Monday, February 2, 2009


Just the word itself is among the most divisive we have here in the old U.S.A. For some of us it’s among the longest 4-letter words in history.

The release of that word from bondage became the first formal act of our new president, a significant yet mostly symbolic gesture. Yes, abortion counseling is now available to those outside our borders receiving U.S. aid dollars, but none of those greenbacks can be spent actually providing the legal service.

It got me pondering the subject once again.

When I was an 18-year-old freshman at Bard College in the 1960s, abortion was still an illegal, dangerous and often fatal whisper in the midst of the so-called sexual revolution. Even the newly minted birth control pill was no absolute safeguard.

I know this first-hand as I stood by and watched the agony of my roommate, who drove to Canada for the procedure. It so traumatized me that I stopped menstruating and had be given a shot to shock my reluctant hormones back into action.

I take note here of the recent passing of Constance E. Cook, 89, a former New York State assemblywoman who is not exactly a household name, but should be. In 1970, she co-authored the law legalizing abortion in the state three years before Roe v. Wade.

Thirty-six years later and the country has made little peace with it. Because even though an abortion is legal, it is not without consequences—and that isn’t necessarily bad.

One would think, that at my age, abortion would be an abstraction. That would be a mistake. Over the past year, I watched as two families close to me struggled under its weight.

In one case, tests showed an anomaly, the extent of which could not be determined until birth, but could have produced profound disabilities. This young couple, chose to end their first pregnancy with much anguish. And the sadness and grief reverberated up several generations

The other couple had one in-vitro child, and after much effort and failure with high tech reproduction found themselves pregnant with twin girls. Almost from the start, there was concern that one of the babies was Downs. The couple decided there would be no “selective reduction” regardless, so the only tests allowed were not invasive—yet, still cutting edge.

As the pregnancy progressed, each test (including a sonogram) revealed more evidence of the genetic abnormality. Weeks before the delivery, the last hopeful doctor succumbed to the “inevitable.” Peace was made within the family. Then came the birth—of two perfectly normal children who are continuing to develop as they should.

In matters of childbirth, one size does not fit any. The following column, written by a much younger and strident me, received many comments from both sides. I offer it here for your consideration:

My sisters: You have the right to remain celibate. If you give up that right, any and all sexual intercourse – protected or not – may result in pregnancy.

You have the right to an abortion, if you can find a physician still willing to perform this legal procedure.

You have the right to be escorted into an abortion clinic under a hail of insults and accusations. Once inside, you have the right to fear that some self-righteous fanatic with access to fertilizer may blow the place up.

You have a right to be demeaned by so called “abortion counseling” – whether you want it or not. At which time you will be informed of the “alternative” to abortion, which every female over 10 years of age knows is a baby. Perhaps you will even be treated to the sight of fetuses preserved in glass jars.

You have the right to be patronized by being sent home like an errant child for 24 hours to think it over, something which, of course, would not occur to you otherwise.

You also have the right to endanger your life by having medical decisions regarding late-term abortions interfered with by the state.

Do you understand these rights as I have explained them to you? Before you say yes, think. Have you really considered the consequences of allowing this erosion of our right to reproductive choice?

If you are smart enough to shudder at the above, you have the right to seethe at the contemptible treatment women are receiving at the hands of our government.

Make no mistake. This isn’t about fetuses or medical procedures. Behind all the hysteria of the anti-abortion movement and the sophistry of our politicians lies a woman’s right to control her own life. It’s that simple.

All the equal-pay-for-equal-work laws, all the Title IX regulations, all the sexual harassment suits in the world mean nothing if we have no control over our own bodies. There is no freedom for women that does not have reproductive choice at its base. None. Nada. It’s kind of hard storming the barricades for equal rights while barefoot and pregnant.

This is an age-old battle. In the early years of this very century, delivering contraceptive information was a crime. Margaret Sanger went to jail for helping women whose destiny it was to conceive child after child until they died young and exhausted. (And I don’t want to hear any that “they didn’t have to have sex” donkey dust. Women were not permitted to deny husbands their “conjugal rights.”)

As far as I’m concerned, Sanger was among the first of the pro-lifers. She supported women already born, women whose very existence was endangered. So do I. I am pro-choice, therefore pro-life. I honor the choices that all my childbearing sisters

I respect those who believe abortion is wrong for whatever reason. They deserve the utmost in emotional and financial support--and not just until the child is born. Women who eschew adoption should not need to fear that they and their child will be abandoned. Our investment in a child’s life begins, not ends, at her birth.

Those who choose to end their pregnancies deserve to feel safe and supported, not hounded by those who disagree and hamstrung by government red tape. They should be respected as adults, not treated as children who need to be protected from themselves by bureaucrats.

The issue is not what decision is to be made, but who should make it. Those whose bellies and feet swell, whose backs ache, whose breasts harden with milk and whose wombs contract in labor have earned the right to make that individual choice unfettered. In that way, the hand that rocks the cradle can finally rule her own world.

1 comment:

Mad Dawg said...

Abortion is like slavery in its resistance to peaceful resolution. Slavery, viewed in the light of the Declaration of Independence was about the extent of the right to liberty. Abortion is about inter alia the extent of the right to life.

The disagreements about slavery included the problems which arose when sizable investments in property, namely: slaves, looked like they would be lost if the right to liberty was extended to slaves and their offspring. The abortion question is often phrased in terms of the gestating fetus inhibiting the mother's right to liberty.

Whether abortion as it is currently practiced in the US can be teased away from the issue of the soi-disant sexual revolution is also a vexatious question. In an article in the Feb 2009 issue of First Things (#190) Mary Eberstadt draws a wonderful analogy between the seemingly willful blindness of those just SEW much smarter than we, when it came to the disasters and atrocities caused by Marxism, on the one hand, and the current aversion of the academic eye from the horrors and sorrow secondary to the change in sexual mores.

"The Will to Disbelieve", as the article is called, is simply astonishing. The data are out there. While the promiscuous tend to fail at school and at work, and children born and reared outside of families with one each parent of either sex struggle with far more, and more serious, problems than those with father and mother committed to one another and to the care of their offspring. But in this age chastity is viewed as a disease whose cure is promiscuity, and to speak for turning the hearts of the fathers to the children is to make oneself subject to ridicule and the bemused superiority of those who seem unable to distinguish between libertinism and liberty.

No doubt some slaves were happy in their state in life. Possibly some children are better off dead. But, to lean on Lincoln a little, since I would be free, I would not own slaves; and since I would be alive, I would not deliberately kill a child, however small.