If you were born after 1960, read this.
Four reporters — three women and one man — were discussing the General Assembly’s open season on women’s rights, specifically the Valentine’s Day passage of two of the strictest anti-abortion measures in the country: the ultrasound and the personhood bills.
The man and two of the women were stumped, not understanding why conservative legislators think it’s a good idea to make abortions costlier for poor women, those least able to afford children. Even more confounding was passage of a bill granting fertilized eggs the same rights as people, which would outlaw some contraceptives.
While the other reporters debated the issues, the third woman had a visceral response. She felt nauseous and wondered why her reaction was so strong.
Then it hit her: She was the only reporter in the room who recalled the days when abortion was illegal. The other reporters, born between 1966 and 1982, never knew a time when abortion wasn’t legal.
A teen in 1973 when Roe v. Wade was passed, the older reporter knew “good girls” who got “in trouble” in the 1960s and had nowhere to turn. Some traveled half-way across the country to Manhattan, where a stranger would do the procedure. (New York was among a handful of states with legalized abortion.) Others found butchers in back alleys. Women who survived frequently battled infections from dirty instruments that left them infertile.
The older reporter remembered horror stories of young women bleeding out after self-induced abortions with twisted metal hangers. She’d overheard whispered accounts of married women wanting to kill themselves rather than have another baby. Only the lucky few with the means and a sympathetic gynecologist could end a pregnancy safely with a D&C.
How many of us know that abortion was legal in this country until the mid-1880s? By the late 19th century, most states had passed laws restricting abortion. One rationale was to ensure Anglo women kept reproducing, so children of newly arrived immigrants wouldn’t dominate the population. Another push came from doctors, who sought to shut down untrained practitioners and corner the abortion market for themselves. Funny how neither reason had anything to do with women’s health.
It’s fine to theorize about the “morality” of abortion and morning-after pills if you live in some ivory tower where the past sports a rosy glow and the real world never intrudes. It’s nice to suggest women become less sexually active if you’re a man whose occupation requires celibacy.
Birth control fails. Incest, date rape and spousal abuse happen. Women — in committed relationships and not — get pregnant for all kinds of reasons beyond their control and not of their choosing. It’s a fact of life. Threatening to punish women by denying them the tools to remedy the situation is wrong.
Maybe too many of our legislators were born post-1960 and don’t remember the bad, old days when women were held captive by the vagaries of their reproductive systems. Maybe it’s time to educate them.