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Abortion: Why to resist return to an oppressive, dangerous past

Guest Opinion: Even in Washington state, where the public was ahead of the Roe v Wade decision, many would like to cut away at women's power to choose. Recalling the past ought to make us think twice.
U.S. Supreme Court Building

U.S. Supreme Court Building Ken Hammond/U.S. Department of Agriculture

This week, supporters of Roe v Wade marked the 40th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision that affirmed a woman’s right to make reproductive choices. But tragically, while the landmark decision has been the law of the land for four decades, the resolve of those who seek to overturn, weaken and restrict that right seem more tenacious than ever.

Just this last week 18 members of the Washington State Senate introduced SB 5156, a measure that would require a woman under 18 years old to notify her parent or legal guardian before having an abortion. The measure requires that the parent or guardian receive 48 hours notice from the medical professional or agency intending to provide the abortion. Fifteen of the bill’s co-sponsors are Republicans, joined by three Democratic backers from Eastern Washington.

The Washington bill is the latest in persistent attempts to weaken Roe v. Wade. It is ironic that the effort is occurring in a state that early in the 1970s voted approval for a woman’s right to choose, even before the Roe decision.

But, despite past approval here and majority acceptance in opinion polls, abortion opponents continue to attack women’s rights. This most recent assault comes at a time when other states, particularly those with statehouses and governor’s offices dominated by Republicans, are taking ever stronger steps to limit access to reproductive health care and make a mockery of freedom of choice. The incursions into women’s rights range from requiring an invasive pre-abortion ultrasound to mandated counseling and parental approval.

When I read anti-choice rhetoric (mainly from male politicians), I recall the days before Roe. At the time, ending an unwanted pregnancy was punishable by a lengthy jail sentence.  The alternative for unmarried women at the time was bearing a child branded illegitimate or giving the child up for placement with strangers.

This reality — a world where providers and women seeking abortions are criminalized — doesn’t get a lot of airtime in the debate over abortion. Instead, we hear platitudes — “sanctity of life,” “moral obligation,” etc. What we don’t hear is how these policies alter people’s lives.

And that is why I am writing this piece. It’s because I have seen up close what criminalizing abortion looks like. Even though it is difficult for me to relive those times – and still harder to write about – I decided to share an incident, best forgotten, that I have seldom revealed. Let this story serve as a reminder of the risks that anti-choice activists would have us face.

In the days before Roe, I briefly held an "elected" office: I was serving as “corridor president” at my freshman dormitory at Northwestern University in Evanston, a suburb of Chicago. One corridor-mate – I’ll call her Janet, though that wasn’t her name – often frequented my dorm room, partly out of loneliness and then out of sheer, almost suicidal, desperation.

As she sobbed over the details, I was able to piece together the fact that she had accepted a blind date to a frat house party. She had consumed way too much alcohol and, although she was blurry about particulars, she ended up, in the idiom of the time, “going all the way.”

That was some weeks prior to her outburst and now she had missed a period and feared she might be pregnant. The thought was terrifying. What would become of her? Her parents — good church-going folks from a small town in Wisconsin — would disown her. Her aim to get a teaching degree now seemed impossible. She’d been throwing up in the morning. Was it just nerves or did it mean what she feared?

She’d been thinking that maybe the best solution was to do away with herself. In fact, she’d consumed an entire bottle of aspirin.  Thankfully, all that achieved was difficulty waking up and more acute nausea.


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Comments:

Posted Sat, Jan 26, 12:10 p.m. Inappropriate

I don't know if it is a waste of time to say anything about this. I am not allowed a voice on abortion when it really matters ie when I am the father. Thankfully I have never had to deal with it. I am not sure what I would want to do.

This 48 hour advise the parents seems stupid and unnecessary to me for two reasons
1. If they had been satisfying their parental duties I think they would already know.
2. If they have not been doing a good job as parents then why do they need to know? Do the politicians think they will automatically transform into good parents?

Yes I know there have been cases where the pregnancy was successfully hidden from all.

I believe the majority of Americans want it.

This proposal is a total waste of time and taxpayer dollars. You politicians need to concentrate on fulfilling your campaign promises and better yet the budget and school issues.

leitmotif

Posted Mon, Jan 28, 8:15 a.m. Inappropriate

I knew girls who became pregnant without the benefit of marriage and while they didn't have abortions or give up their children, their lives were forever changed.

First, they needed welfare as their parents either didn't approve or else couldn't afford to help. Higher education became an out-of-reach luxury and their contributions to society never reached what could have been.

If our society was willing to help raise these children financially and emotionally, without stigma, there might be fewer abortions.

Amaliada

Posted Mon, Jan 28, 10:07 a.m. Inappropriate

Why do people who profess to believe in God think they are God?

nwcitizen

Posted Mon, Jan 28, 7:47 p.m. Inappropriate

Jean,

It is to your credit that you, even though complicit in the snuffing out of a human life, and though still, after so many years conscience-clear, have at least now told the story of "Janet". Thanks to your telling of the story, there will be at least one person to cry for the tiny human who was never given a choice.

Jacoba

Jacoba

Posted Mon, Jan 28, 9:17 p.m. Inappropriate

Cry all you want, but we are not going to let you turn this country into a theocracy. Don't believe in abortion? Then don't have one.

Steve E.

Posted Mon, Jan 28, 10:37 p.m. Inappropriate

The torture-chamber horrors of illegal abortion are probably more vivid in my mind than in most other male minds because of the nightmare experience suffered by one of my first wife's friends. Suffice it to say it was on the East Coast in 1959 but otherwise by all accounts scarcely different from Janet's ordeal.

As the post-American-Dream economy deteriorates into unending hopelessness and fear, the threat of compensatory theocracy with all its attendant misogyny is dire and escalating. Moreover -- because of the enormous, management-by-divine-right advantages theocracy offers capitalism -- the threat is obscenely well funded. Hence the constant and worsening erosion of reproductive rights that now defines the present-day United States.

In this dismal context, Ms. Godden and women like her are among our final defenses against tyranny. Thus my clenched-fist salutes of approval to Ms. Godden for speaking out and to Crosscut for publishing her lest-we-forget reminder of the atrocities implicit in the euphemism "pro-life." Well done!

Posted Fri, Feb 1, 12:10 p.m. Inappropriate

The torture chamber horrors exist today, the Gosnold case in Philly is a classic example.

The strident shrill name-calling goes both ways, and people who tried to speak out about plain old bad medical practice faced the usual Taliban and coathanger accusations.

Posted Tue, Jan 29, 11:22 a.m. Inappropriate

Thank you, for standing by Janet when she needed someone strong, and for bringing her story to those of us who may have forgotten how grim those times were then, or do not yet understand what we may be facing now.

sandik

Posted Fri, Feb 1, 11:39 a.m. Inappropriate

Al Capone was born in New York.

He did a lot of business in Cicero, along with many other parts of metro Chicago.

Prior to Roe, there was the Jane Collective doing upwards of 11,000 abortions. It disbanded after Roe.

Roe didn't stop back-alley abortions done by incompetent people, the Gosnold case in Philly proves that. The Gosnold clinic was as bad as anything described in this story.

Posted Fri, Feb 1, 12:07 p.m. Inappropriate

Didn't realize the author was in her 80's.

The events described were likely before the Jane Collective was active.

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