I've been alternately feisty and despairing for the last couple of weeks as state after state has held midnight meetings or gone through similar shenanigans to pass restrictions on abortion while most of us were focused on Texas and Wendy's amazing pink shoes.
You see, I was born to be pro-choice. 'Way back in the dark ages, before Roe v. Wade, there were a few enlightened corners of the country where abortions were legal under some situations. Vermont, where I was born, was one of them. Thank goodness.
You see, if they had not been legal, I would not be here.
But first, a little history...
It was late summer of 1965 when my mother found out she was pregnant. Her sons were five and seven, her mother was dying of breast cancer, and she was hoping and praying that she would finally have her little girl.
Unfortunately, a couple of weeks after the rabbit died (probably literally, back in those days), my mom came down with what she at first thought was a nasty cold, but which turned out to be rubella, German measles.
For those of you who aren't aware, German measles causes some pretty significant birth defects, including blindness, deafness, heart disease, and developmental delay, and the chances of those birth defects are greater than 50% if the mother contracts rubella at that part of the pregancy.
Some mothers might have made a different choice, taken their chances, and accepted their child's birth defects with grace and love. My mom was a loving mom, and she was also a very fragile human being who had bipolar disorder and in later years developed alcoholism.
Neither my mother nor my father were confident of my mother's ability to raise a special needs child, and both were concerned about the financial toll it would take on the family, including my older brothers, as well the emotional toll it would take.
After consulting with her doctor, and with the blessing my father and the family's minister, my mother made an appointment and had a medically sanctioned, safe first trimester abortion. This was around August or September of 1965.
Her doctor told her not to get pregnant again for six months (advice, by the way, that is outdated), but my mother was never one to listen. By late October or early November, she was pregnant again, with me.
She had just enough time to let my grandmother (who was a nurse, and also supported my mother's decision) know that she was pregnant again. She swore until the day she died that the last words that her mother said to her before dying that December were "this is your little girl"
And I was. Oh, she sometimes despaired that I wasn't ladylike enough, too intellectual and sharp tongued, and with a dismaying tendency to bray like a donkey when I laugh (I've been told I now cackle like a witch), but nonetheless I was the child she chose.
Did my mother make the right choice? She certainly made the right choice for me. If she hadn't made that choice, I wouldn't be here. Almost as certainly, she made the right choice for her. As much as she might have liked the idea of having a child with disabilities, and the opportunity to demonstrate her ability to nurture, I can't imagine her doing well as reality set in.
As for the baby that never was? Who knows? I know many people with disabilities, including those caused by rubella, who live full lives of great purpose and meaning. It's also possible the child would have been born without disabilities. Perhaps Mom would have pulled it together. Perhaps her life would have been more happy and meaningful.
That ship sailed over 47 years ago. Mom has been gone for twelve years now, taken by the cigarettes and alcohol that were her constant companions. Did her abortion contribute to her unhappiness? Almost certainly not.
My mother was pretty open about the various griefs in her life, but she always framed her abortion as something she was glad she did. The fact that I knew about it -- that most family members, even extended family knew about it -- demonstrates a lot about her state of mind at the time.
I know that this story of 'the one who came before' influenced who I am, and probably informed my choice of careers. Certainly my mother's choice led to three people existing on this earth (myself and my two sons) that would otherwise not exist.
When I see people rubbing their hands together in glee as they strip these safe, legal, early abortions away from women in state after state, I remember my fragile, loving mother and I fume.
You aren't doing this for her or women like her. You aren't doing it for my brothers or father or me, or my little sister who came later. You're doing this for that little non sentient bundle of cells that briefly held the possibility of living.
And you're not even really doing it for that little bundle of cells, because that's a pretty amazing abstraction, to look past all those people standing shoulder to shoulder saying this abortion was a positive thing.
You're doing this for your sense of who you are, and because you think that there is some sort of contract involved, that if a zygote lands in a uterus, that uterus is contractually obligated to nurture it. If that is the case, why does Mother Nature, the greatest of all mothers, reject at least 18% of zygotes -- and as many as 50% of all blastocysts (that's early fetal stage, in case you didn't know).
Would my mother have had an abortion if it had been illegal? Probably. We lived near enough to the Canadian border to make it feasible for it to be safe, as well. Guttmacher Institute and WHO have shown that worldwide, the abortion rate doesn't change when abortions are made illegal -- but subsequent infertility and maternal death rates do.
This is a complicated issue, with a lot of heat on all the different sides. The bottom line for me, though, is the science of it.
Safe, legal abortions performed as early as possible save families, women's lives, and women's sanity. Safe, legal later term abortions usually deal with tragedies in a medically necessary way that prevents maternal death or dysfunction.
Unsafe, illegal abortions, whether early or late, maim and kill women, and cause pain to their families.
The choice is still legal, if hampered, throughout the US. Will it get to the point where illegal clinics pop up? It already has, here and there. And as they do, anti-abortion advocates will point at the 'baby-killers' and their horrendous lack of safety without any self awareness that their actions are a direct cause. And women will continue to make choices, legal or not. And I will continue to fight for their right to do so.