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General News    H3'ed 7/14/19

Tomgram: Rebecca Gordon, I Had an Abortion and Now I'm Not Ashamed

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Abortion is about women and women only, right? Their bodies, their pregnancies, their lives. This is a common enough assumption, even though my own experience 36 years ago tells me something different -- and even though perhaps no one is playing a greater role, when it comes to abortion, than a man who is the center of everyone's attention these days. You know, the fellow accused by at least 24 women of a wide range of sexual misconduct who, from Supreme Court nominations to "gag rules," has been leading the charge of "his" evangelical base's attempt to turn abortions, as in my youth, into back-alley affairs for desperate women.

Yes, when Donald Trump was still a New York entrepreneur, he publicly held a position on abortion that usefully fit his world. "I am very pro-choice," he told NBC's Tim Russert in 1999. He had even co-sponsored a dinner to honor the president emeritus of the National Abortion Rights Action League at the Plaza Hotel, which he then owned (though in the end he didn't attend, possibly because of death threats). Now, he pushes quite a different but no less useful position for, well, Donald Trump -- and that's hardly a surprise since, for him, it's never been about women, their bodies, or their pregnancies; it's always been, and always will be, about him.

As I view, with a certain horror, the spread of anti-abortion legislation, red state by red state, across significant parts of the country and as I await a possible Supreme Court-ordered end to the Roe v. Wade era, I can't help but think of my own involvement with abortion as a man. In fact, it's hard for me not to write that my wife and I had an abortion in 1983, 36 years ago, 10 years after Roe v. Wade became the law of the land. Obviously, that would be a ridiculous thing to claim (though not to feel). My wife was the one who had the abortion of a fetus with an anomaly, a future child we had both wanted. But for me, as for her, it was a difficult, painful choice that would haunt me for years (though I believe that we made exactly the right decision for our family). I've thought often, in these years, of what that decision would have been like in an era when abortion was again under siege. And here we are. The Republican Party and the evangelical movement, with the help of a president who cares above all about staying in the White House, are literally on the war path again. (Evangelicals represented one quarter of the 2016 vote and 80% of them went Trump's way.) What a nightmare of interference in the lives and fates of both women and men. And all of this came to mind again when TomDispatchregular Rebecca Gordon sent me today's piece in which, almost half a century later, she movingly comes to grips with her own abortion experience. Tom

The Personal Is Still Political
And It's Planetary, Too
By Rebecca Gordon

I have never said this publicly before, but in December 1974 I had an abortion.

I was 22 years old, living in a cold, dark house in Portland, Oregon, spending my days huddled in front of a wood stove trying to finish my undergraduate senior thesis. I did not want to have a baby. I didn't know what would come next in my life, but I knew it would not include raising a child. Until the moment the doctor told me I was pregnant -- we didn't have at-home tests in those days -- I'd always believed that, although it was perfectly ethical for other women to have abortions, I would never do so. In that electric instant, however, I knew that what I had believed about myself was wrong.

My boyfriend wanted to cheer me up. "Put on your coat," he said. "We're going somewhere." He was a kind guy and we'd bonded over a shared interest in all things mechanical. I'd fallen in love with him a couple of years before when he'd taught me how to replace the ball joints on an ancient Rambler station wagon. I was probably even more in love with his raucous Irish Catholic family, especially his mother, the family matriarch, who'd graduated from Portland State long after giving birth to the last of her own six children.

My boyfriend was sweet, but his emotional imagination was a bit limited. That particular day, his idea of cheering me up turned out to be a visit to a local plumbing store, where we took in the wonders of flexible cables and bin after bin of nicely made solid brass fittings. You won't be surprised to learn that the excursion left me inadequately cheered.

What he may have lacked in emotional skills, however, he more than made up for in moral sensitivity. Some years later, long after we'd split up and I'd begun my first serious relationship with a woman, I asked him why we'd never talked about the abortion. "I knew it had to be up to you," he explained, "and I know you usually try to give other people what they want. Once you'd decided, I didn't want to risk saying anything to change your mind." Unlike many men, including our current president, my boyfriend believed that decisions about my body were mine alone to make.

Not Bad Luck, But a Bit Sloppy

In some ways, I was lucky. For one thing, early pregnancy made me queasy, so I recognized what was going on soon enough to have a simple termination. That was a piece of luck because I hadn't menstruated for over a year, so I didn't figure it out the way most women do -- by missing my period.

My gynecologist misdiagnosed my failure to menstruate. He was so fascinated by the fact that one of my parents was of Ashkenazi Jewish descent that he never thought to ask me whether I'd been starving myself to achieve something vaguely approaching Twiggy-like thinness. Being underweight is a much more common cause of missing periods than genetic disease. He blamed my amenorrhea on an obscure condition that afflicts Jewish women with eastern European ancestry and then added, "But I don't understand it. You don't have any of the other symptoms." In any case, he told me that, if I ever wanted to conceive I would probably have to take medication. Or, as it turned out, gain a few pounds.

I was also lucky that it was 1974. Only the year before the Supreme Court had affirmed my right to end a pregnancy in its landmark Roe v. Wade ruling. Overnight, the decision to have an abortion had become a private matter between my doctor and me. Even before Roe, Oregon was one of the few states that permitted abortion with only one restriction -- a 30-day residency requirement. As a college dormitory resident assistant, I'd already accompanied a fellow student to the clean, professional clinic in Portland for a pre-Roe abortion.

People in California weren't so lucky. My present partner who went to the University of California, Berkeley, recalls that her friends had to travel to Tijuana, Mexico, for abortions, where they knew no one, didn't speak the language, and could only hope that they wouldn't end up sick, injured, or infertile.

My doctor had privileges at that same Portland clinic and the arrangements were simple. I was less lucky, however, in that my private health insurance, like most then and now, did not cover an abortion. It cost $400 -- equivalent to somewhere between $2,078 and $2,175 in today's dollars. That was a lot of money for a couple of scholarship students to put together. Fortunately, we'd set aside some of what we'd made the previous summer painting houses for my boyfriend's father.

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)

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