I am old enough to remember the “good old days” — before Roe v. Wade. It was not a pretty picture.
I had a friend, let’s call her Henrietta. Henrietta was 17 years-old, a senior in high school, and had a boyfriend, let’s call him Fred, who was 21 and worked in construction. Fred and Henrietta were deeply, passionately in love. They wanted to be married as soon as Henrietta finished high school and Fred could save up enough from his back-breaking work to make a home for them.
Inevitably, Fred and Henrietta couldn’t wait and became intimate. I know that they believed all of the prevalent teen-aged myths about conception: That she couldn’t get pregnant the first time. That if she douched immediately after sex she couldn’t become pregnant. That if Fred used a condom, however imperfectly, they were safe. Well, they weren’t safe. On his day off, Fred wound up driving Henrietta to a “back alley” abortionist out of state. Henrietta had to be home by supper time to avoid the suspicion of her parents, who were both unstable and given to wild fits of temper.
When I went to visit Henrietta that night, I found her in bed, crying, a heating pad on her abdomen, and bleeding profusely. She would not talk about her experience. She was ashamed, frightened, distraught, in pain, and burdened by a secret she could only share sparingly with her closest friends. She had been catapulted into adulthood abruptly, and with no safety net. The abortion had cost thousands of dollars — money Fred had been saving for their future, which was now in doubt, given the complexity of emotions brought on by this harrowing experience.
Some might say that Henrietta lost her innocence when she first decided to have sex with her boyfriend. Some might say that this whole trauma might have been avoided had Henrietta’s parents, or Fred’s parents, given them proper moral guidance or made themselves more emotionally accessible and compassionate. But here is what I take away from this very sad incident: We are all imperfect beings. Young people can not always stem the tide of roiling passion brought on by very real hormonal surges.
Although I did not know any woman personally who was killed or maimed for life by a botched abortion, I know that they existed.
I also remember Mom telling me that one of her affluent friends was going in to the hospital for a “D and C”. When I asked her what that meant she whispered, “A Dusting and Cleaning”, which was the code for “Dilation and Curettage”. I came to find out later that what that meant was that a woman could have a surgery wherein her cervix was dilated and the contents of her uterus were scraped or vacuumed out. Supposedly, this procedure was reserved for women who had suffered a miscarriage. But I came to find out that some women, women of means, who wanted to opt out of a pregnancy could appeal to a sympathetic doctor and, for a reasonable sum, could terminate the pregnancy in the safety and comfort of a reputable hospital or doctor’s office. Of course, this option was only available to the “country club” set, who not only could afford it, but also had the “right connections” to the “right doctors”.
I did know of one young girl who was in my geometry class in the ninth grade. Let’s call her Susie. She was a flirt and a great beauty and was envied by all of the other girls in the class. When her lithe figure began to change and she began wearing over-sized dresses and skirts, there was widespread speculation as to the reason. When she dropped out of school for a year “to live with her grandparents in the country”, the speculation became even more cruel and unrelenting. And when she returned a year later, she was subdued and kept to herself, no longer the vivacious flirt she had once been. And she was an outcast. I don’t know for sure, but I am guessing that I know what had happened to Susie. She had given birth. I will never know the full extent of the consequences in her life but some of them were evident, even to me. But what might have happened if Susie had been given more education, more access to birth control, or another choice should either of those have failed?
Oh, yes. I remember the “good old days”. If the next president happens to choose supreme court justices, which will very likely be the case, they will most likely carefully choose in keeping with their own philosophical views. Right now the balance in the court is such that the issue of a woman’s right to choose is still protected by Roe v. Wade. Just one supreme court justice could tip the balance.
When you vote on Tuesday for a president, you will also be casting a ballot for or against the rights of the already born. We can still make inroads into reducing teen-aged pregnancy with education and compassionate guidance. Still, young people will make mistakes, even in the most conservative and God-fearing families (as we have recently seen in the news), parents will be imperfect, and biology will sometimes trump common sense. The well-to-do and the well-connected will always have ready access to safe abortions, regardless of laws to the contrary. Nobody knows the “right” answer to the abortion question. You must search your own conscience and make your decision based on all you know and all you believe. Will you cast your vote to go back to the “good old days”? Personally, I will not.