1.22.2008

blog for choice: 35 years on

Blog for Choice Day


Today is the 35th anniversary of the passage of Roe v. Wade. I went back to see what I wrote for last year's Blog For Choice efforts, and decided I would post it again.

I am pro-choice because I am a human being.

I am pro-choice because I deserve control over my body.

I am pro-choice because without reproductive freedom, women are slaves.

I am pro-choice because I know the difference between a human being and a blob of cells.

I am pro-choice because no government has the right of absolute control. The government's rights stop where my body begins.


"A woman's right to choose" has become the euphemism for abortion, but choice is much more than the right to terminate a pregnancy. Choice is bodily integrity. Bodily integrity means freedom from rape, freedom from unwanted pregnancies, from forced or coerced sterilization. It means freedom to love and create families with whom we choose. Choice - bodily integrity - is the very bedrock of freedom.

In Canada, the equivalent of Roe is R. v. Morgentaler (1988), later clarified and expanded in R. v. Morgentaler (1993).

Who is this Morgentaler?, non-Canadian readers may ask. He is Henry Morgentaler, a Holocaust survivor, an immigrant to Canada, and one of the great heroes of freedom. The motto of his Toronto clinic: "Every Mother a willing Mother, Every Child a wanted Child".

Although R. v. Morgentaler is often compared to Roe, Morgentaler is better law: it serves women much more fully. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that laws criminalizing abortion violate a woman's right (under section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms) to "security of person". "Security of person," to my mind, means bodily integrity.

In the War Resisters Support Campaign, I work alongside Canadian women who fought that fight in the 1980s. And they won! Veterans of the American pro-choice movement may cry when they read the Morgentaler Clinic's FAQ. Canada is not a perfect place, but this means more to me than I can say.

Since the 1988 ruling, there are no laws regulating abortion in Canada.

I recently read this New York Times book review about another everyday hero of freedom.
This Common Secret - My Journey as an Abortion Doctor
By Susan Wicklund with Alan Kesselheim


Reviewed by Eyal Press

One morning in January 1991, Susan Wicklund arrived at work wearing a heavy coat of makeup and a curly auburn wig pulled over her half-inch-long gray hair. It was a get-up worthy of a double agent, and it succeeded in helping Wicklund slip unnoticed across enemy lines, though not without feeling as if she’d stepped into a version of "The Twilight Zone." "Why do I have to do this?" she scrawled in her journal afterward. "WHY?"

The price of concealment is the central theme of Wicklund's memoir, "This Common Secret," which offers a rare glimpse into the life of an abortion provider who, like her dwindling band of peers, learned to don an array of disguises over the course of her tumultuous and peripatetic career. Wicklund grew up in a small community in rural Wisconsin populated by gun owners and deer hunters. She went on to become a reproductive health specialist who helped staff abortion clinics in five states, mostly in the Midwest, places that, by the late 1980s, had become veritable combat zones.

Wicklund's daughter, Sonja, who contributes an epilogue in which she recalls breaking down every time she learned that another abortion provider had been shot, saw her mother as a pillar of strength who never let the wrath of anti-abortion protesters faze her. As it turns out, the stoic demeanor was as deceptive as the wig. The unstinting pressure — "Wanted" signs bearing her photo posted up around town, throngs of demonstrators amassed outside the places where she worked — often drove Wicklund to tears. She took to carrying a loaded .38-caliber revolver. She watched what she said to strangers, sometimes even to relatives, refusing for years to tell her grandmother she performed abortions out of fear she'd disapprove. When Wicklund finally divulged the secret, her grandmother shared one of her own: at 16, her best friend had gotten pregnant, most likely following an act of incest. She'd tried to help her end the pregnancy with a sharp object, and watched her bleed to death.

"This Common Secret" does not attempt to offer a comprehensive account of the abortion conflict, much less an evenhanded one. Though Wicklund claims to respect those who harbor moral qualms about abortion, her book makes no effort to engage critics of Roe v. Wade. The narrative has a somewhat slapdash feel — a journal entry on one page, a flurry of statistics on the next — and, though recounted in the first person, lacks a distinctive voice, perhaps because the book was written with a co-author.

Yet in setting down her story, Wicklund has done something brave, not only by refusing to cower in the shadows but also by recounting experiences that don’t always fit the conventional pro-choice script. Before receiving her medical training, Wicklund had an abortion herself. She was asked no questions, offered no advice and left the clinic feeling violated. Years later, she terminated the pregnancy of a woman who’d been raped and wanted an abortion. Afterward, Wicklund examined the product of conception and discovered the pregnancy had occurred two weeks earlier, meaning it was not a consequence of the rape. Both she and the patient were horrified.

Opponents of abortion might view such episodes as proof that abortion is evil. For Wicklund, they are what drove and inspired her to help each woman she encountered make an informed, truly independent choice. At a clinic she ran in Montana, this meant placing the emphasis on counseling, which sometimes strengthened a patient’s resolve to terminate her pregnancy and other times led her to reconsider and bear the child instead. Wicklund may never convince the protesters who demonized her that women should be free to make such decisions on their own. But in sharing her secrets, she has shown why there is much honor in having spent a lifetime attempting to ensure they do.

And finally, here is my essay about the hollow state of reproductive freedom in the US, which I wrote in 2005: "For Millions of American Women, Roe Is Already History". It hasn't gotten any better.

Celebrate Roe: Celebrate Freedom.

2 comments:

Rhea said...

Thank you for writing about Roe v. Wade.

Nigel Patel said...

Here here!