Note—A version of this first appeared on my blog back in its relative infancy in 2007. And I have re-run it when the simple right of meaningful reproductive choice has seemed particularly threatened. The post was drafted in response to an appeal from NARAL Pro-Choice America for stories about life before Roe V. Wade for use in a new campaign in defense of women’s right to choose, which back then unexpectedly seemed under attack again.
Back in 2007 we were in shock that rights considered firmly and irrevocably won were once again under attack. Fifteen years later that attack has become a tsunami. Numerous attempts to sharply curtail abortion in several states were routinely over-turned in Federal Courts. But now with a Supreme Court majority packed by the former serial-abuser-in-chief, the door has been thrown wide open to allow—even encourage—states to enact near-total bans. Republican controlled states are scrambling to outdo each other with harsher and more draconian laws.
The Roe v Wade decision did not come out of thin air--it was the result of prolonged and militant action by feminists--a victory hard won and not just benevolently granted.
That is the desperate situation women—and men who truly love and respect women—find themselves in today in the United States. But they are not taking the attacks lying down. From mass Handmaidens demonstrations to marches, rallies, and organizing at the polls new resistance is rising.
Texas has led the way in imposing draconian abortion restrictions. Resistance and protest there has been widespread.
We will not return to the conditions described in this old blog post.
The Girl with Italian Renaissance hair.
It was 1971 in Chicago. We’ll call her Ellen. She was a friend from college, tall and willowy with Italian Renaissance brown hair. She had a chorus part in an experimental rock cantata by night and waited tables by day. She was not my girlfriend. I wished she was. I was a forlorn looking hippy in a cowboy hat and bright orange goatee, the dopey/quirky best pal in a romantic comedy—the guy who moons around and ends up helping the bad boy with the megawatt smile get the girl. We met for dinner about once a week and sometimes went out for a drink after her show on a Saturday night.
I came over to her place for dinner one night, Liebfraumilch in a stone bottle in hand. She was crying. “I’m pregnant. I don’t know what to do.” I held her and comforted her. I didn’t ask who the father was. She didn’t volunteer. It was, after all, the lingering twilight of the ‘60s.
But I was on the staff of the old Seed, the Chicago underground newspaper. I had connections. I knew people who knew people.
I knew people who knew people. Those people were Jane.
Those people were the Jane Collective, a semi-secret action group of the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union who defied Illinois law and arranged safe abortions. In later years I got to know the names and faces of some of them. They were true heroes in a desperate time.
I helped Ellen get in contact with Jane. They arranged for her to see a cooperating doctor. She had to go alone to the appointment, where she was given a chemical abortifacient. I waited for her at her apartment.
The procedure was as safe as possible, but the cramping and pain from the induced miscarriage was serious in Ellen’s case. It lasted three days. I stayed with her the whole time. We were afraid to seek further medical help. Other women had been arrested in hospital emergency rooms.
In the end, the procedure was effective. Ellen recovered. She got on with her life. She went off the next summer on some high adventure and I never saw her again. I got on with my life.
Within a few years, Illinois revised its laws in response to Roe v. Wade and safe abortions in clinical settings became available. Jane dissolved. But I will always remember Ellen’s needless ordeal and will never knowingly allow another woman to suffer so.