I know the fear. I remember everything about it. Being afraid of doing something illegal. Being afraid of getting hurt. Being afraid of bleeding to death. Being afraid of being so damaged that I wouldn’t be able to have children when it was the right time.
Then wasn’t the right time. I was a freshman in college. I became pregnant. It was 1967. I had two options. Marry the father or find a way to have an abortion. The father said no to marriage. He was right. We were too young.
A person would look at me now and say, oh, you had options. You just didn’t explore all your options. You didn’t try hard enough. You could have had the baby and given it up for adoption. Maybe. It’s hard now to explain the world for women in 1967. First off, I would have had to leave college. Drop out. I might not have been permitted to return since there were very strict notions about proper behavior in college. And, yes, this was a public college, not a private religious school. I would have had to go away. By that, I mean I could not have just gone home to my parents’ home, continued the pregnancy, give birth, sign adoption papers and return to school. No, that could not have happened. The shame on my parents, my regular Midwestern, Methodist parents, would be unfathomable. They wouldn’t tolerate it. I would have to go away, to another state, to a home for unwed mothers. That’s how it was done.
I made what I thought was the only decision I could make. I got an illegal abortion. And, as it turned out, I lived to tell the tale, which I have done in personal essays but also in person, returning twice to the college where I had been a terrified freshman to stand on a stage and tell my story to students nearly fifty years younger than me. I told my story and they applauded for me. But I knew they didn’t understand it. No one who wasn’t alive in the time before Roe v. Wade understands how it was.
In my case, it was an abortion using a wire done by the light of the table lamp in a motel room.
For many years, state after state has given in to the people against reproductive freedom, passing more and more intrusive and restrictive abortion laws. Vaginal ultrasounds, long waiting periods, required ultrasound viewing and all manner of mean-spirited laws put in place for the sole purpose of chasing women from legal and safe abortion back to the world of metal hangers and home remedies. The thinking was if we make abortion impossibly difficult to get, make sure it’s expensive and cumbersome, and that people will have to travel long distances and have the most hardship possible, they will quit getting abortions. No. They won’t. They’ll just stop getting legal abortions.
I look at young women and I think, you shouldn’t have to worry about this. You should be free of this fear. You should be able to live your life, own your body. Women deserve better than wires.
Yesterday’s Supreme Court decision in the Texas abortion case made me overjoyed and grateful. I felt like a prisoner of war returning to the U.S. from a fearsome foreign land, kneeling to kiss the ground. It was that precious. It was like my country reclaimed me and my rights, reclaimed all women and our rights, brought us back into the world of freedom and self-determination, and made us whole again. To have Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg say this simple true thing: “When a State severely limits access to safe and legal procedures, women in desperate circumstances may resort to unlicensed rogue practitioners, faute de mieux, at great risk to their health and safety.”
Yes. I know. It used to be that way but it’s not anymore. Thank you, Supreme Court of the United States.