Emily Post has been kidnapped!
In the years following the Roe v. Wade decision, women I had known for years would tell me, in a manner ranging from blithe to bureaucratic, that they had had an abortion, and then wait for me to deliver the expected: “Hey girl, it’s legal!” Sometimes they would add: “I felt bad about it, but I would do it again if I needed to,” then wait for the polite: “You have nothing to feel bad about.” But I couldn’t give the routine answers and keep my integrity at the same time. An unwanted pregnancy can be overwhelming, and it’s not my place to judge, but even when it’s for the most warranted of reasons, to save the life of the mother, somebody dies in an abortion. It’s a sad event, and commentary shouldn’t be tossed out like an aside in a politically correct play about female empowerment performed before a handpicked audience.
So, after a pause I would ask: “Are you okay? No complications?” If they said “Yes,” I would say “Good”—and change the subject. With that they would transform into rabbits sensing a predator; stock still, a wary look from the corner of the eye. Then: “Whoa! You support Roe v. Wade, don’t you?” I would answer, “You’re within the law when you choose abortion”—and change the subject. Now they would go on Full Red Alert. I could practically hear a shrill alarm and the submarine intercom screaming Dive! Dive! as we entered the next absurd stage of the interrogation: “Wait! You do think I did the right thing, don’t you?” Then, to coax me towards the correct response, they’d direct my attention to The Population Explosion, its danger to humanity, and how getting an abortion was actually the civic-minded thing to do.
Emily Post has been kidnapped and replaced with a changeling!
Meanwhile, the shy bunny was becoming a wild, rangy hare you didn’t want to corner; there’d be a wedge between us, a surly silence on her part (a relieved one on mine), and a friendship now strained, or even irrevocably broken, though I hadn’t realized it yet. Revenge is a dish best served cold. Their perception of me was irretrievably damaged because I ignored the cardinal rule of girlfriends in the Roe v. Wade era: When a woman tells you she’s had an abortion, the “nice” thing to do is give unqualified support and tell her she did the right thing because saying anything else is unkind. There was no acknowledgement on their part that good manners would dictate recognizing the discomfort caused when someone’s (mine!) diplomatic attempts to change the subject went ignored.
On one occasion I wasn’t able to escape. The lady prefaced by saying that although she would abort again if she needed to, she did feel bad about it. When I tried to change the subject—after asking if she was okay—she kept saying over and over again that, after all, she did “feel bad about it,” and wouldn’t let up until finally I blurted out: “But not bad enough not to do it!” Her boyfriend was present. He nodded. She said by way of explanation that he had been okay with the pregnancy, but he quickly added that while the abortion was her decision, he supported it. There was no rancor in this exchange. She was being honest enough to admit that her decision wasn’t made because she was alone in the world, and he was acknowledging my point, which was the intellectual dishonesty in thinking that simply “feeling bad,” or even “really bad” about something you would do again doesn’t erase the thing you did. Some of these friendships ended, others recovered. The gal with her boyfriend is one that endured. But another woman went so far as to collaborate with a predatory landlord to get me evicted. (It backfired on both of them.)
It was the majority opinion of Supreme Court Justices that made abortion legal, not the opinion of girlfriends. Granted, now-a-days the opinion of girlfriends, as part of a constituency of pro-life voters, might eventually have some influence on abortion law, but that wasn’t the case when the experiences I’ve described took place. Roe v. Wade was in and humming along and the pro-life movement wasn’t deemed a threat. Sure, the March for Life had been taking place in Washington since Roe’s first anniversary in January 1974, but the media pretty much ignored it, and the movement itself was characterized as a fringe group made up of church ladies, nuns, and angry white men. So why the obsessive need to share one’s abortion history, and then to interrogate and badger in an attempt to get someone to say: “You did the right thing”? They had their law. Supreme Court Justices agreed with them—why must everyone else agree with them?
Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court triggered a Full Red Alert. At some point in his career he had implied that Roe v. Wade was not settled law because a subsequent Supreme Court case, Washington v. Glucksberg, which concerned assisted suicide, had produced a decision (about unenumerated rights) that didn’t comport with Roe. He was making an observation about a point of law. Legal types do that. But the likelihood of this actually being used as a basis for overturning Roe v. Wade is negligible because of stare decisis, Latin for “to stand by things decided.” In other words, Court decisions made many years ago shouldn’t be overturned because they’re now entrenched in the legal system. And, as was spelled out in the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision upholding Roe, “people have organized intimate relationships and made choices that define their views of themselves and their places in society, in reliance on the availability of abortion.”
I believe the real reason Kavanaugh’s academic comment became toxic was due to the extreme umbrage abortion supporters took at the idea that the conversation might be unsettled, that the conversation might be open for examination. “This conversation is over,” they were insisting, as they interrupted hearings and clawed at the doors of the Supreme Court. Which is another way of saying, “I don’t want to think about it anymore.” As legal as abortion is, and in all likelihood will continue to be, a simple truth being avoided is this: Having the legal right to do something doesn’t automatically make it the right thing to do. The law is merely code. It’s not permission to disengage conscience. But that was the approach adopted by abortion activists in 1973, and it remains today.
Ironically, for all the huffing and puffing about “men making decisions about women’s bodies,” it was an all-male Supreme Court that decided Roe v. Wade. To say to oneself: “If they say it is legal, there’s nothing more for me to think about,” is infantile. Daddy said yes. The Supreme Court was daddy, and “The Sisterhood” was mommy, who was there to tuck you in at night and soothe your brow. Nobody would actually put it like this, of course, but it was masked in the whole-hearted “Hey girl, it’s legal!”—the expectation being that, not wanting to seem unkind or lacking in good manners, all women would celebrate their sisters who had abortions.
Emily Post has been kidnapped and her body found in a shallow grave!
Things have changed. Today the methodology is to get women to wear their abortion history as a badge of honor, to be proud of it, even belligerent—like Gloria Steinem and her ilk sporting “I Had an Abortion” t-shirts. It’s strident, pushy, trying too hard. As philosophies go it has all the charm of something that’s gone bad in the fridge. And it’s just another mask, a way to avoid the complexities of aborting, and to repress emotions about it. Yesterday it was the doe-eyed: “I’m still a good girl, aren’t I?” Today that wild, rangy hare has taken center stage.
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We’re living in an age of selective science. In the field of psychiatry it’s agreed that repressed emotions can lead to mental health issues and depression, yet that science is sacrificed in favor of declaring a conversation is settled, at all costs. Any successful movement to improve the lives of women and empower them justly must be confident enough, and grown-up enough, to acknowledge and examine all the intricacies of womanhood. We can do better than this.