Abortion

Abortion

Imagine what it is like to be 14 and pregnant. Not now, but in 1976. No adult to confide in or ask for advice because to confide in someone would mean admitting that you had had sex. Whatever culture of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll was underway, as the daughter of a military officer, you were supposed to be chaste. The concern about what people would think was greater than the concern about being pregnant. The fear of informing your parents was even greater. Your mother was a depressed alcoholic who you did not want to give another reason to drink. Your father once left welts up and down your legs and back because you cut a class. Your 19-year-old boyfriend offered to marry you and, what seemed to be spoken at the same time, asked if you thought about abortion. You knew that your family would be moving more than an ocean away within three weeks. There was little time to sort things out.

Few of us can know what we would do in many situations until we have been there. And, once there, we are challenged to be strong and thoughtful as we also challenge our moral views of whatever the situation. Almost 40 years later, I can vividly recall each emotional moment of what I just asked you to imagine. It was challenging and heartbreaking to be so young and alone.

Abortion Rights

Abortion Rights

Abortion had been legal for three years but legal did not mean accessible, especially for minors. None of the family planning places I called could provide an abortion nor could they even see me because of my age. A friend I finally confided in told me about a woman who could perform an abortion on me for $500. Her house – where she performed the abortions – was filthy.  I was smart enough to know that the abortion option was not safe and marriage was not the right response to the pregnancy. The only thing I knew for sure was that I was going to have a baby.

As the “new girl” at a middle school, I stood out in no small part because I looked at least potentially pregnant. I denied my pregnancy to a guidance counselor who questioned me.  I successfully feigned fatness to my parents and siblings, thanks to the full and flowing smock tops girls wore then. Halfway into my third trimester, my parents confronted me. I still denied I was pregnant. After insisting that I visit an obstetrician, we were all informed that I would deliver a baby within a couple of months. In less than a week, an adoption agency caseworker met with me at school. She treated me to lunch or dinner on a weekly basis, always trying to convince me to “stop being selfish” and give my baby up. I refused. By then I had in fact bonded with the child I was carrying.  I was following recommendations for in-utero nurturing that I read about in the Boston Women’s Health Collective Our Bodies Ourselves. I was religiously taking the prenatal vitamins the OB gave me and I even attended two childbirth classes before I gave birth.

Those who would have encouraged me to give birth, because abortion was wrong, would never have considered that my son was placed in a foster home because my parents refused to let me bring him home. They would not have prepared me for my parents deceptively adopting the son I fought so hard to keep and had lovingly mothered – the son they so vehemently objected to my keeping. Once the social workers convinced my parents that foster home was not a good long term alternative, my son came home and they fell in love with him. So much so that when my father knew he was going to be relieved from military service, and they would move to another state, they told me that they had to adopt my son in order for him to have medical care. I signed the papers without separate counsel or knowledge of the pending move. Not long after that, my father informed me that they were moving, my son was now their responsibility, and that they knew I wanted to stay put (even though, at 16, I only had a car).  To a powerless 16-year-old who lived in fear of her father, the message was clear: you are on your own and without your child.

No anti-abortion person could have prepared me for living in a car in Ft. Lauderdale, or in Central Park in New York City, or what it was like to survive without a family or support system and, most of all, without the child I deeply loved and cared for. I could not have been prepared for what it felt like to show up at my parents’ place several years later to see my beloved child living in a house without indoor plumbing and the same parents with the same problems that marred my childhood. I only mention those things here because all too often when people learn I had a child so young, I am complimented for how well I turned out…or some comment like, “See? It can be done…the pro-choice people always make the choice of life seem so doomed…”

What I really what to share here is that it is 2013 and yet, in terms of abortion rights for young women, it feels like it is 1976 all over again. Don’t read into this that I absolutely would have chosen abortion had it been accessible. Consider instead that I had the option to illegal abortion – and so will young women throughout the country as states further erode abortion rights. Consider that no matter how much more acceptable sexual activity or teen pregnancies are in our culture, we provide minimal education and support for either. Most striking in that regard is that the very people striving to criminalize abortion are at the same time thwarting educational and support services for young people and their tiny offspring.

No choice is an easy choice when a pregnancy is unplanned. Abortion is not a viable or appropriate choice for all women. Adoption has a seedy side that some of us know all too well. Motherhood is best when both the mom and the child are adequately supported by society. If you oppose abortion, think hard before you judge one more woman for thinking abortion is the more moral choice. We really don’t know what we’d do in a given situation until we are there.