It’s My Blog and I’ll Do It My Way
The Meaning of Longevity

The Supreme Court Abortion Decision

[EDITORIAL NOTE: This was first posted at Blogher last week; it caused quite a stir there.]

category_bug_politics.gif A Supreme Court ruling on 18 April 2007, upheld a law banning late-term abortion with no provision for the health of the mother. In addition, the law is so broadly written that some legal experts believe it leaves the door wide open for individual states to further restrict abortion. Many already have by making life so dangerous for physicians who performed abortions that there is no clinic or hospital within hundreds of miles that will do it.

You may think, because old women are past child-bearing age, that this is not an elder issue. You would be wrong because:

  1. Women who are elders now fought hard 40 years ago for Roe v. Wade
  2. We lived in the days before Roe v. Wade and know the horror

I’m not here today to discuss the moral question of abortion. Whatever one’s belief in that regard and whatever the law, some women will seek to end some pregnancies. They always have. In ancient Rome, they left unwanted newborns on dung heaps to die of exposure. Today, women who cannot afford or do not have access to medical abortions, leave infants on doorsteps throughout the world. Now, if abortion is further restricted in the U.S., the coat hanger solution will return.

I remember it well in my teens and twenties. Not to be too graphic about it, imagine sticking a wire coat hanger up your vagina and poking around with it through excruciating pain and bloodletting risking failure and a mangled embryo or fetus, infection and hemorrhage. Some died.

Most communities in those days had one or more local abortionists whose names were furtively passed around when a woman was seeking to end a pregnancy. These were the kitchen table abortions, performed by people untrained in medicine or surgery, resulting in the same mangled fetuses, infections and hemorrhaging. Some died.

The third option was to find a brave physician who, because he (there were not a lot of women doctors in those days) believed in women’s right to choose, performed secret abortions at high fees and which subjected them to prosecution and jail if discovered. Because this kind of abortion was not performed in a hospital, when there were complications, some women died.

Let me tell you a story:

When I was 18 years old in 1959, I became pregnant. I worked as an office clerk taking home about $250 per month which covered my expenses, if I was careful, and no more. The father made it abundantly clear that he wanted no part of a child nor, any longer, me.

Another factor young women today may not appreciate when high schools commonly have day-care centers, is the stigma that was attached to becoming an unwed mother in the 1950s. So powerful was the shame attached to it that many pregnant girls and women were sent by their families to visit “Aunt Mary” which was, in reality, a commercial home for unwed mothers in another state where they stayed for the duration of their pregnancy, hoping that no one back home would learn the truth.

In actuality, everyone did know what was up and when the girl returned, she was ostracized by everyone, including her previous girlfriends, and her name was passed around among the young men in the community as a girl who was “easy.”

For a number of reasons, a home for unwed mothers was not available to me. That left abortion. I knew I didn’t have the guts to attempt the coat hanger solution and I didn’t want to die on a stranger’s kitchen table, so I approached a friend whose husband was a doctor.

A few days later, her husband met me on a corner in the business section of the city and had me write down the telephone number of a man in Seattle he said was a physician who performed secret abortions in an office unassociated with his practice.

A week later, I arrived at the Seattle office at the appointed hour. It was dark, dingy and not very clean. The linoleum floor was cracked. The paint was peeling. There was dust in the corners. As I lay naked from the waist down on a cold, metal table, the doctor, using surgical instruments of dubious sterility, poked and scraped inside me. There was no anesthetic. I screamed. The nurse (well, she was dressed in white and wore a cap) slapped my face and told me to shut up.

I screamed again. She slapped again. She told me the doctor would not complete the abortion unless I was quiet. I screamed no more, but I shed every tear my body was capable of producing and bit through my lip.

In under an hour, wobbly-kneed, I made my way to the airport and returned home.

I was lucky. There was no infection, no hemorrhaging and within a week or two, I had recovered. Some women in those days did not.

Do we really want to return to those bad old days? In her dissenting opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg – the lone woman on the Supreme Court - called the Court’s decision “alarming” and “irrational.” She also said it

“...cannot be understood as anything other than an effort to chip away at a right declared again and again by this Court - and with increasing comprehension of its centrality to women's lives."

Men and women bring differing sensibilities and attitudes to many issues. I have always believed society benefits from including and weighing these gender differences in public debate. But abortion is where I get radical.

Until a man is capable of giving birth and/or every man is forced by law to both financially support and participate in the gestation and raising of every child he fathers, and such law is enforced without exception (a permanent ankle tracking device for those who run comes to mind) no man has a right to discuss abortion, let alone to vote on it.

No one can convince me that pregnancy, birth and the choice to abort or not are anything but women’s domain, exclusively.

[Alan G has contributed a terrific story at The Elder Storytelling Place today titled The Art of Dying. Don't miss it.]

Comments

Oh, Ronni, it breaks my heart that you had to go through that, or that any woman should.

As a woman I agree completely with what you've said -- we should have the right to make decisions about our own bodies.

To say I was infuriated when I heard about this decision would be an understatement. I wasn't surprised, since given the tenor of this court and where the appointments came from little else could be expected.

Another very important issue here to which every woman should object regardless of their views about abortion, is this Supreme Court has injected themselves between a doctor, who might need to recommend just such an abortion for the sake of a woman's health, and the patient. The need for such surgeries is not common but they are sometimes necessary.

The whole idea that this Supreme Court is so audacious as to tell my doctor, or any other doctor, he/she can't provide certain necessary health care to a patient surely should be unconstitutional somehow. Looks like the Taliban has made it to the U.S. I guess we know what these men think of women.

It really disturbs me that there is no provision made for the life of the mother. And I, too, see it as the thin edge.

I am so sorry that you had to go through that.

It is going to be a problem.

Thanks for your story. Those of us who lived and loved in the pre-Roe era do need to be there for the young women of today who can't imagine a time when doctors and jurists could tell women what to do with our bodies.

I got luckier than you: I found the equivalent slightly sleazy doctor who was willing to prescribe the pill to a very young, unmarried student so I didn't end up on his table. But we did have to take one of my friends to Tijuana for an abortion. Those days could return -- as our wingers are trying to take control of our bodies back from women, Mexico is legalizing abortion.

I see it as a female issue period and at any age. I was also disturbed by the court's opinion. And that even when I am not a supporter of legally permitting abortion for the entire pregnancy. I have not liked the idea of late term abortions (which from what I understand are quite rare) where you are basically killing a fully formed baby and can do it in the womb but not out of it. That logic escapes me. I do support a woman's right to have abortion for the first 4 to 5 months of her pregnancy.

What bothered me with the court was that this is just the beginning. The four on the far right want to throw this all back onto the states where some will outlaw it and some allow it and it'll be a mishmash of laws where women are forced back into illegal abortions that are not safe and horrible as you described.

I also didn't like reading the 'logic' of Kennedy's opinion that they were doing this to protect women from their own poor judgement. Say what! Like the paternal male will protect the poor pathetic female from herself? This is the kind of logic that kept women from having the vote.

I have known a lot of women who had abortions from both before and after it became legal. I have known some who could never have children later because of botched ones. I have been very close to the decision to abort and seen it as the right one given the woman's options. Most women I haveknown did it because they felt it was the best choice and they never regretted it. They never forgot it but they knew it was the right choice.

Yes, I have known some that later regretted their abortions but it was because they got into a church that kept at them until they did feel guilty. I have also known women who bore children and raised them who treated those children poorly their whole lives for not having been wanted.

One of the things we should all remember when we vote next presidency is no matter what they say, there are a bunch in one party who are determined to end all abortion and the Supreme Court only has 4 liberals, one swing vote and then 4 staunch and young justices determined to end women's right to decide any of this for themselves because after all do women have any judgement to do so! So much for the party that supposedly believes in the freedom of the individual. That only applies when it's making money, I think...

And yes, this was a rant but it was a very disturbing issue to me too when I read it. It was what I expected given those justices recently anointed, but nonetheless very upsetting. I don't want my granddaughter forced into an illegal abortion someday.

Thanks for telling your story. It sounded horrific. And you're right. Unless a man wears a condom every time they have sex, they have no right to participate in the discussion. Women have always used abortion as a means of birth control. See the film "The Sorceress."

How saddened I was reading your post. Sad that your judicial system cannot decide on a concise and considerate law that gives women a right to a safe abortion; knowing how difficult it is for any woman to make such a decision. Sad, to read your story; imaging how difficult and dangerous and lonely your experience was.

Thank you for bravely revisiting this very painful experience. Drawing on your own well of suffering to graphically illustrate how women alone were so cruelly scapegoated for an act by both genders, is a vital lesson for all Americans. How truly shameful that it should be a timely and needed one, here in 2007!

Oh, Ronni, only eighteen? You poor baby.

I have never understood why most people who are against abortion are also against birth control of any kind. The use of birth control would surely cut down the number of abortions.

This issue has never been about "unborn babies" and has always been about women having sex for any other purpose that to produce babies. With pregnancy being used as punishment for having this "unauthorized" sex.

And behind that issue is one of control. Who is control of a woman's body and therefore her sexual behavior? She herself or her father, husband, church, or government?

I could not agree with you more. Forty-some years ago, three friends, sorority sisters, were pregnant and unwed with three different outcomes: one very risky abortion in Mexico, one adoption from a home for unwed mothers and one unwed mother raising a baby on welfare. Their experiences were indeed difficult, dangerous and lonely...and life altering in unhappy ways. No man will ever know what he is talking about on the issue, and that eight of them, who ultimately write the law of the land, think they do, is revolting.

Clarification - Last week's decision by the Supreme Court came from a majority of just five male Justices. I just happen to believe that the only deliberation on the point should be between a woman and her doctor.

Thank you for sharing your experience.

Thirty two years ago my sister was 16 when she had her abortion. Even though she was admitted to the hospital and had a legal abortion, she was very traumatized by the experience. The doctor refused to do the "simple" procedure and instead medicated every girl in the shared room (4 of them) to induce labor, which he continued through the night until he finally finished the procedure. All family and friends were required to leave their girls there to go through this by themselves -- a form of ugly punishment. I wouldn't wish that or anything like you experienced, on anyone.

I will do anything possible to keep us from going backwards.

Thanks for sharing your story, Ronni. It was horrible, I'm sure. I hope no one ever has to go through that again.

Thank you for sharing your story. It needs to be told, and retold, as long as there are people out there who think they have the right to tell me, and other women, what to do with our bodies.

My God!!!! How horrible for you, Ronni!!!

When my son was in his teens he came home from school one day and told me about a disccussion they'd had in history about Roe vs. Wade. We discussed it and he asked me how, as a Catholic, I could be pro-choice. I explained that I'd never had an unwanted pregnancy and I didn't feel qualified to make that decision for another woman. I then told him that while he, as a male, might cause an unwanted pregnancy, he really had nothing to say about what the young lady decided to do about it.

I would tell the men on the Supreme Court the same thing.

This is a decision between a woman, her God and her doctor.

I was with several friends (a couple of whom were also Catholic) as they went through this gut-wrenching decision and procedure and realized that no one really wants to go through this -- the choice they made was the only choice they had.

Wow, I was going to suggest this be posted on BlogHer so the generation that takes reproductive rights for granted can read it, but now I see it IS posted there and I'm gonna go read the ruckus you stirred up, Ronni.

Ronni, thanks for having the courage to share this story. I too was in college pre Roe-v-Wade, and I have vivid memories of what a surprise pregnancy meant to some of my classmates. Two girls I knew decided to get abortions, despite the danger and dirt and expense of doing so. A third, whose father was a minister, "chose" to have the baby and give it up for adoption. I'll call that friend Mary.

Mary, after taking a year off from college (and of course away from home, to spare her family the shame) returned to school. The baby, given up for adoption, was not adopted. The baby went into a foster home--and then another. Should Mary drop out of college and care for this baby? She tortured herself with this question every day.

In retrospect, one might also ask just how Mary, aged 19, majoring in English, would provide for the care and upbringing of a baby. Needless to say, all the young fathers of surprise babies had immediately decamped and denied any responsibility--or, in the case of the most empathetic of boyfriends, some would offer to help the girl pay for "her" abortion.

I sympathize with the anguish of those who believe that unborn babies should never be "murdered." The reality, in my opinion, is that women who do not want to spend nine months carrying an unwanted child--a child whose existence has been made shameful by the very same people who deplore legal abortion--such women will risk their lives, do whatever it takes, to restore their own life story to one without that huge public shame, that giant belly, that unwanted baby at the end of it. Given that reality, I prefer legal abortion--"killing" the unborn if you will-- to the predictable torture of young women who would rather risk death than bring an unwanted baby into the world.

So, Ronni, thank you again for telling your story.

I was so saddened to read about you terrible experience, Ronni. Women my age have all known of other young frightened girls who used a coat hanger (the girl I knew almost died) to end an unwanted pregnancy.
We all feared this would happen when Bush stole the Presidency. We can only pray that another Justice doesn't leave the court before Bush is gone because the Democrats were spineless in stopping Allito from becoming a "Supreme." One more right wing justice and you can say "Bye bye" to Roe v. Wade. Terrifying!

Ronnie, Thanks for sharing your story. Like you, I also have an abortion tale to tell. But I'll save it for a different venue. Suffice it to say women's work is never done. Women's rights are being chipped away a piece at a time and women of all ages need to be engaged in public life and claim their rights as equal to men under the law.

Morality is a false issue in the abortion debate, one that is argued by self-righteous US politicians who think nothing of allowing easy access to guns or waging wars on phony pretenses, both of which result in thousands of unnecessary deaths.

The abortion issue is about equality, power and control over one's own life.

If men got pregnant, abortion would be enshrined in the Constitution. You know it, I know it, and others know it.

My body, my choice.

Paula

Isn't it interesting that the majority of lunatic "pro-lifers" (what an absurd term - who isn't pro-life? Should be anti-choice -just my opinion)are men? I would love to ask one of them if abortion becomes illegal again, would he be willing to take in all of the children who are abandoned, mistreated, etc.? Like many have said here, this should be the woman's choice only.

A couple of years back a local Doctor being interviewed on the subject of late term abortion was asked how many of the proceedures he had performed over the years. He said,"about seven hundred" and,
asked the reporter, "how many were
necessary"? "Hardly any", was his reply.

Now, I can fully understand how one can not equate a cluster of cells or even an early forming embryo with an actual human being. But for God's sake ladies a fully formed viable baby, capable of existing outside
the womb is another situation altogether. The proceedure, if not necessary for the health of the mother is absolutely barbaric.
To use it as an extended form of birth control is beyond reprehensible.

Do you know that there is a professor at Princeton
University who teaches that we ought to be able to do away with babies up to one month old as they
do not exhibit (in his opinion) human personality traits until that time. I guess tossing your newborn in a dumpster is a good thing in his view.

I agree that provision should be made if the mom's health is compromised. But to condone the wholesale slaughter of innocents
in the name of "freedom of choice" leads me to wonder just how Machiavellian we have become.
Polarity reigns in this debate. Surely reasonable minds can come up with an acceptable compromise.

On a personal note,my daughter came very close to aborting her child while in college. Planned Parenthood never encourages keeping the baby. She now looks at her beautiful,brilliant and loving daughter, and shudders at how close she came to terminating that life.

This proud grandma is overjoyed that she chose life for this child.

Indeed it is an awesome thing to have "equality, power and control over one's life" but with that power comes responsibility to the life that is under that control.
Thumbs up or thumbs down, yes it is your choice. Choose wisely.

I am not a radical right winger nor a hard liner on the issue. I would just suggest that when given a choice, consider Opting for Life.

Elaine


According to Suzanne Reisman who comments on this story at Blogher:

"A mere 1.2% of abortions in the US take place after 21 weeks. Only 2% of abortion providers in the US even offer abortions up to 26 weeks, and a whopping 2 clinics do procedures up to 28 weeks. The vast majority of those later procedures are on fetuses with severe life-threatening issues. In fact, 90% of abortions take place in the first 12 weeks."

Thank you for sharing your story, Ronni. The most disturbing part of the majority opinion, to me, was the whole concept that women are not human the same way men are and need to be protected from the emotions arising from the abortion procedure. What about the emotions from nearly dying because a pregnancy has gone horribly wrong? I guess emotions from so-called natural outcomes are OK but those from certain kinds of medical intervention are not. As someone who had 2 very difficult pregnancies and whose sister nearly died in childbirth (i.e., the priest was administering last rites in the delivery room), I know that nobody came up with partial birth abortion to get their jollies. I wish there were a better way to address the situations where that procedure would be necessary, and I guess now we have to go out and find one, but to outlaw it because it doesn't pass the oog test and might damage me emotionally is not rational.

Hi Ronnie,
I believe a women has a right to choose what she feels is best for her.
Love Vera

Oh Ronni, how awful that you had to go through that! And how awful that in the 21st century it seems that the nation that most people still equate with freedom and justice seems intent on sending desperate women back down that path again. Abortion is one of those things like prostitution and narcotics: since the dawn of mankind they have been going on and all the time, effort, money and resources spent on legislating against and combatting them make very little difference. They will happen anyway - a way will be found. Making them illegal only promotes an underground, dangerous and illegal industry where the most vulmerable people enjoy no legal protection. Talk about counterproductive in every possible way...

And thank you for the figures on the percentage of abortions done in early and late pregnancy. Everybody seems to have the idea that dissolute pregnant women hang about making their mind up and then abort viable foetuses. As your figures show, this is simply not true.

Thanks for the courage it had to take to go public with your story of an abortion as a young girl in the 1950s. But, what a powerful testimony for this whacky state of affairs with this decision about partial birth abortions. I will admit that I wish there were other options for unwanted pregnancy besides abortion, but I'm certainly pro a woman having the right to choose. My grandson, a high school senior, is doing a paper right now on this decision and I'm curious what an 18-year-old boy is going to say. My three children are all adopted from birth and I'm so glad that the moms way back when made the decisions they did. But, again, I want a safe and sterile place for a woman to go to to have an abortion if that is her decision. Again, I applaud you, Ronni, for taking this controversial subject and making it real for us.

Ronnie, your abortion story made me so angry at that "doctor" and "nurse." As long as I live, I will never understand how people can be so goddamn mean.

I had three abortions as a young woman, followed by two premature births (I have two sons, healthy, now). I deeply regret those abortions, and knowing what I know now, I would do anything in my power to talk a woman out of having an abortion. The reality of having a baby, nowadays, isn't as bad as a woman may imagine. And the little one is worth it, though you don't know that till he's in your arms and you're raising him. I don't think I've ever really forgiven myself for the three lives I cut short, the children I will never know, whom I would have loved as much as I love my two boys. I wish I'd known then what I know now that I'm a mother. But never, ever, would I try to take away a woman's right to make that choice.

Your story truly brought tears to my eyes. It was so long ago, yet still so exquisitely painful. Obviously, I've never had an abortion. In fact I've never been closely connected at the time of the abortion with anyone who went through it.

I have, however, been slapped by a doctor who was contemptuous of the pain he was needlessly causing me. I can only imagine what that would have been like in combination with with the terror, sorrow and isolation inherent in an illegal abortion.

Thank you for your courage, clarity and humanity in sharing that heartbreaking story.

Ah, yes, the sudden trip to "Aunt Mary" in Kansas or wherever, as long as it was 2,000 miles away...off went the girl, and the boy stayed in high school and became student body president or all-county football...His family relieved that the "easy" girl had been done away with. Or, there was the doctor who would advise adoption, and arrange for one him$elf, locally, so that the biological mother could watch silently from the painful sidelines as her child grew up in another family...The older, more sophisticated women could go to a clinic outside of Nogales (a fine place, according to my friends, clean and safe)...but it cost $3,000 including Continental Airlines' Abortion Special Fare and that was in 1970 money....and my mother, who was an emergency room nurse in the 30s and 40s in Oakland, California, who saw nightly the butchery of the young women, many, many of whom were wives who had simply had too many children and whose husband (or whose faith) refused to let them practice birth control....When the Supreme Court decides to administer a morality test for the use of, say, Viagra (after all, adultery is an equal "sin" in the 10 Commandments as killing)...then perhaps it has the right to issue judgments about women's bodies as well.
I, too, had an abortion, in 1973, one month after it became legal in California. The hospital and staff were hostile to the new law, and although I had a medically professional procedure and a day or so of hospital rest -- they did not inform me, as I requested, of my blood type. Which turned out to be A-. They refused to give me the Rhogam shot to prevent antibodies from building up should I ever have another pregnancy. Two years later, now married, I was again pregnant. It was only a series of coincidences (the father of the aborted fetus had been A- as well) and the assistance of the National Organization for Women (recommending a doctor who would not be judgmental) ... that saved the life of my son.
In later years, I was a foster parent. I have always thought that every single person who is actively trying to undo Roe v. Wade should be required to serve as a foster parent for two years.

Like you, I tend to believe that unless you have my medical history, my emotional history, and my financial status, you may not (male *or* female) tell me whether or not to proceed with a pregnancy.

It makes me so mad!

I am here to second what Elaine said;
I, too, know people who shudder when they remember how close they came to ending the life of the son or daughter they hold dear.

Also, many people writing here seem to assume that anyone who works to preserve life is unacquainted with first hand experience of abortion. This is not true. As far as women knowing their own minds, I find it ironic that one of you claims that a women who regrets her abortion only does so because she has been manipulated by someone or a church. That strikes me as a convenient condescension, i.e: If a woman chose abortion, she was strong and able to look after herself; if she chose life, or realized later the moral gravity of what she has done, she was the dupe of someone else.

I can tell you, too, that ill treatment during abortion still goes on, even though it is legal.
People who have left the abortion business have much insight into what it is like to be on the inside of this practice and have written about the anger at the client which is part of the scene.

I know, too, that many, many abortions are coerced; the woman is under threat of divorce, death or losing her existing children.

I am surprised that some of you do not see that the 70's feminists' insistence that no man has any say in this has lead to even greater abandonment of women and irresponsibility in men. It is even worse than it was in the old days because there is no longer any social pressure on the young man (or old man) to do the right thing. Violence against women has now reached epidemic proportions; and we see women killed now for refusing to abort. That is not my idea of a free choice.

Where is your rage at the injustice, hypocrisy and double standard in all of this?

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