During the past week, with the passing of extreme restrictions in Alabama, Georgia and Missouri, the topic of abortion has hit levels of intensity unseen in decades. I will never understand why some fail to realize pro-choice includes pro-life. When women have a choice, many do choose life, by placing the baby up for adoption or raising the child alone. The same folks who claim to be pro-life often wag their fingers at single mothers, calling them drains on social services. These same “pro-life” advocates fret endlessly about fatherless homes. They also see no problems in the inconsistencies among states regarding adoption laws.
Choice guarantees women a variety of options when facing decisions about unwanted or dangerous pregnancies. Women are entitled to control their lives, especially when confronted with profoundly complicated and private personal decisions.
Additionally, the sobering horror stories of back alley abortions are merely tales of days gone by to far too many. My mother, born in 1926, carried with her the sorrow caused by the death of one of her best friends during their senior year of high school in 1944. Years later, in 1972 after the funeral of my grandmother at the local Catholic cemetery in the small Pennsylvania town where my mother grew up, as we were about to leave, my mom said to me, “I want to say a pray at my friend’s grave.” I stayed with my mom and watched her already damp cheeks grow more tear stained.
As we walked from the grave of the young woman who had died at only 17, I struggled for the right words to say to my mother. “She was so young. What happened?” Mom, always a progressive realist and not one to beat around the bush, replied, “My beautiful friend died of an infection after a botched abortion.” I was not going to press for details, but I knew when the time was right, my mother would tell me the full story.
On the day of this conversation in 1972, I was a senior in high school, and the ruling of Roe v. Wade was not yet the law of the land. At the time, about one-third of U.S. states had liberalized or repealed criminal abortion laws. However, the right to have an abortion in all states was only made available to American women in 1973 when the Supreme Court struck down the remaining restrictive state laws with its ruling in Roe v. Wade.
Weeks later, after the cemetery experience still on our minds, my mother told me about her dear friend and the circumstances of the pregnancy. This friend, like my mom, had a spirit of curiosity far greater than the confines of small-town life. She and my mother shared a love of movies, good books, fashion and music. According to my mother, her friend became romantically involved with an older man. Since this was during World War II, boys and men were away from home and those remaining in the states were either still in school or unable to serve for a variety of reasons. My mom had never met this man, and only knew that her friend dreamed of one day marrying him. When her friend stopped attending school for several weeks, my mom was told what others had been told, “bad case of flu, maybe appendicitis.”
The sudden death that followed was attributed to “natural causes.” In the months that followed, my mother and only a few others learned the truth through the absolutely devastated older sisters of the young victim. She had become pregnant, told the older man, and his response was, “I’ll help you take care of this.” Once it was “taken care of,” he slipped quietly off into the distance. Within a few days, sepsis had set in, and at age 17, the young woman died.
My mother told me about this tragedy not to scare me or to offer a warning about premarital sex. She knew, trusted and respected me. My mother told me about the sad loss of her friend so I would understand the foundation of her adamant feminist philosophy and question the double standard of some who call themselves “pro-life.”
Carolyn Buck (email@example.com) is a teaching artist at Baltimore Center Stage.