In 1934, at the height of the Great Depression, my father’s half sister was married with two children. Her husband was unemployed, could not find a job and they were desperately poor. Then she found out she was pregnant. Her husband went crazy and demanded she “get rid of it.” Less than a week later she was dead from a botched abortion, leaving two small children motherless and a husband who blamed himself until the day he died.
The family swept it under the rug, telling people she died from “dropsy”, scarlet fever and any other excuse they could come up with. I didn’t learn the truth until I was almost thirty years old, fifty years after she died.
My mother lived through the thalidomide scare in the late ’50s. She saw deformed babies born, forced into birth by a legal system that refused to allow their mothers to abort them. One such mother served with her on the PTA board of my elementary school. One of her friends contracted German measles early in pregnancy. She begged for an abortion and was turned down. She was forced into carrying the pregnancy to term and the baby was born horribly deformed. It only lived a few days.
These things scarred my mother and she became radically pro-choice and in the late ’60s became politically active for legalization.
Then, in 1970, when I was 17 years old, I was brutally assaulted, beaten and raped. I became pregnant as a result. On July 7, 1970, one week after abortion became legal in that state, my mother borrowed a thousand dollars from friends and put me in her car and drove me to Emporia, Kansas. I was hospitalized for three days after the abortion but it was clean, safe, I was cared for and it was LEGAL. More than anything she and I both were grateful that I was actually permitted to have it.
Over the course of the years after that, my mother personally funded several abortions; three of them were for her own granddaughters. Others were “pay it forward’s” in gratitude to the friend that funded mine.
In many ways I am glad that my mother is no longer alive to see what has happened in the same state that, over forty years ago, gave me a second chance at life; the same state that killed George Tiller and now forces women with anencephalic children to bear them. It would break her heart.