glowing post on your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and any other platform you use saying how much you appreciate your mama friend and encourage people to give.
  • Offer to do her grocery shopping for her. If you go to the grocery store anyway, why not pick up her groceries while you’re there?

$1-5

  • Write a card, letter or postcard. Like sit down and actually write something meaningful.  Grab a stamp and drop it in the mail.
  • Buy her a fancy coffee or give her a $5 coffee card

$10-20

  • Farmers Market flowers! One way to be a super interstellar rock star friend is to find out what her favorite flowers are before you buy.
  • Bottle of wine. Because let’s be real, wine is how we survive motherhood some nights.

What I'm loving this week

Somehow earlier in the week I stumbled onto the podcast Unzipped PDX and

I.

Am.

Obsessed.

Moving away from evangelical purity culture to a more healthy, positive view of human sexuality has been a really incredible experience for me personally. (10/10 highly recommend!) This show takes a very deep dive into topics of sexuality, sexual expression, and the effects that our sex-negative society has on the lives of sex workers.

The show is hosted by two Portland strippers, Elle Stanger and Orchid Souris Rouge, who are incredibly wise, intelligent, and completely f*cking hilarious. Their thoughts on relationships and sexuality rival any therapists in my own opinion (and I have a seen a lot of therapists).

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Please check out their work and follow them on IG.

Elle can be found here and Orchid's page is here.