I have two sisters. Between the three of us, we’ve had a range of reproductive experiences: miscarriages, near-misses with miscarriages, false positives, and the birth of live healthy babies. During her second pregnancy, one sister was told that her child would likely be born with Down Syndrome. In spite of that possibility, there was never any question about whether she would continue the pregnancy; further testing reversed the diagnosis.
And one other thing: I had an abortion. I was a sexually active, contraceptive-using college student in 1978. I planned to finish college and go on to study law. I wasn’t even sure I wanted children at all. But there I was, pregnant.
I was more stunned than anything at that point, shocked to find myself in that situation. Being a parent wasn’t in my life plan, let alone becoming a single mother.
This was the vision that kept me in college when things got tough: I pictured myself working as a checker in a grocery store. I know now there are far more awful jobs than that, but at the time, I lacked the imagination to think of anything worse.
It was five years after Roe v. Wade. Abortion was legal, but still not easy to arrange. A girlfriend drove me to a clinic an hour away. The procedure was painful and – it seemed to me – deliberately engineered to humiliate.
A couple of days passed before I felt like facing the world again. I hid out in my dorm room, sleeping and skipping classes, but still studying. (The specter of the menial job didn’t depart my nightmares for many years.)
And still, I had no regrets over my decision, either then or in the years since.
I wish I didn’t feel compelled to tell this story; it’s not anyone else’s business. But there are people who feel certain they can make that very personal decision for every single female human of childbearing age in this country. (How many of the people who support a complete ban on abortion are men, for whom there is not one even remotely equivalent experience?)
Here’s my theory: our reproductive capacity and habits evolved many thousands of years ago, to overcome high infant mortality and short life expectancy, in the days when many hands helped to ensure survival. Blessedly, we’ve progressed to the point where we’re no longer reliant on a high birth rate to combat extinction. (Quite the opposite, in fact.) But evolution hasn’t caught up with our medical capabilities – we can reproduce more effectively than is good for us or for the planet.
When I was 23, I met my husband Michael, and almost immediately changed my mind about having children. Our oldest son Keenan was born in Iowa in 1985, the first grandchild on either side of the family. We moved to Flagstaff the following year. Four years later, we had David. Their childhoods weren’t idyllic, exactly, but they were pretty good. Both boys grew into fine, kind and intelligent men, so much like their father.
My life would have been so very different if I’d gone through with that first pregnancy. And though the procedure was legal, I knew I’d still have been judged for having gone through with it, so I have kept it quiet for the most part over the years. I wasn’t ashamed, just protective of the information. It’s been a hard story to tell, but it was important to me to relate my experiences in light of recent political talk about such things.
In the days when radical pro-lifers were bombing clinics and murdering doctors, I bought two yards of bulletproof Kevlar fabric to embed into a kimono. I envisioned a metaphorical, physically safe garment in which a woman could make a decision that was hers alone, without any outside pressure or threat.
That Kevlar is wrapped up in my studio, waiting for the right moment. The kimono project is still in the conceptual phase, but I think it’s time to get it made.