On Fridays in French class our teacher let us choose a topic to discuss. It could be anything as long as we spoke French. We started with pets, TV shows, and the Beatles. We tested her by talking about disrespectful teachers, and went on to parents and Vietnam. When we got mad and reverted to English, our teacher’s only comment was “En français, s’il vous plaît” .
A minister’s daughter suggested a topic: “L’avortement” Abortion.
This was 1970 and three years before Roe v. Wade. Abortion was not legal in Illinois, so rich girls took sudden trips to visit sick relatives in New York. The most recent was a cheerleader who broke up with her boyfriend and cried every day during lunch.
The discussion began with, “L’avortement est erroné.”. Abortion is wrong.
“Ce n’est pas juste de rendre une femme d’avoir un bébé, elle ne veut pas…” It’s not fair to make a woman have a baby she doesn’t want.
“Il est assassiner.” It is murder.
“Ce n’est pas parce qu’il assassiner n’est pas humain.” It is not murder because it is not human.
“C’est stupide.” That is stupid.
“Non, vous êtes” No, you are.
The boy who sat behind me said, “You are all full of crap.” and everyone attacked him.
The teacher yelled, “En français, s’il vous plait!”
My French wasn’t good enough to say what I thought, especially when I didn’t know what I thought. A few years later I agreed with crap-boy. We didn’t know what we were talking about.
“Les femmes qui se font avorter sont irresponsables.” Women who have abortions are irresponsible.
I thought that could be true until a college friend got pregnant because a condom malfunctioned. The boy who bought a cheap condom shrugged and stopped calling. Her strict religious father had already disowned her sister for getting pregnant and her mother was fighting depression. “This will kill her.” By then abortion was legal throughout the country, so we took the bus to Chicago and only missed one day of classes. She graduated with honors and became a special education teacher.
Les femmes qui se font avorter sont égocentrique et insensible. Women who have abortions are self-centered and uncaring.
Another friend does charity work on the anniversary of her abortion. She has recurring dreams of holding a baby and then burying it alive. She won’t go to a therapist because she’s afraid the dreams will end and she’ll never hold her baby again.
“Si j’ai été violée et est tombée enceinte, je coudrais m’en débarrasser.” If I got raped and became pregnant I would get rid of it.
We all agreed that was a given. But years later it happened to a friend. Her doctor made an appointment for an abortion but she cancelled. “I don’t know why, but I can’t do it.” She quit smoking, made all her prenatal appointments and asked if I could host a baby shower. I felt bad I hadn’t offered. When people asked about the baby’s father she rolled her eyes and gagged. By the time her son was born, I almost forgot how he was conceived. She adored him and moved to another state. In Illinois the rapist could petition for partial custody. She would have countered with a rape charge, but even if he was convicted and sentenced, he could demand visitation when he got out.
She called me laughing through tears. “Did you hear what that idiot said?” When Todd Akin’s comment hit the social network, I hoped somehow she wouldn’t hear it.
“If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to shut the whole thing down.”
I wrote this years ago. I may have put it on a blog, but that Blog Site, Open Salon, is gone. The events of this week brought it to mind. I’ve added this:
I’m not surprised that Roe v Wade has been overturned. The arguments raised on both sides are flawed. I could speak passionately for both.
My first pregnancy was in challenging circumstances. I was still in college and not married. My parents were furious and told me I couldn’t come home. I slept on a cot in a back entryway of the apartment of friends. Abortion was suggested. I couldn’t do it. I called her “my baby” after the test was positive. Nature did it for me. I miscarried her at five months.
A month after the miscarriage I saw an ad for a meeting to assist women with troubled pregnancies. I went, hoping I could direct my hormonal mother-love to help someone. I do not remember the name of the group, but I remember what they did. They put up ads for women needing help with unwanted pregnancies in newspapers, coffee shops, college dorms, laundromats, and on street lamps. Most of the women who called were seeking abortions. This meeting was to train phone volunteers how to get the woman’s information first, before telling them if they aborted this baby they would be guilty of murder and would go to Hell. One volunteer stood to give testimony. She had succeeded in obtaining the caller’s name and phone number. When the caller realized this wasn’t what she thought it was she hung up. The volunteer called her back. Again, and again. And finally on the fourth day at 2:00 AM the woman agreed to keep her baby. The audience clapped. Some stood and cheered. The man who was leading the meeting raised his hands to quiet the crowd. He praised the volunteer for her persistence, then turned to the audience. “The young woman now needs our help.” The volunteer’s smile faded and she sat down. The man at the podium, who had begun the meeting with a prayer for the troubled women and innocent babies, said “Her family has disowned her. She has no money and needs a safe place to stay until she has the baby. Can anyone here offer that?”
I wanted to raise my hand, but I was in the same circumstance. There wasn’t enough room for another cot and my friends were sharing their food. I needed a job and my own apartment before I making that offer. The man stood waiting, but no one responded. “Think about it and let me know.” He called for the treasurer”s report and I slipped out of the room.
I do not know what is going to happen now with the overturning of Roe v Wade, but I know we haven’t created secure, loving safety nets for the women who will unwillingly get pregnant by a moment of bliss, or in moments of horror. If they go through with the pregnancy without loving and wanting the child, that will scar both of them.
Abortions won’t end—only the safe ones will.
Those with the financial means will travel to states or countries that offer them. Just like they did over fifty years ago when rich girls disappeared to visit their sick Aunt.
And those without neither the means to abort or care for a child?
C’est dommage. It’s too bad.