My mom could have legally aborted me.
Not that she did, obviously. She didn’t even want to. I was her first child, conceived in wedlock at a perfectly reasonable childbearing age.
But I just turned 38 in December, which means that about a year and three months before I was conceived, the Supreme Court ruled on the case of Roe v. Wade and declared that American women had a Constitutionally protected right to seek an abortion for whatever reason they saw fit. And when my mom discovered she was pregnant in the spring of 1974, she had more options than she had only fifteen months earlier.
The historian in me watches the observance of Roe v. Wade‘s 40th anniversary with a mixture of gratitude, dismay, and bemusement. I’m grateful to have lived my whole life in an America where the highest court of the land could write such a powerful statement of trust in women’s wisdom about their own reproductive rights. I’m dismayed that, in the intervening time, people who don’t trust women with such power have been so successful in circumventing this fundamental, adjudicated right.
And I’m utterly bemused by the multiple levels of collective amnesia surrounding the real history of abortion, fraught as it is. The surveys released this week that showed how few women under 30 actually know that Roe v. Wade was about abortion have conjured a great deal of justified facepalming. But I’d like to see a little acknowledgement that abortion is as old as civilization, and that for most of that time, women had control over those decisions. It wasn’t considered a conflict with one’s religious beliefs; every medieval woman knew how to make tea from rue, tansy, bayberry, or pennyroyal to “bring on late menses.” Only with the pathologizing of reproduction, with male doctors in charge, did abortion become a battleground and women the most unreliable judges of their own best interests.
I’ve said for a long time that I’m unequivocally pro-choice. I turned out for the 2004 March for Women’s Lives in Washington D.C.. I march at Planned Parenthood on Good Friday, as a visible contradiction to the crowds of abortion opponents who clog the sidewalks to shame and condemn the workers inside, despite the lifesaving work (overwhelmingly above and beyond abortion) they do for our communities’ most vulnerable women.
But I’ve always said that, while I’ll gladly fight for every other woman’s choice, I couldn’t choose that for myself. I’m a living, breathing paradox: an anti-abortion, pro-child, pro-choice American woman. And I am far from alone in this slippery category. In fact, I have a feeling that we’re the silent majority.
I’m incredibly fortunate to have chosen when and how many times I became pregnant, and that I was able to carry those pregnancies to term. That said, my pregnancies were absolute hell. I was nauseated and vomiting 20 hours a day for 5 1/2 months with the first one, 24 hours a day for 7 1/2 months with the second, which contributed to the most excruciating, interminable flares of fibromyalgia in my entire life with the disorder. And as much as I love and prize my amazing, energetic, hilarious, brilliant, gorgeous sons, they both have special needs that make parenting an exhausting challenge on the best of days. As my husband and I age, the chances of another child bearing those same conditions only rise.
So I need to be perfectly honest: if I became pregnant again, I don’t know that abortion would seem as impossible as it once did. My health would suffer immeasurably, leaving me unable to work, so our family’s finances would strain to the breaking point. The upheaval would have a massive impact on the equilibrium and routine that help our sons function, with unimaginable consequences. It’s said that all a child needs from its family is love, but diapers and an active mom help too.
And before someone suggests that I’m too educated and self-aware to face an unplanned pregnancy, let’s be honest: education doesn’t magically repel sperm anymore than a lack of consent. While our kids are a phenomenally effective form of birth control, like any other form, they are not 100 percent foolproof. By age 45, over half of American women will experience at least one accidental pregnancy. And 61 percent of women seeking abortions are already mothers; more than three-quarters of them cite the impact of another child on their precarious balance of responsibilities. (All statistics are from a 2011 study by the Guttmacher Institute.)
I don’t have a story to tell about how abortion has impacted my life. I don’t have an important point to make on this anniversary of a landmark declaration of rights that are in some ways more difficult and dangerous to exercise today than 40 years ago. I don’t even have a deeper analysis of the shift in my feelings on my own holistic, reproductive health.
What I do have, though, thanks to Roe v. Wade, is a choice.