My best friend from college worked for twenty-five years in a Christian Center that helped women decide not to have an abortion, help them to learn life and parenting skills, and taught them how to find jobs. Recently we were discussing the abortion issue and she was shocked to learn that I was a pro-choice person, that does not mean that I am pro-abortion, there is a big difference. To explain my position, I told her this story.
There was once a woman who began having babies in 1938 and gave birth to the last one in 1953. In all, she gave birth to nine children. Unfortunately, only three lived. The other six were still born.
I often think of that poor woman. In my wildest imagination I can’t get even a hint of what pain and anguish she must have endured every time she felt the seed of a new life inside her, a life that consisted of just a few cells that would be indistinguishable from the many other globs of “stuff” that floats around in a woman’s body. After the first stillbirth she must have asked” Is this one OK? Will this one live? What did I do wrong before? Please God, help me.” It would have been easy for her to terminate any of the nine pregnancies but she did not take that route.
Abortion clinics were barely heard of during the 1940s and 50s, but finding a doctor to perform an abortion was not impossible or even very difficult. A woman may have to go to a different state from the one in which she lived, or in some cases, cross the Southern or Northern national borders. There were also freelance abortion helpers that would work out of hotel rooms or even private homes. Those helpers may have been nurses, wanna be doctors, or maybe someone who read a book about abortions. Many times these covert procedures resulted in permanent physical damage or death to the mother as well as to the fetus (child). Many of those women seeking abortions were teenagers who “got in trouble,” which was the code word for getting pregnant, and did not know what to do, just kids frightened and thinking they had no other choices, for what ever reason. Many lost the ability to have children because of the damage done to them. There were also techniques that were used by our earliest ancestors in order to keep the clan from getting to large to survive, given the scarcity of the resources required to sustain life. One usually effective method involved some women holding the “patient” down while another pounces on her stomach several times. There were also many homemade concoctions that would cause the death and elimination of the life that had barely begun.
I mention these grotesque “procedures” simply to make it clear that even, in the absence, of modern abortion clinics, abortions, performed using a wide variety of methods, were common, but performed under the most primitive and covert circumstances. The woman in my story never had an abortion. It would never have occurred to her, not because she was an exceptionally pious person or in fear of God’s wrath, but because it just was not an option that existed in her mind, she would suffer and endure unspeakable emotional pain, but would never consider abortion as an alternative.
After the last stillborn child, her family doctor went to the county medical board to request a non-medical necessary hysterectomy. In those days, not so many decades past, there was a different set of rules that the medical community played by. When questioned as to the basis for such a request, her doctor answered “if this woman loses one more child, she will discharged from City Hospital only to be admitted to the State Hospital.” His request was approved. Within just a few weeks, just long enough for her to heal physically, she underwent the surgical procedure that would forever change her life. It must have been hell for her, she was never the same after that, perhaps the surgery should have been considered earlier. Within a few short years she was a total alcoholic. She died just past her 60th birthday from liver damage.
I know this story sounds preposterous, but it is true. I know because that woman was my mother and I am her last live birth child she delivered. Two boys and a girl came after me. Two girls and a boy came before me, plus I have two sisters that lived.
Some days when my own physical pain seems unbearable, I think of the pain my mother was willing to endure in order to give me a chance at life, I feel ashamed that I dishonor her sacrifice by being weak. Those moments are both humbling and uplifting and have given me strength to rise above my self-pity and focus on what is wonderful about life rather than the negatives.
Because of my mother’s strength and the fact that had she been weaker, there would have been no me, I hate the idea of abortion, except in some very narrowly defined cases. I hate the very word. So, you ask, how can I be pro choice? I have no choice!
As I have stated, I hate the whole idea of abortion for the sake of abortion; however, I have no basis of experience or the authority necessary to engage in the debate over abortion. I have never been, or ever will be, in a position that would lead me to consider having an abortion. No man has. The abortion debate is one that should be reserved for women. No man will ever know what goes through a woman’s mind when she has arrived at a point of considering abortion. No man will ever be a fourteen-year-old girl that has been sexually assaulted by her stepfather and as a result is pregnant. When she tells her mother, her mother accuses her of lying and adds the caveat that if it did happen, she, the girl, must have done something to cause it. Then the young girl is kicked out of her home. She is alone, maybe living on the street, and in a nightmare. What man could ever honestly claim to understand what goes on in that child’s mind as she considers her options? No man can honestly claim to know what goes through a woman’s mind when, after losing two children, finds herself pregnant and considers not wanting to risk the torment of losing another child. The debate, the counseling, the education should be confined to the community of women. Men should be there for support, comfort, and advice when requested. For a bunch of old men to dictate laws that do not affect them, concerning issues of which they have no understanding, except what they flatter themselves with as having obtained this understanding through research, is ludicrous.
Since my gender prohibits me from ever having the basis of experience necessary to engage in the debate, I must hold fast to my personal feelings about abortion and hope most people have those same feelings, but consider myself, in the confines of the debate, as pro-choice.
Our daughter, Mary, was thirty-six when she decided to have a child. At some point she had an ultrasound done. We have a copy of that picture. She was warned by her doctor and at the clinic where she had the ultrasound done that her child was at risk for Downs Syndrome. She told them all that it really did not matter; she had already heard her child’s heartbeat. It was one of those times when words could not express how proud I was of her.