Tag Archives: abortion

My Body, My Choice

On this final day of my weeklong “strike for choice,” my husband suggested, without prompting, that the two of us go to a pro-choice rally being held mid-morning in downtown San Diego. I had just walked home after enjoying some early morning coolness while at our neighborhood’s community garden. I was not averse to attending the rally. It seemed appropriate. 

We hurriedly gathered sunscreen, hats, water, and granola bars, then headed for the rally site at the “Hall of Justice.” By the time we got within several blocks, we could see large clusters of demonstrators. Parking was at a premium, but we found a paid lot not too far away. When I had trouble operating the fare machine, a very nice younger woman used her credit card, then declined my offer to reimburse her. 

“After all,” she informed me, “we’re all headed for the same place.”  

From where I stood at the edge of the crowd, the demonstrators seemed to be predominately white, but with a noticeable component of other races and ethnicities. There were more women than men, but not overwhelmingly so. Hubby and I had not had time to craft a handmade sign. We opted not to carry any of the mass-produced versions offered. The homemade signs of others were more varied and more interesting.  

A lot of women in my age cohort expressed outrage at having to fight the “coat hanger wars” all over again. Many younger women opted for variations on a “don’t tread on me” theme, with a rattler coiled inside a stylized uterus. One sign proclaimed: “Women are not incubators.” There were a good many signs comparing women’s reproductive rights with gun rights: “Maybe if I learn to shoot bullets out of my uterus, those a******* in D.C. will stop trying to regulate it” or “America, where my body has fewer rights than an AR-15.” Some signs advised, “Listen to black women.”  

One sign that moved me, especially after I’d inquired about the story behind it, was a simple one. On a piece of cardboard, it recorded a woman’s name with her birth and death dates: 1907-1930. The great-niece who was marching in this woman’s memory explained that her grandmother’s married sister had become pregnant with her fifth child at the beginning of the Great Depression. Lacking resources to stretch beyond the children she’d already borne, the woman tried a self-induced abortion. She died in the attempt. Per population researcher Christopher Tietze, there were 2,677 recorded abortion deaths in the U.S. in 1933. Starting in the 1940’s, abortion deaths declined with the introduction of penicillin and the increasing skill of those performing most abortions. 

By the time today’s speechifying was done and the march officially began, the crowd had thinned a good bit. A group attired in “Handmaid’s Tale” red robes stood on a street corner and provided drum and tambourine accompaniment. Because my husband’s septuagenarian back and my septuagenarian feet were beginning to protest, we opted to stay on the sidelines and just watch the marchers go by. Near the end of the throng was an older woman whose sign helped me place the machinations of some existing Supreme Court justices and draconian legislators into a longer perspective. She listed several herbs that had traditionally been used as abortifacients. 

Public officials may come and go, rulings and legislation may try to control women’s bodies, but women do and will endure. 

Rulings and legislation can only go so far…

A 2022 Mother’s Day Strike

Until about a week ago, I had been looking forward to a fairly traditional Mother’s Day: I’d receive a card or two, perhaps a phone call from the grown child who lives out of town, maybe a home-cooked breakfast from a spouse who typically does little of the family cooking. I wondered what other mothers and expectant mothers would be doing to acknowledge the day. I thought that this Mother’s Day would be a low-key chance to reaffirm the importance of mothers in all our variations.  

I believe that mothers are indispensable to a functioning society. A day’s worth of recognition can sometimes seem a small recompense for a generation or more of parenting labors. When our children are small, we may nurse them from our bodies. As they grow, we attempt to guide them into making life-affirming choices. We do our best to provide for them both financially and emotionally. Even if we’re exceptional parents, we sometimes need to rely on other adults, whether or not they have children of their own, to help us through the rough spots.

Amid all the other uncertainties of American life in 2022, I expected Mother’s Day to be more or less “normal.” Then, early last week, American media exploded with news of a leaked draft opinion by U.S. Supreme Court justice Samuel Alito. Alito urged that the landmark U.S. abortion decisions of Roe vs. Wade (1973) and Planned Parenthood vs. Casey (1992), permitting abortions in most instances prior to the viability of the fetus, should be completely overturned. Although efforts on multiple governmental levels to weaken abortion access had been going on ever since the Roe case was first decided, this was an unexpectedly harsh opinion at the national level. 

I started losing sleep, wondering what more I could do to influence the ongoing abortion debate in an appropriate way. Earlier, I’d written letters and emails, phoned my elected representatives, posted blog entries, sometimes even attended demonstrations. So I blogged some more, sent more letters and emails, even submitted a brief letter to the editor pointing out the irony of expressing outrage over the breach of privacy suffered by Justice Alito while ignoring the subsequent breach of privacy he was advocating for millions of American women. (I figured brevity might count for something, although it’s not my typical style.) 

Before dawn on Mother’s Day, I awoke and did a basic internet search on “Mother’s Day protests,” thinking it would be appropriate for me to attend one to express my support for motherhood that was voluntary rather than coerced. No events in my vicinity popped up, but there were severaI links about a nationwide “Mother’s Day Strike” during the next week or so, patterned after an October, 1975 women’s strike in Iceland to support women’s value and women’s choices.

So, to the extent that a retired grandmother can, I’m going “on strike.” I do not plan to do any housework for the next week. I’ve alerted my spouse to be on the hook for household chores. I plan to spend a good bit of my week at the public library, where I recently discovered a non-fiction book by Melinda French Gates, The Moment of Lift, about women’s empowerment, both globally and here in the U.S. Ms. French-Gates is a practicing Roman Catholic as well as a partner in the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which widely supports family planning.

I encourage any of you who can to create your own strike on your own terms, letting those around you know what you are doing and why. Happy Mother’s Day, all!

The Politics of Human Reproduction

As a post-menopausal woman, I’m no longer directly impacted by the twists and turns of abortion debates and legislation. During my fertile years, I was privileged to live in areas where reliable contraception was available and reproductive options were improving. I was blessed with two much-wanted, much-loved children and a long-term partner who helped provide both material and emotional support as we navigated the great adventure of parenting. Once our children were past their most vulnerable years, I chose to end my fertility early, in part to avoid overpopulating an already human-crowded planet. 

Therefore my initial strong reaction to coverage of the “fetal heartbeat bill” passed recently in neighboring South Carolina surprised me. This particular fight has long since been joined by still-fertile women. I have no direct interest. Why, then, did a still photo of South Carolina governor Henry Dargan McMaster, an older somewhat sanctimonious male, white, signing South Carolina’s Senate Bill 1 while surrounded by other mostly older men, mostly white, plus a few women, rankle me so? On reflection, I suspect it’s a combination of personal and societal history.

Until after I was grown and married, I had little notion what abortion was. After a 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision legalized abortions under certain circumstances, protracted legal and political battles erupted. Political candidates and office holders were sometimes judged primarily or solely based on their stance on this one issue. Through decades of debate, I’ve been exposed to lots of “pro-life”  and “pro-choice” publicity. Arguments at both extremes disturb me. I lean toward a “pro-choice” stance, but remember, too, the moral ambiguity captured in author Gwendolyn Brooks’ haunting 1945 poem “The Mother” (https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/43309/the-mother-56d2220767a02). 

In early 1975, when my husband dropped me off to get a pregnancy test at a women’s health clinic, to confirm what we both hoped would be true, I had to walk a gauntlet of anti-abortion protesters shouting, waving signs, and thrusting literature into my hands about the sanctity of all life. It did not seem to occur to these zealots that a women’s health clinic might perform services other than abortions. Their brochures contained images of a generic early-term fetus. In decades since, while driving through parts of the U.S. South, I’ve seen similar fetal images on huge roadside billboards. One even advertised a “pro-life registrar of wills.”

The particular legislation just passed in South Carolina does not directly penalize women seeking abortions, but makes performing an abortion after a “detectable heartbeat” (typically between 6 and 8 weeks of gestation) a felony, with possible hefty fines and up to two years of jail time. The South Carolina bill is among a number of recent bills, most enacted in poorer Southern states, circumscribing legal abortions to the point that they become nearly inaccessible to poor and at-risk women.

Globally, both the incidence of abortion and the legal restrictions placed on it have been declining in recent years, with only five countries (El Salvador, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Chile, and Malta) placing total or near-total bans on the procedure. Between 1994 and 2014, the incidence of abortion in industrialized countries declined 19%. Rates of abortion are roughly comparable worldwide, whatever a particular nation’s abortion policy—estimated at between 34 and 37 per thousand women annually. (For more information, see https://www.thelancet.com/pdfs/journals/lancet/PIIS0140-6736(16)30380-4.pdf). What differs markedly are the rates of maternal injury and death resulting from unsafe abortions (see https://www.who.int/health-topics/abortion#tab=tab_2). 

What has often non-plussed me about the abortion debate, in the U.S. and globally, is how much it tries to compartmentalize the period of gestation, making it ostensibly separate from the periods before and after a pregnancy. Though alternative pregnancy options such as surrogacy, in vitro fertilization, and even transgender pregnancy are becoming more available in industrialized countries (though hugely expensive), the proportion of such pregnancies is small. The vast majority of fetuses are the result of male/female intercourse. 

What about the fathers-to-be? What are their roles? What legislation impacts them? More to the point, once a baby is born, what support is provided by someone other than the mother, be it another family member or an institution? We can too often seem lax in our efforts to provide the “village” it takes to raise a child. In 2021, I can find myself  juxtaposing fetal images with images of starving children in war-torn Yemen, their heads disproportionately large in comparison to their shriveled bodies (https://www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2021-01-04/yemeni-boy-ravaged-by-hunger-weighs-7-kg).

On this International Women’s Day, I can applaud some of the improvements made in fetal, maternal, and child health globally. I can honor SC Governor McMaster’s wife and daughter. I can listen to the beating of my own heart. I can honor women’s choices around the issue of childbearing, while I hope and work for a society that concentrates less on what happens inside the womb and more on what happens in the world into which babies are born.