A feminist outpost in the desert.
There’s already been some fantastic blogging for choice this week — in honor of the 37th anniversary of the Roe v Wade decision that established abortion rights nationwide. (In particular, I really like this post about the intersection of the Rape Culture and Reproductive Rights. Seriously, read it!) And, of course, I wanted to be in on the action for Blog for Choice Day!
The theme this year is Trust Women. After some soul-searching I realized that my answer to that was deeply personal. You could say that it starts at the very core of my existence.
As a prochoice feminist, how many times have you found yourself in an argument with an anti-choice person and the inevitable happens: “Well, what if it were you? What if your mother had considered having an abortion with you?”
What, indeed? I happen to be one of the few people who can answer that questions with: She did.
Now, I’m not going to tell you that it is easy to know that about yourself. Indeed, this is not something I have ever talked about with very many people. But it certainly gives me a perspective that few people have (or at least know about themselves).
When my mother found out she was pregnant with me she was in the middle of her senior year in high school. It was 1976, just a few years after the Roe decision and it was taking its sweet time trickling down to the heartland. My mother was born and raised in a tiny, rural Midwestern town. She grew up on a farm where she learned how to raise calves and hunt with a gun before the age of 15. It was a town so small that there were only two buildings — a bar and a Catholic church, which was named after her grandfather. She had to take a bus to the next town over for school. And, being the youngest of three daughters raised by a single-mother, my young mother-to-be was a restless spirit who dreamed of kicking the hick dust off her heels and exploring the world.
By her own account, my mother was the polar-opposite of happy when she found out she was pregnant. Her two older sisters were already married with children and she wanted no part of it. Abortion, even the very word, was not a topic for discussion in those days. From what I understand, my mother contemplated having an abortion for a while. But, of course, the hurdles for her were many. She was poor. She was a teenager. She would have to travel to get the procedure. And more than likely, she would need her mother’s consent (or at the very least, help).
As luck would have it, my grandmother was a nurse in the OB ward of the local hospital. My grandmother loved babies but she was also an extremely practical woman, by necessity as a woman who was raised on a farm and as a single-parent when it was nearly unfathomable to be one. An interesting twist to the story, at least in my mind, is that my Catholic grandmother did offer to help. Apparently, in the days before and for some time after the Roe decision there was a discreet, secret way to get an abortion in the community. At the hospital where my grandmother worked, she was aware that on rare occasions the surgeons would scrub up and prep for an “emergency” appendectomy. At the appointed time, a young girl and her parents would arrive calmly in the ER and be escorted away for surgery. Of course, she would have to get her appendix removed as well, to keep things “respectable.” The secret stayed at the hospital. I suppose the silver-lining is that it was better than a back-alley abortion. At least under the confines of the lie, the hospital was a safe place. And my grandmother offered my mother this option. It’s obvious how this story ends.
All this leads me to the idea of trusting women. Even after the Roe decision, my young mother found herself in a situation where the world did not trust her to make the decision herself. The world didn’t even hold a space for her to wrestle with the choice without stigma. (On that, little has changed, I’m afraid.) Her community did not trust her to have a medical procedure without concealing it in something else.
Don’t get me wrong, I wish the story of my mother’s pregnancy with me had a little more fairytale in it and less heartache. But one thing that story has taught me is that even 37 years after the Roe decision, we still aren’t trusting women to be autonomous, capable, intelligent decision-makers when it comes to their own bodies. Isn’t it time that changed?