Twenty-five years ago, before the ink dried on Roe vs. Wade, my father set out to protest. Every Sunday, his only day off, he picketed the local hospital where the procedure was offered. Though I never joined him, I imagined him pacing angrily. Perhaps, as his fellow Teamsters did during strikes, he is carrying a placard. At home, his nine children play, knowing when he returns silence is the only sound he’ll want to hear.
Years passed, and my father stepped up his efforts. He bought an old-fashioned airport limousine — think of a double length station wagon. On the tailgate, in large, flourescent letters, he painted: ABORTION IS KILLING YOUR OWN CHILD. There we were, the rolling performance art piece, never knowing what “abortion” meant, understanding only it was the most evil of evils, a one-way, first class ticket to hell.
To Daddy’s deep regret, I grew up to be a pro-choice activist. But with a twist. For as important as I felt safe and legal abortions were for others, his message remained imprinted. I, personally, could never abort what I had been taught was holy life.
My first pregnancy — I was 22, fresh out of college, unmarried and in the hole — I tried. I made the appointment. Wracked with guilt, I cancelled. A few weeks later, that potential child exited my body in a heap of crimson clots, cramps doubling me over. The next day, a strange doctor, colder than the instruments of his trade, performed an ironic D&C.
Pregnancy number two, equally unexpected and ill-timed, is now seven. And he is the single greatest joy in my life. He is also, in large part, why I eventually made the choice I swore I would never make.
As are all pregnancies, my third was a catalyst. Despite an outsider’s view that finally I would be reproducing “properly” — for once I had money, insurance, and a husband — the truth leapt up and smacked me in the head. My marriage was a farce. It would never last. I resigned myself to the knowledge that soon I would be a single mother of two. While that idea was not particularly appealing, I saw no other choice.
Morning sickness and petty fights, though, gave way to a sick feeling 24 hours a day and fullblown war. I tried to imagine the best, but could only foresee the worst. Endless court battles starting with divorce and moving on to 18 years of bitter feuding. The loss of huge chunks of my spirit, time and money. The toll on my son. The pain the potential baby would suffer being raised by parents who already hated one another. To have this child would gravely compound the error of conception. Though I was beyond equating abortion with murder, I fended off my father’s voice in my head. If abortion was truly killing, then in this case it would be of the mercy variety.
When I suggested, meekly and hardly believing the words I spoke, that an abortion might be best, my then-husband exploded. Striking fear in my heart and validating my belief that he was not stable enough for parenting, he asked how I would feel if someone killed my son. In one breath he would offer full custody, in the next, he assured me he would use any means necessary to take this child, then a two week embryo, from me.
I saved three lives that day, up on the table, under the bright lights, breaking my lifelong vow to myself. No pro-lifer in the world would buy that argument. Sadly, to save one’s life emotionally does not fall under the clause that allows abortion when the mother is threatened by pregnancy.
In the aftermath, my women friends came forth and revealed details of their own abortions. These stories were not told with shame or guilt. Everyone had a reason, each looked back gratefully at her choice. So then, why had we not discussed this before? What caused this air of secrecy?
Daddy did. Daddy and all those like him, out in the trenches, spewing their venom, their lack of compassion. They have silenced us, made us feel if not guilty, then certainly awkward discussing what remains a legal act, a woman’s right. No other legal activity is cloaked in such silence.
Daddy still adorns his bumpers. I have inherited the trait. His stickers praise God and condemn the woman who would choose abortion. Mine mock the religious right and show staunch pro-choice support. But I do not have the chutzpah he had as he drove us around in that big car all those years ago. If I did, if it did not mean my windows would be smashed, my car blown up, I know just the sticker I would display. The antithesis to ASK ME ABOUT MY GRANDCHILDREN, mine would proclaim: ASK ME ABOUT MY ABORTION.
And I would patiently stop and offer all takers the story behind my choice. Because they think abortion equals death. But I know, truly, it is silence that does so.