In 1992, when I was 28, I had an audition for a made-for-TV movie about abortion. I don’t remember the name of it. At some point after the audition (I didn’t get the part), I started reading my husband’s medical books—he’s an emergency room physician—and an issue I wasn’t really paying attention to came to the forefront of my mind. I already had some uneasiness about abortion because I saw how having one negatively affected women close to me. In the medical textbooks, I saw that from the moment of conception, a new life comes into being. The complete genetic blueprint is there. The sex is determined, the blood type is determined, and the unique set of fingerprints is determined. That realization changed everything.
I was mortified. I was angry. I didn’t want to be pro-life. I was seeking to have someone give me scientific information that would prove otherwise. The best argument was that the fetus is just a clump of cells, and if you get it early enough, it doesn’t even look like a baby. Coming from a fashion background—and my years of working as a model—I reject giving one human being more value than another simply because of the way someone looks. I think human beings deserve to be protected at every stage of development. And to this day, I remain open: If anyone has any information that the unborn is not a human being, I’ll join the pro-choice side. It would give me a lot of time and energy to put into other areas!
I often lecture at pro-life events, and there are colleagues who tell me, “This could destroy our business.” [Ireland runs a $2 billion lifestyle and design firm.] But it’s absolutely irrelevant if our business goes down the toilet. If one woman decides not to abort her child, my speaking out is worth it. My earlier job description in the last century was, “Shut up and pose.” Today I reject that kind of role.
Pro-Life to Pro-Choice
"The Middle East Changed Me," Tulsi Gabbard, 31, U.S. congresswoman (D–Hawaii); Honolulu
In the last decade, I did two tours of duty in the Middle East with Hawaii’s National Guard. From that vantage point, I witnessed firsthand the tragedy that occurs when a government tries to act as a moral arbiter for its people and does so with the force of law. I saw Iraqi women who were required to cover themselves from head to toe. I remember that on my second deployment, in Kuwait, there was a ban on any kind of celebration by locals or foreigners on New Year’s Eve, because this was a Western unholy holiday. Religious police—undercover agents—would be out in force to make sure there was no piano playing, no music, no fireworks in the Western hotels or anywhere in the country. Typically, these kinds of edicts were backed by guns, fines and imprisonment. Witnessing restrictions touched me to the core.
When I came home to Hawaii, I reflected on the U.S. government’s role in our personal lives. In 2009, I ran for Honolulu city council and won. City council is about potholes and trash and sewers; there are not a whole lot of discussions about social issues and government’s role. But during my election, social issues came up as an important part of the conversation, and that’s where I started to see a connection between governments overstepping their boundaries in the Middle East and the possibility of it happening here. I grew up thinking I personally would not choose to have an abortion and therefore that’s what the government should reflect. My own views, based on Hindu principles, haven’t changed. Hinduism teaches that the individual atman, or soul, is present from conception. What has changed is my conviction about what our government’s role should be in our personal lives. I realized that no government official, bureaucrat, politician or judge should impose his or her moral views on any other individual.