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At the request of several of my fellow Kossacks, I am expanding this comment: (here) on yesterday's front page story (The next anti-woman shiny object)  to a full diary. It tells the story of one woman's experience - actually my mother's experience - in pre Roe v. Wade America - the America to which the GOP still seems intent on returning us. Follow me below the fold to learn how my mother became one of the few pro-choice, feminist, devout Roman Catholic women I've known, but be warned, you may need a strong stomach.

Ma was raised a good Irish Catholic girl in Western Massachusetts (where we most emphatically do NOT "pahk ahr cahrs") who fell in love with a dashing, okay friendly, Air Force sergeant and got married during the height of Kennedy's Camelot.

Ma was chronically ill from childhood on and her doctors told her she could never carry children, but my parents decided to try for a family anyway. After one miscarriage very early in pregnancy (i.e., Ma discovered she was pregnant only when she miscarried), she managed to carry my sister and I to full-term deliveries. Unfortunately, she had complications during my birth (when she was all of 28) and her doctors again warned her against getting pregnant, and she went on the pill, with a (very liberal) priest's blessing.

Four years later she developed serious side effects from the pill and had to stop taking it. Being good Catholics my parents turned to the rhythm method - and were as successful as most users of that "birth control." Ma ended up pregnant almost immediately, and immediately had another miscarriage. A few months later, Ma found herself pregnant again.

Ma and Dad always wanted 4 kids, so they were actually happy when this pregnancy seemed to go well. She got through the danger zone of the first trimester and her doctors gave her their blessing to start choosing names. The child would be Sarah or Andrew.

In the summer of '71, Ma was just about half-way through the pregnancy when doctors could no longer find the heartbeat. There was no ultrasound then, so they could not tell if the fetus were dead or simply in a weird position. One week later she went into labor and there was no longer any doubt she was losing the pregnancy.

She checked into the hospital and things got bad very fast. She began hemorrhaging seriously and Dad was told to prepare for her death. Because Massachusetts then had a very strict abortion law - allowing the procedure only to save the life of the mother - her doctors had to petition a court to perform a life-saving procedure, and one that would preserve her fertility. As the story was told to me, her doctors erred in being honest, and described her risk of death at < 50%. The judge refused to grant the petition, stating my mother was not "close enough to death."

What followed was 18 hours of hell. Ma always had long labors - "33 hours with your sister, 22 with you" was a common refrain growing up when Ma thought we didn't appreciate her enough. This she described as far worse. Rather than contractions, the pain was constant, as her body slowly destroyed the fetus and expelled the pieces, one by one. To prove she was no longer pregnant, and to therefore move ahead with the necessary procedures without court approval, her doctors needed both head and torso. That's what took 18 hours, during which Ma received enough transfusions to fully replace her blood volume. Even after her doctors were able to finally step in, it was touch and go for a while, so my sister and I were shipped to the care of Ma's sister and her husband, as Dad did not want us around if Ma died because he knew he would fall apart. After she recovered enough to be put in a regular room, Ma was then placed on the maternity ward, where she had to hear all the babies being brought to the other women every few hours - hospitals were not as sensitive back then, I guess.

Ma was hospitalized for 2 weeks, and her fertility was destroyed. Within 5 years, she would have a total hysterectomy. She was only 32 at the time. After hearing how dangerous it would be for her to risk pregnancy again, Dad got a vasectomy, which Ma used to describe as the most romantic gesture he ever made during their marriage (this was the same man who proposed in the parking lot of a bowling alley, tossing Ma the ring and saying "here, I got something for you."). What I remember is being 4 years old at my aunt's when Dad finally brought Ma home. My sister (who was 6) and I ran to greet her as she struggled up the driveway with a cane. My father had to block us from her so we did not jump on her and cause further injury.

Needless to say, being pro-choice after that was a pretty common attitude in my extended family and it is sad that these stories are not more widely known now - it might change minds. I now work in the health care industry, as an economist and quality professional, and have learned even more about the dangers and difficulties of pregnancy (that happens when 80% of your work force are women and most are younger) - certainly more than any gay man should. Nearly every one of those pregnancies has gone fine and all those successful pregnancies have only solidified my pro-choice stance.

My reasons for being pro-choice are simple - even with modern medicine, good prenatal care and all the desire for a family a person can have, every pregnancy represents a very real risk of death or injury to the woman. No matter how well a pregnancy is progressing, even up to the moment of delivery, things can go disastrously wrong - and the best doctors out there cannot guarantee who will and who won't face those complications. That doesn't even begin to address the physical challenges of a healthy pregnancy - seriously, have you ever met a woman in her 3rd trimester who was really happy? Thank God or the Flying Spaghetti Monster that the maternal instinct is strong enough to continue the species.

I have known many other women who have faced the question of whether they could risk a pregnancy - for instance 1)the woman who found out her fetus had neural tube defects so severe it could not live outside the womb; 2)the friend who discovered in the middle of breast cancer treatment that she was pregnant, even though her doctors told her that treatment left her unable to conceive; 3)the friend with a serious illness who faced the choice of damaging a fetus with the medication that kept her functioning, or risking her life by going off the meds for the duration. I would not want to be in any of their shoes and could never have even considered making their decisions for them (for the record, 1)abortion, 2)kept the baby, 3)sterilization so she wouldn't have to face the choice).

I also knew a woman got pregnant during an affair with a married man in an attempt to force him to leave his wife. She aborted when it didn't work. I fully support her right to her choice, but ended my own friendship with her because I simply could not accept the morality of her actions.

Abortion is a difficult and often horrifying decision, but it is one that is unique to every woman's situation. Even the best-intentioned legislators in the world could not begin to understand all the possible factors that could lead a woman to decide to end her pregnancy, never mind create legislation so only the abortions we agree with are legal. Being pro-choice does not mean cheering every single abortion that occurs, it simply means being humble enough to understand that you can't know what is really going on in a person's life or live it for them. And isn't that the missing part of the equation whenever "pro-lifers" talk about abortion - the life of the person we already have here on earth?

Originally posted to CPT Doom on Sat Feb 05, 2011 at 07:55 AM PST.

Also republished by Pro Choice.

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