When I was a teenager abortion was a crime: and the choices that forced on women was another crime. Two of my young friends got pregnant while in high school, one at 14 and one at 16, “A” students both, they were forced to drop out of high school, marry, and face the world with a 9th and 10th grade education. Oh, the 14 year-old was “allowed” to come back and take her freshman finals: very possibly because a 14 year old, 9 months pregnant, was meant to be a frightening and object lesson, and one that successfully prevented me from having sex until I was 19. Which meant that my first love at 17 left me after a year of frustration for both of us.
Another of my friends was sent to Arizona to live with her Aunt for her “asthma” — I now believe to have a baby in a home for unwed mothers. Which was another object lesson in our town, a home for unwed mothers, from which troops of teenage unwed mothers marched to the local mall together.
To a lower-middle class girl like myself, sex was frightening, because it meant I might not escape the fate of my friends” a furnished basement “apartment” in their parents’s home, a new baby, a teenage husband, and no education. When I made it to state college, I began to have sex with another long-term boyfriend, still frightened, watching another friend get pregnant at 19, and drop out of college for another baby and teenage husband.
My fear was only partly relieved by a local campus character we all called “Crazy Charlie” for what-seemed to be tall tales of his exploits. But I was ready to take on face value what Crazy Charlie said one day: that he knew a doctor in Philadelphia, who would perform an abortion for $200. (To give you an idea of how much money that was 35 years ago, it was 1/10 of my yearly tuition and board at state college.)
But if I had gotten pregnant, I would have spent that money, and trusted my health and fate to a Crazy Charlie, and the man he claimed was a doctor, who could have been a nurse, mid-wife, or have no medical training whatsoever, all because I wanted to have a future. I would have risked my life for my future, at a time when the New York Daily News printed photographs of women who had died in a pool of blood, after illegal abortions.
My sister, four years younger than I, also had a friend who got pregnant at 16, while abortion was still a crime. But she lucked upon an underground railroad of authority figures that included ministers and doctors, who found doctors to perform abortions for women in need, the forerunners of the doctors, ministers and others who pressured the courts for Roe vs. Wade, because they were sick unto death, of dealing with the ugly aftermath of illegal abortion: the suicides of pregnant women, the botched abortions that killed or maimed thousands of women a year in the United States.
Because they were also aware of another dirty secret: that upper middle class and wealthy women were routinely and discretely given D&Cs at the clean and safe hospitals of their leafy suburbs, that those with money were also able to send their daughters to Puerto Rico for abortions masked as “vacations.” That only lower middle class and poor women were forced to face murder and maiming through illegal abortions.
Or were denied abortions that were medically needed, by their doctors. One of my older stepsister’s friends was forced to carry to term a baby that had died long before. Was forced to give birth to a dead child, which so poisoned her system, that she was never able to have any other children.
Which is why I find so chilling the restrictions in some states on medical abortions. I’ve ead that in those states, doctors and nurses are appalled that “Abortion Wards” are returning, with women maimed by illegal abortions — and again, damn few are daughters or wives of money.
Today, my sister’s friend who had an abortion at 16 has gone on to marry, have two children, and become a pharmacist (and I doubt that she’s one of those pharmacists who deny patients birth control, or emergency birth control.) None of my friends who got pregnant in high school came to our ten year reunion — I heard that one said she was still “ashamed” that she’d never graduated.
All who would support the elimination of legal abortion, keep in mind the tragedies you’d guarantee: maimed and murdered women, lives stopped short, more unwanted children in the world.
There are 500,000 children in the foster care in the United States — how many million more do you want? Many of those children are adoptable, but will not be adopted — why don’t “pro-life” advocates step forward to adopt them now? Do you want the forced return to warehouse orphanages for still more unwanted children? Do you want women sent to prison for seeking an abortion, and doctors also jailed, when we already have a shortage of doctors in this country? And nurses jailed, when we have a shortage of nurses in this country? How much damage and destruction of life will you support to force the rest of us to subscribe to your so-called “religous” views?
I’ve never heard a so-called “pro-life” advocate answer those questions honestly. Making abortion illegal will not stop abortions, it will just stop safe abortions, as is the reality in the few civilized countries in which abortion isn’t legal, but have their own “abortion wards” with maimed women, doctors who refuse to treat ectopic pregnancies for fear of being prosecuted, and whose morgues are stocked with the dead women that illegal abortion create.
I’ve lived in that world already, and I don’t want to return to it.
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