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.