Tuesday, November 5, 2013


A good friend in Texas who used to live here in New England is fighting a lonely battle in her town for the right of women to retain control over their bodies. Texas is the front line of the war against women, a war I thought we'd won years ago with Roe V. Wade and the end of (formal, official) discrimination against women in the workplace.

She and I remember the bad old days. We were there together. The days of backroom abortions performed with chlorine bleach, coat hangers and turkey basters. When sepsis or perforation of your uterus was not an unusual price to pay to end a pregnancy. Where young women, unable to obtain an abortion threw themselves off bridges rather than have an unwanted baby, or tried to abort themselves, often with lethal results.

Despite conservative backlash and brainwashing on this issue, having an abortion was and is not a sign one is irresponsible or anti-life.

Women have abortions for all kinds of reasons, rarely because they hate babies. Reasons include fear for their own health, the welfare of existing children and a desire to survive. Birth control still isn't 100% reliable. Meanwhile, the same men who are trying to stop women's access to abortion are determined to prevent women from getting effective birth control. If there is any logic to that, I can't figure out what it is.

What's their real point? I don't think it has anything to do with life. It's about power and about putting women back in their place so men can take back the control they've lost. Back to the kitchen for us, barefoot and pregnant.

If men had babies, this would not be happening.

I had an abortion.

There. I've said it. My husband was in the hospital with cancer. It was so early in the pregnancy -- no more than 4 weeks -- the available tests were unable to read it accurately. The test said I wasn't pregnant, so technically it wasn't an abortion. Regardless, I knew.

It was the worst possible time to discover myself pregnant. I didn't know if my husband would survive. (In fact, he didn't live long.) We were financially stressed to the max. I had just gotten into a master's program, a highly competitive program, more than 2000 applications for a couple of dozen spots. But I looked at my life and thought: "I don't need more education. I need a job." And no matter how I tried to fit the pieces together, a baby was not in the picture.

I had a "menstrual extraction" which was what you got when the test read negative but you knew it was lying. Plausible deniability. It was done in a doctor's office without anesthesia. That's a lot of pain, during which you dare not move lest a blade slip and do some serious, permanent damage.

So many women my age went through similar or much worse experiences. Were we happy about it? No, but we weighed our options, talked it over with friends, family, counselors, ministers ... and then did what we felt was best, not just for us but for everyone affected. Life doesn't happen in a vacuum. What happens to mom happens to the whole family. We were adult women. We had the right and the obligation to decide what happens to our bodies and our lives.

I maintain my long-standing position on this matter: if you are not in personal possession of a vagina and/or a uterus, your opinion is unwelcome. I do not care what you believe. Until you walk in my shoes and live in my body, you know nothing. Why am I weighing in on this? The it-wasn't-really-an-abortion occurred more 40 years ago and no one but my closest friends knew it happened -- until now. I'm not ashamed of it. I'm sorry it happened, but I believed I was doing the right thing then and I believe it now.

How ironic that women are again facing the spectre of those horrible, terrifying, desperate days. The nightmare of the back room and the coat hanger is looming, a dark shadow I cannot ignore. The most significant gains in personal freedom women have won are at risk. If we don't speak up, speak out, and stand together, we will lose it. All of it.

I am long past child-bearing age. But this isn't about me, my friends or my life. It's about all women. About whether or not we have the right to decide for ourselves what will happen to us. If ever there was a right to life involved, how about the right of women to have a good life, bear the number of children they want, to not be managed by men whose stake in the issue is tangential at best? How about that?

No one wants an abortion. But sometimes, you need one.


TMW Hickman said...

As a Texan, it saddens me that there are so many extremists here. The Taliban would fit right in. And you're right--it's all about power.

Marilyn Armstrong said...

Sad for all of us. I thought this was a battle that had been fought and won many years ago. How shameful for all of us to have to fight again for something that should never have had to be fought for in the first place.

mittens said...

Yes, to all of this. Been there, for many of the same reasons. I (and you) could be called selfish for not putting an unborn child first, but where does selfish end, or begin? We had just moved into an old, OLD house with no running water, an outdoor privy, limited heat sources (when you wake up at 4 AM to a 34 degree house...) and were relatively isolated geographically. We did not have the money to live elsewhere, and the thoughts of bringing a child into that horrified me. too much on the plate, for sure. It's been 40 years, and my only regret was that it had to happen at all.
And like you, to see all that progress so slowly and steadily undermined, is appalling. I don't think of it so much as Control, although it is surely that, but the same drive that lets men feel that they need to spread their seed whenever they bloody well feel like it. Its a very primal thing, probably engraved on the lizard brain somehow. "must...make... babies...must ...have...strong sons..." I actually had a truckdriver tell me that he felt the drive to spread his genetic whatevers very strongly, from one side of the country to the other.
In some countries (notably Brazil) women are having that first child, but having a tubal ligatioin at the same time. As they put it, "the factory is closed." That statement should be on billboards.

Marilyn Armstrong said...

There are so many stories like ours. The young ones, my granddaughter's age, don't get it at all and can't imagine what life was like before "women's lib." And it is so very hard to explain it because the world looks so different now -- on the outside. I wonder how much change on the inside.. Thanks for writing. Thanks very much! My factory is surely closed!

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