By Louise Ure
1977. It was the coldest January in New York City for the last fifty years, averaging only twenty-two degrees for the entire month. Snowfalls were frequent and imposing. I had moved from the desert six months before and now searched out routes through Grand Central Station and two hotel lobbies to get from my fifth floor walk-up to the ad agency using only three blocks above ground. I dreamed of fur coats.
I was settling in to my new adventure. The grocer on the corner knew my face if not my name and saved me a bunch of white daisies every Friday. I’d found a good pizza place that delivered. I’d begun asking ad agency girlfriends for the name of a good dentist or doctor in the city.
Putting down roots, I thought. At least the kind of shallow, superficial roots that a single woman, a newcomer, a kid with her first job on the lowest rung of the ad agency ladder could claim in a big city.
Dr. M, the gynecologist my friend Nan recommended was brusque in a friendly “I’ve got a train to catch to the Hamptons” way.
“Congratulations,” he said. “Looks like you’re due early June.”
Four months pregnant? Not possible.
The only guy I’d slept with in the last four months was a co-worker at the ad agency named Steve Something after a particularly drunken office party, and he’d pulled out in time, hadn’t he?
A “splash pregnancy,” Dr. M called it, making it sound like a ride at a theme park.
How could I have been so oblivious to this new life inside me? It’s not so hard to do, I promise you. Years of binge dieting, strenuous sports and a dabbling with drugs had left me with a menstrual period that was less than predictable and there were no other symptoms that I would normally have associated with pregnancy.
Growing up in Tucson in the ‘70’s, everybody had a plan for what to do if your birth control failed. I’d heard about a curandera on the south side of town who combined her midwifery skills with witchcraft. I had the addresses of two clinics across the border in Nogales if it came to that. I knew myself well enough even then to know that – married or unmarried – I did not want children.
I hadn’t needed those abortionists’ numbers when I lived in Arizona, and by the time I got back from my years in France, Roe v. Wade had become the law of the land.
And that meant that right now – January 1977 — I didn’t have to spend the rest of my life with a man I hardly knew. I didn’t have to forsake my life’s dream of a career in order to carry a child to term as a single woman without any resources in the city. And I didn’t have to die in a pool of blood with a straightened clothes hanger inside me.
Others might have made a different decision, something that fit more neatly into their religious or moral worldview. But those same people would likely have considered my fornication or use of contraceptives a sin or a crime as well. I made the decision that was right for me.
Surgery was scheduled for eight a.m. When I woke afterwards, there was a deep dull ache inside me, but it had nothing to do with my heart. There were no recriminations. No second thoughts.
I chose to walk home from the hospital, shuffling through ankle-high snow on the sidewalk toward my apartment, five blocks away. Every breath in that sub-zero air felt like a new beginning.
An idling car at the curb honked when I walked past. It was another woman I’d seen upstairs. She lived upstate, she said, and her boyfriend had come to get her after the procedure. She invited me into the car.
I had a momentary pang of jealousy that her boyfriend was there for her, but promptly dismissed it. I had not even told Steve However-You-Spell-His-Last-Name about his impending fatherhood. His vote didn’t count in this. It was my body.
My new friend’s surgery hadn’t gone as easily as mine; she was pale and panting when her boyfriend swung the car to a parking space in front of my building.
“Come in,” I said. “We’ll rest.”
Upstairs, her boyfriend boiled water for tea while she and I spooned and slept in my small bed. She cried herself to sleep and there was a deep-red pool of blood on the sheets where she lay. I don’t know which direction they took when they left – upstate or back to the hospital – but I hope she’s stopped crying by now.
I did, years later, reconnect with Steve The Splasher and told him about our missed history together. He thanked me. Said he would have made the same decision, but would have hated to ask it of me at the time.
As a teenager, I did not join the fight for the right to decide what happens to my body. Others did it for me and I am grateful for that.
Then, last week, Dr. George Tiller was killed in the lobby of his Wichita, Kansas church for performing legal medical procedures for women in his clinic, and I fear that all that effort thirty-some years ago may have been for naught.
Many others have died before him, or been bombed, or maimed, or threatened. And this intimidation and violence is working. Legal abortions are NOT available today in 87% of the counties in the U.S. because of fear of retribution from extremists in the anti-abortion effort.
This is not the way America should work.
I do not mean this as a diatribe against those in the anti-choice movement who are willing to engage in rational and reasonable debate about the issue. We agree on many things, I imagine. We both want to decrease the number of abortions performed, and we want to support those women who choose to raise a child or offer it for adoption. And I wouldn’t mind seeing birth control costs covered by insurance, as well. They pay for Viagra? They can damn well pay for contraceptives.
This is, however, a plea for all of us to put a stop to the bullies who want to persuade with violence.
I was pretty sure we had ceded that “home of the brave” designation with all the fear mongering speech of the last several years. But if violence against those who are legally supporting reproductive rights goes unprosecuted and unpunished, we will also have lost “the land of the free.”
Try to change the law, if that’s what you want to do. But do not presume that a loaded gun replaces a vote.
And this time, I’m joining the fight.
This is not the way America should work.
Amen. There are people who would replace the dialogue that’s at the heart of American-style democracy with home-grown holy war. If that ever becomes acceptable, we won’t need terrorists to take us down.
It took a lot of courage to tell that story. Thanks.
Thank you. This is a big thorny issue, and voices of reason on either side are so difficult to find.
While I would always hope for the choice to be to give up the child for adoption, I understand your decision and your reasons for it, Louise. The one thing I will NEVER support, however, is a lunatic with a gun or a bomb threatening the lives of others over this issue. It’s sad that these people, who terrorize using violence and heavy ordinance, call themselves Christians, and likely would in the same breath have the nerve to damn extremist Muslims for the terror they spread with violence and heavy ordinance.
Hey bomb nuts: I don’t know who you’re doing this for, but it ain’t MY God, so stop claiming His name for YOUR motives.
How brave of you to share this story. This craziness must end from within the ranks of anti-abortionists. They must not condone in any way actions like this.
They must notofy officials about advocates who seem too eager to act murderously.
Thank you for this, Louise. I’ve been seeing a commercial on late-night TV lately that is so inflammatory, making it seem as though every woman who made your same choice has deep regrets later. That’s simply not true. Every woman I know who had to choose is deeply grateful that they had the choice to make.
My daughter was the head nurse at a Planned Parenthood clinic, and she shared a lot of statistics with me. You might be stunned to know how many abortions they perform, which translates to a LOT of women–of all societal sectors–braving the screaming and ranting protesters out front. And this is why abortion will never be outlawed in the US. A large chunk of us have already made that choice, and we will defend others’ rights to also do so. Not only that, but a great number of men have been in on the decision process, and they will also defend that right to choose.
Yes, if birth control was more widely available, and if it actually worked every single time, which it does not, it would be a different story. In an ideal world, no one would ever need to make that choice.
Those who insist that "all life is precious" are not seeing the big picture. It’s not okay to choose not to carry a fetus to term, but it is okay to create designer babies en masse, a la the Octomom? I don’t think so. If God had wanted her to pop out children like an automaton, don’t you think She would have made her more fertile, and in vitro not required? There’s a serious disconnect here. We have a friend who is violently anti-choice, but she herself chose to have two children by IVF. Hmm.
And the elephant in the room in these days of climate change and water shortages is population. The world population has doubled in just 30 years, and is set to double again in less than 20 more. There are ramifications to this explosion; we’re seeing some of them now.
Louise, you’re one of the most courageous people I know. I would have made the exact same decision in your shoes.
If people could get their heads out of their asses and realize that proper discussion with children and teens about contraception and safe sex would decrease the number of abortions, then we could truly decrease the number of abortions. I know it’s hard to talk to your kids about sex. I’ve got a 12 year old daughter. But as uncomfortable as it is, I am very frank with her about everything and she is a lot more informed than most kids her age.
I don’t know why having a choice is so bad. I mean, those women and girls who choose not to have abortions have made that choice. Bristol Palin chose to have her baby. She chose not to have an abortion or give her baby up for adoption. It just seems like a terrible double standard to take that choice away from someone else.
And why isn’t there more discussion about adoption??
A beautifully written post, Louise, with courage at the heart of it. I’m all for choice, but whatever your standpoint, this is subject for reasoned debate, not fixed bayonets and detcord.
Home of the Brave indeed.
Not so sure about Land of the Free, though …
J.D., "replacing the dialogue with home-style holy war." Amen, brother. That’s the problem in a nutshell. And some of these guys really are nutshells.
Been there, I’m hearing lots of voices of reason … from Obama on down … but they mostly seem to be found on the pro-choice side.
Jake: "Hey bomb nuts: I don’t know who you’re doing this for, but it ain’t MY God, so stop claiming His name for YOUR motives." Well said. All extremists are dangerous, whether they’re found in Kabul or Kansas.
Patti, I saw a call to action like yours on the Rachel Maddow show last night, with one former anti-abortionist asking his erstwhile friends to turn in anyone in the ranks who already guilty of intimidation and violence and could possibly escalate. It’s a worthy request, but I doubt that it will be honored
And to the Karens:
First "in Ohio": I’m so glad that TV commercial isn’t running here. I’d be walking around spitting mad and sounding like Daffy Duck.
The only point in your post I disagree with is IVF and fertilization issues. I think a woman’s choice to get pregnant, however she makes that happen, is as important as my choice not to.
I only wish that these so-called pro-life folks cared as much for the life of the child after it was born as they do for those months before.
And Ms. Olson: You’re right, adoption would help in so many areas. Fertilization. Over-population. Poverty. That’s the choice my sister made. Some day I’ll tell you all her story. (And Karen, maybe you’ll tell us yours.)
Zoë, we’re in danger of losing both of those "brave" and "free" monikers over here. Oh, to have pure separation of church and state! What a country that would be!
Louise, when I realized what your post was about, I thought "How brave" and worried about the vituperation that is about to descend on you from the haterz. Thank you for your courage.
What I wonder is, why aren’t anti-terrorism laws applied to *these* domestic terrorists?
Thanks for that story, Louise. You know I support you in every way.
I did clinic defense when the fanatics were attacking clinics about ten years ago, and "bullies" doesn’t even begin to describe it. We would form human chains so that women could walk into the clinic safely, and these men – it was always men – would launch themselves at us kicking and punching and trying their best to hurt us. You could see it on their faces – they got off on the excuse to batter women for a "cause:.
I’d love to see abortion become totally unnecessary in the future. But if that’s what people want, they should be working for fail-safe birth control – for women AND men.
Lisa, I’m beginning to hear the term "domestic terrorist" applied to these folks, but so far it’s only on the left wing talk shows and news programs. It will only happen when we actually start to hear it from law enforcement officers.
And I don’t feel brave about this post at all. For me, there’s nothing to be ashamed of in choosing to have an abortion. I hope all women who have had to make this difficult choice feel the same way. However they arrived at that decision, it was the right thing for them at the time.
Alex, you’re the one I’d call "brave," to put yourself on the line like that. I only wish it didn’t have to be done.
I see the loss of life, on both sides, tragic.
And Karen in Ohio, no offense, but I couldn’t disagree with you more about what you call "designer" children. IVF is a ray of hope for women who are having profound issues, and it shouldn’t be denigrated here as a counterpoint to abortion.
Also, an well-reasoned op-ed in the NYTimes today:
Thank you so much for your honesty and willingness to share this experience. I grew up in an America firmly fixed in Roe V. Wade and I cannot imagine a time when women didn’t have this basic right. My respect for America comes from the fact that we discuss these issues, and then we vote. Those who choose violence are fanatics.
I am a Conservative who believes in choice, and this is your collective blog, but I think this was not the right venue for this topic. This opinion may get me booted.
Extremely brave, thoughtful and well written post, Louise.I wish I’d know you there, back then since I lived there, back then, because I’d have gone with you and made sure you didn’t have to walk home from the procedure.
For me voting for Obama was, first amd foremost, ensuring the Supreme Court upholds Roe v Wade. My vote for him was a vote for Roe v Wade.
If Obama did nothing else as President other than pick judges who ensured Roe v. Wade stands, I’d never have anything negative to say about him.
Just think how much more nightmarish it would be women wanting a choice if McCain/Palin had gotten in.
JT, I’m with you on the importance of IVF opportunities for all. And while I think the NY Times essay is a valuable one, there’s one distinction I’d like to make. Lots of folks are saying Tiller was targeting for performing these third trimester abortions. I disagree. He, and every other abortion providing physician, are under attack for any abortion services they provide at all! He was simply one of the most visible.
Stephen, it sounds like you come from a family of genuine respect and love for each other, too. And that’s cool.
I find it amazing that people who believe God was able to create the universe in 144 hours also believe God needs them to handle the situation for Him. If Jesus told this idiot to blow Dr. Vitter away, then I want nothing to do with Him. I’m betting He didn’t.
Abortion will never end by changing laws, but by changing hearts.
PK, you’d never get booted for speaking your mind!
Some folks, like you, may feel that Murderati isn’t the place for a blog post like this.
Murderati, for me, is a conversation between friends getting to know each other. I’ve written here before about my father’s death, my mother’s Alzheimers, my doubts about writing, growing up in Tucson, my guilt about helping to kill a man. Those are all parts of me, and this post is meant to show you another part.
Thanks for your comment, my dear.
Chris, I’m as guilty as these anti-abortion folks in thinking that I have the answer and that my way is the right way. Blind faith … no matter which side of the coin it falls on … is a dangerous thing.
Josephine, you would have been a wonderful friend to have there on that day. I truly did do this alone. I never even phoned to tell my mother until two days later.
This is a heartfelt and beautiful post.
To me, anyone who would kill–or work to incite violence against others–rather than try to find solution in this particular debate is a fanatic. And fanatics scare me.
I had to have an "abortion" when I miscarried. That’s what the doctors called it. For me, it was one of the most devastating experiences in my life. I WANTED to be pregnant.
The issue has become thornier for me over the years; I can see both sides but keep coming back to the fact that no one should have the right to tell another woman what to do with her body when it comes to childbearing. Not unless we’re ready to live the entire reality of THE HANDMAID’S TALE.
what a courageous and moving post. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us!
Thank you, Tess.
And Pari, that reminder of THE HANDMAID’S TALE is a good one. I was awed by the power of that book and the desperate world she imagined.
Louise – I just love you. This was indeed a courageous post. I appreciate you sharing it with us, and like Joseph, wish I’d known you there back then.
That’s a sweet comment, Kaye, from a sweet woman such as yourself.
Louise, everyone has said it, but I’ll add my two cents: heartfelt and brave post.
This is not the way America should work.
We lost "the land of the free", if we ever really had it, a long time ago.
Toni and John, your comments, taken together, made a sad statement about the state of the State. I wish we could all get back to talking, to taking care of each other, and to working together.
Oh, Louise. What a story.
My apologies if what I wrote was taken to condemn those who choose IVF and other procedures. The point I was trying to make was that SOME who condemn those who choose not to carry to term ALSO do not see anything wrong with creating life on their own. For myself, I can see a need for either, or, or both.
Talk of the Nation on NPR today is interviewing doctors who do or do not do abortions. Dr. Tiller was vilified for performing late-term abortions, but he only did the ones that were medically necessary, and peer-reviewed by at least two other medical doctors. In other words, he saved pregnant women from the heartbreak of carrying to term a fetus that had already died, or that had a horrible birth defect, and so on. He did the procedures that other doctors would not or could not do, and performed a very great service, not the evil, horrific act the talk show idiots were saying he did.
Louise — My thinking you were brave didn’t have anything to do with shame, but with the knowledge that there are haterz out there ready to attack you for what you revealed. But you spoke truth anyway, even knowing what might come your way, and that, by definition, is courage.
Thank you, Tom.
Karen in Ohio: I hear you, girl. There was an interesting post the other day (Salon.com? The Daily Beast? I can’t find it again.) written by a young female OB/GYN just coming out of medical school. She’d made the decision that she would be providing abortion services and discussed all the pros and cons going through her mind in deciding that.
Lisa, I’ll claim that as courage.
Terrorism: "The calculated use of violence (or the threat of violence) against civilians in order to attain goals that are political or religious or ideological in nature; this is done through intimidation or coercion or instilling fear." Worldnet Princeton.edu
Anyone who supports such acts is pro-death.
Rob, that sure makes it sound like Rachel Maddow has been correct in her use of the term "domestic terrorists." I’d settle for plain ole’ "criminals."
Thank you for sharing. Powerful post.The image of you spooning the other girl made me tear up.
Whatever a woman or man decides to do with his/her own body is their own damn choice.
America is still the land of the free, but there are those who are working to make it less free on a daily basis in both large and small ugly ways.
Hopefully their voices won’t be the voices that echo into the minds of the generations that come after us.
Beautifully said, Karen from Mentor.
I’m thinking about a post in two weeks called The Other Choice: My Sister’s Story. It’s another kind of freedom.
I chose to have my son. My best friend chose to have an abortion. And we were both there for each other both ways. My son knows, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he’s here because he was wanted, not because some arcane law or some terrorist said I had to have him. He was wanted, and that’s been a mainstay through any troubles we’ve had.
But for Lou, neither of us could imagine her having a child, and as it turns out with her health, that was a better decision than she knew at the time.
I suspect there are some writers here who have listened closely to what has been said, and I would not at all be surprised to see some deeply moving writing come out of this discussion, and perhaps that’s how change begins with something this emotional: bring it to the ficitonal table, safely removed from "them versus us", and begin a true dialogue there.
Fran, you’ve seen both sides … beautifully resolved. From here, maybe we can move through memoir to fiction … And perhaps to stronger laws?
I sent you an email asking you to read "The wellspring of a mother’s love" on my blog. Lest you misunderstand my reason for asking you to read it I wanted to say…..
the line "some possessing the maternal instinct in boundless quantity without ever having been in a delivery room."
Could be on a tee shirt that you wear. I don’t know if you went on to have children, but it is easy to see you tapping into the wellspring. What you said to Cornelia yesterday is just one tiny example.