I was in the pro-life movement. But then, widowed with 6 kids, I prepared for an abortion. – USA TODAY

Shannon Dingle, Opinion contributor Published 6:01 a.m. ET Oct. 11, 2020 | Updated 10:16 a.m. ET Oct. 11, 2020

The pro-life movement's caricatures make for good propaganda but terrible policy. People, real people, become pregnant.

The summer of 2019 was full of surprises. The first was hard-earned: My husband was promoted to president of his engineering firm at age 37. Seeing that lifetime goal realized was pure joy.

Two weeks later, we drove three hours east to vacation at the beach for a week. It wasLee,our six children, ages 7-12, and me. It was relaxing and jubilant, until it wasnt. On July 18, 2019, a wave struck my husband with such force that his neck broke as his head hit the packed sand. Most of the kids witnessed the accident. He would not be declared dead until 24 hours later, but I knew almost immediately.

As we returned home, a family of sevenrather than the family of eightthat arrived at the beach less than a week earlier, friends carried me and the kids through all the next steps, from choosing a casket and burial site to learning how to access our joint bank account. And then, as the funeral passed and the next week wore on, another surprise became undeniable.

I started feeling sick in a similar way to how I was sick with my two biological children and with miscarriages before them. I paused in my dead husbands closet, where I had been looking for some important documents that he had always kept safe so I could apply for Social Security survivor benefits, and I counted days.

In my grief, numbers were clunky, but eventually I calculated through the calendar in my head.

Nine days late.

My period was ninedays late.

My period has never been late, except for the times when Ive been pregnant.

I rested my head against Lees T-shirts, inhaling the scent they held like a memory. I took a few deep breaths. I willed my math to be wrong.

Shannon and Lee Dingle in Raleigh, N.C., in 2014.(Photo: 2014 Rebecca Keller Photography)

It wasnt, though.

Here I was, a widow, showing all the signs of pregnancy, while living with chronic health conditions that would make pregnancy life-threatening.

I knew I couldnt have this baby.

I didnt know how to be a single mom of six, so a seventh child was unthinkable, if I even survived the pregnancy.

And my kids couldnt lose another parent.

I had been a pro-life speaker for events sponsored by Focus on the Family and the Southern Baptists Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. By mid-2016 my views had begun to change, yet threeyears later, some of that rhetoric rose within me. I worried, what if people offering us help would rescind those offers if they found out what Iwas considering? I wondered, would my living children hate me because I chose us over the pregnancy of another child?

Shannon Dingle was a speaker at the first Evangelicals For Life conference in January 2016.(Photo: Family photo)

I wanted to weep, but I was all out of tears after spending the last week on tasks like choosing the outfit for my husbands corpse to wear and holding my children while they wailed, I want Daddy!

I didnt need anyone else to dole out shame. I was masterfully manufacturing it all by myself.

I didnt take a pregnancy test, even as the days passed. I couldnt handle going to a store on my own yet, and I certainly wasnt going to ask anyone else to buy a test to confirm that I needed an abortion. The shame spiral in which I was residing was strong. I wasnt sure I could be loved if I didnt risk everything to bring another child into the world.

Shannon Dingle: I was 12 years old and pregnant. Alabama's abortion ban bill would punish girls like me.

This is how you think when youve been groomed by the pro-life movement to see pregnancy in black and white with no room for gray.

I decided to call my friend Arinn to get her help, knowing she wouldnt judge me. Before I could do that, the cramps arrived. These werent the normal menstrual ones but the kind that come when your body expels tissue that could have been a child. The pregnancy ended on its own.

Then, I didnt tell anyone for six months, as I grieved the public death of my husband and the private end of a pregnancy. I didnt want to debate my pain with anyone who disagreed, and I didnt want to relive it with anyone who didnt.

Im not pro-life anymore, not in the political sense. I firmly believe that decisions regarding pregnancy should be between a patient and doctor, not predetermined impersonally by a mostly male governing body. My body shouldnt be up for public debate.

I used to be a Republican: Pro-life friends supported our childrens adoptions. But they balk at policies keeping them alive.

If abortion wasnt an option, I likely would have faced death if the pregnancy had gone to full term. My kids would have faced the death of not only their father but also me, their mother. Weve barely survived this past year and few months as it is, but we wouldnt have made it with my physical and mental health overwhelmed by an unsafe pregnancy.

The pro-life movement can make up all the caricatures they want about people who didnt plan well, but I was happily married to a living husband when I got pregnant. If I could have planned for him not to die, I would have.

Lee and Shannon Dingle with their children in Raleigh, North Carolina, in July 2014.(Photo: Family handout)

Caricatures make for good propaganda but terrible policy. People, real people, become pregnant. And those people each carry their own stories, nuanced and unique.

Propaganda is easy. Twitter insults from anonymous accounts are too.

But people, real people, have real stories, like mine.

My story is heartbreaking. Telling it is tender. But I need you to understand that real people like me are living real stories.

Im glad I had the right to make decisions about how my story would unfold, instead of having it decided for me by the Supreme Court or Congress.

Shannon Dingle is a disability activist, sex trafficking survivor, widowed mother of six, and recovering perfectionist. Her first book, "Living Brave: Lessons from Hurt, Lighting the Way to Hope," will be published in July 2021.Follow her on Twitter@shannondingle


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I was in the pro-life movement. But then, widowed with 6 kids, I prepared for an abortion. - USA TODAY

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