At the age of 10, I lived in Madrid. The first thing I remember about the event was watching my mother carry a basin-full of blood out of our housekeeper’s room. There was so much blood, and it scared me. The Spanish doctor came, and I heard he and my mother shouting at each other. He was screaming that Angelita (our housekeeper) was just a stupid peasant girl who got what she deserved. Then he stomped out of our apartment, slamming the door. An hour later, a tall African American was at the door. He was a doctor from the US airbase. He went into Angelita’s room and spent hours with her.
What I came to understand later was that my housekeeper had become pregnant. Her fiance was still doing military service and wasn’t allowed to marry, and so, because abortion was illegal in Spain at the time, she had gone to a backstreet abortionist who had almost killed her. When she made it home, she was hemorrhaging badly. My mother called our Spanish doctor who refused to treat her. Finally, she called an American she had only ever met once, and that brave doctor came up from the base, risked his career and probably jail-time, and saved her life. He did it in response to a call from a virtual stranger.
14 years later, despite practicing birth control fanatically (you can imagine, considering my childhood experience), I became pregnant. Despite the fact that I was with a man I loved, I decided – in consultation with him – that neither of us were ready to commit to a life together or to have a family. I went for an abortion. My lover came with me. Sat with me. Held my hand. Asked me, just before I went in whether this was truly what I wanted.
The doctor was an older, spry, witty woman. She was businesslike but very kind. When she had finished the D&C, I asked to see the fetus. She was surprised, but agreed. A lovely, brawny nurse helped me down from the chair and I hobbled, still cramping, over to the counter to look at the small collection of cells in the jar. For me, it was important to acknowledge exactly what I had done. I didn’t want to allow myself the opportunity to ignore the consequences of my actions. Although I have always been pro-choice, I have never entered into the debate about when life starts. To me, this is a non-issue. In that jar, life of some sort had clearly started. This did not cause me to regret my decision, or second-guess my motives for the abortion. It simply made me cognizant that I had done a serious thing and it was important that I take cognitive and moral responsibility for it.
25 years later, I am married to the man who held my hand in that waiting room. We have never had children, because neither of us have ever felt the call to have them. He has no desire to be a father, I have never had a desire to be a mother and, in addition, I carry a strong genetic marker for something quite nasty which I do not want to be responsible for passing on.
I still don’t regret having the abortion, but acknowledging the graveness of the act has caused me to be far more vigilant and informed about the birth control I practiced.
My challenge to anyone who is morally offended by abortion is: show me you really care about ALL the lives involved by being a strong and vocal champion of sex education, social support and easy access to safe and reliable birth control. By far the best and most civilized way to reduce abortions is to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies.
Until Christian conservatives in the US put their considerable energy into preventing unwanted pregnancies, instead of abusing the people who choose to have abortions or the people who facilitate them, I will doubt their REAL sincerity that they are ‘all about life’.
Until then, to me, they will simply be ‘all about dogma’.
To this day, I still clearly remember being that 10 year old little girl, watching some privileged bastard dismiss Angelita’s life as worthless. I remember my mother’s outrage and fear. I remember Angelita’s scared, pale, sweating face, as she lay on a bed surrounded by bloody towels. I knew then WHO anti-abortionists were protecting. And it wasn’t me, or my mother, or Angelita. To them, we were all disposable.
This was written in response to ‘The Day I Went for An Abortion‘ post, over at the Good Men Project