Abortion and Political Football – by Deborah Levine

(Originally appeared in The Chattanooga Times Free Press)

I hate the idea of abortion. I hate everything about it and I know I have plenty of company. No one has warm fuzzy thoughts about abortion. Whether you’re pro or anti-abortion, the term evokes pain and suffering as well as sorrow and mourning, Abortion has been a political football for as long as I remember, but the game has become more intense than ever.

Abortion was just a whisper in high school back in the sixties when a friend got pregnant at sixteen. She had the baby, dropped out of school, and never returned. It wasn’t an uncommon story since Roe vs. Wade didn’t became law until 1973. Birth control pills weren’t even a whisper because while legal in 1965, it was only for married couples. Unmarried women weren’t allowed to purchase birth control until 1972, another seven years.

The timing meant that in my teens and my entire time in college, young unmarried women either remained celibate or ran the risk of being an unmarried, pregnant, and derailed from any hopes and dreams. This was the Age of Aquarius when “Free Love” was sung about with great passion. But I remember it being free mainly for the guys, the fraternities, and the occasional male faculty member.

One of my dormitory mates found that she was pregnant during an affair with her teacher. She’d been unable to get birth control pills because she was unmarried. Desperate and terrified, she threw herself down a flight of stairs to try and abort. I never saw her again and I was too afraid to ask why. If she’d been wealthier, she could have traveled to Mexico to get an abortion like another dorm mate did when she found that she was pregnant.

A third friend, also with little money, sought out what we called, a Back-Alley Abortionist. Keep in mind that just because abortion was illegal, doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen. Rather, women like my friend were maimed, infected, and rendered incapable of ever giving birth. These self-appointed abortionists and the image of a coat hanger as their tool of choice, are often cited as the main reason why Roe vs. Wade was passed. As with ending Prohibition, legalization meant licensing, inspections, and legal requirements.

Today’s anti-abortionists are anticipating arguments about the negative affects of Back-Alley Abortionists by calling it all fake news. In the article, The coat hanger is a lie: Why the ‘back-alley abortion’ argument fails, the writer goes further, saying that even if the stories were true, maimed women don’t merit legalizing abortion. Parents should have to bear the consequences. Note that the article emphasizes parents, not women. I hear an echo of empowering married couples while diminishing pregnant women without husbands to guide their decision making.

The fight for the sanctity of human life is now targeted directly at the Supreme Court. It will dominate our politics, unlike the sanctity of life for minor Latinos at our border, five of whom have died in recent months. The abortion debate is intensifying partly because it’s enmeshed with the future color of America’s skin. It’s not surprising that many loud voices against Roe vs. Wade are White males.

The intensity means a demeaning of pro-choice people. Check out the growing online lists of patronizing comments, snarky insults, and worrying threats. But women won’t throw themselves down that flight of stairs or return to back alleys. They are running quickly onto the field of this political football game. They will fight with passion and determination for their bodies, their safety, and their dignity.


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