@infinite_scream on Twitter is going to be very busy this summer. And autumn. And decade…
…and voting has never been more critical.
Today, as a part of the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) majority, two cisgender males — each of whom has been credibly accused of sexual assault — confirmed the notion that in 2022 America, a man has more power over what he can do with a woman’s body than the woman does.
Indeed, SCOTUS has been very busy this week. This tweet pretty much sums things up:
Guns are more treasured than people with vaginas. This, tragically, is not news, but it remains heinous.
As I write this, just hours after SCOTUS overturned Roe v Wade, dismantling a woman’s federal right to access legal abortion, I have the news on in the background. The newscaster is marking off states that, with their new powers, are now banning abortion. If the sound was off, one might think it was an election coverage, noting states where the votes have been counted. And, in many ways, it is. It is certainly the starkest manifestation I’ve witnessed of the power and importance of the vote.
Voting has consequences.
NOT VOTING also has consequences.
Today I’m thinking of my late father who, in 2016, decided not to vote for the first time in his adult life. He despised Donald Trump and repeatedly forewarned anyone who would listen that a Trump presidency — and the campaigns leading up to one — reminded him of the years before Hitler’s reign preceding WWII. A war my father went off to fight at 18 years of age. Fighting that fight was the right thing to do.
But he wouldn’t vote for Hillary Clinton, he said, because she is pro-choice. He agreed that she was infinitely qualified and acknowledged that even if he didn’t love her personality, he respected her decades of experience. Yet, fighting for women’s rights to choose was not a strong enough call for him to vote for her, or against Donald Trump.
“It’s one vote. What difference will it make? I’ll sleep better at night if I sit this one out, kiddo. Plus, there is no way that Manhattan sleazebag Trump can win,” my father said.
And yet, here we are.
Those one-off votes that “didn’t matter” added up and Trump lied his way into office. The misogyny and patriarchal views that run rampant throughout our governmental systems were revitalized. Championed by Trump and supported by his sycophants, they have facilitated this free-fall from democracy that led to today, to what is possibly the first SCOTUS decision ever to rescind a civil right of American citizens. We excel in failing to give all citizens the rights they deserve, but we’ve never before taken one away that we’d previously confirmed.
I shudder to think of what rights will be revoked next, but today that lost right is a federal guarantee of access to safe and legal abortion.
I’ve never written about abortion personally before today. The shame I felt around the issue of my own physical agency kept me whispering in the shadows. Raised Catholic, these messages of shame were hard-wired and it continues to take me my lifetime to relearn that my body belongs to me and only me.
And now, today, my shame is really about the fact that despite a lifetime of fighting for human rights, I’ve never dared to write explicitly about abortion. To write about my own abortion and the shame I’ve held onto for the past four decades.
To be clear, I’ve never regretted my decision to end a pregnancy at 20 years old. Not once. It was the right choice for me and I’m forever grateful that I was, ultimately, able to make that choice for myself. That pregnancy was unplanned and very much unwanted as it was the result of having been date-raped while passed out.
One reader’s take on that last sentence will probably be that it was my fault, how could I let that happen? But I hope that other readers’ takes will be that a man took advantage of a woman who could not speak for herself at that moment.
Shame. Even here, I’m trying to justify myself to readers I’ll never meet.
My biggest challenge was that I had never developed any sense that my body was mine to protect or that I was worth protecting.
I’m still educating myself on the practice of self-respect all these decades later, but I never wavered in my choice because I was utterly unprepared to parent a child. I didn’t know how to love or properly protect myself and couldn’t fathom stretching those flimsy life skills I was just developing to extend to the needs of anyone else. That decision was the easy part.
But getting to the appointment, literally to the procedure, was anything but straightforward. Navigating the system was a nightmare which is why I feel compelled to share my story now.
In 1984, I was a young privileged white woman who’d had the luxury of saving the money I’d earned from working and using it to travel. More than a year and change into solo travel around Oceana, I was confirmed pregnant while living in New Zealand, although that pregnancy had started in Australia a month or so earlier.
At the time, New Zealand was redefining what access to abortion looked like for its citizens.
The local doctor I first saw congratulated me on my pregnancy and said I was built for having babies. “Those hips and that waist, giving birth will be a breeze!” When my face must have looked confused, perhaps horrified, he added, “But, of course, you have decisions to make.” He then handed me a pamphlet I would never read.
The woman I was working for, as a nanny for her two young daughters, Mrs. G., helped me secure an appointment at a hospital-based family planning clinic in a town some four hours away by bus, longer with snow in the winter. Because, of course, it was winter.
Once there, I spent one night in a hotel near the hospital and then checked into the clinic in the morning. I was met by a matronly woman who has since morphed in my memory into an Aunt Lydia from Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. My matron showed me to my room, encouraged me to find something to eat, and said that she’d meet me in her office at our set time for my first interview.
In the cafeteria, I found a few heavily pregnant women along with some new mothers, nursing their infants, gathered around tables or reclining on couches as they watched the Los Angeles Summer Olympics on a boxy TV that was suspended on the wall above a vending machine for snacks.
Everything in that room felt incongruent, from the reverse seasons to my distressed Californian soul which temporarily longed for familiarity as images of my warm home state flipped past on the television while snow fell outside the room where I sat.
The Soviet Union, along with thirteen then labeled “Eastern bloc” countries, boycotted the XXIII Olympiad which bore the motto Play a Part in History.
I felt trapped in a parallel universe, my world upside down.
My meeting with my designated Aunt Lydia was in her large office located directly across from the viewing gallery in the maternity ward. As I waited on the seat outside her office, I listened to babies burble and wail while my stomach lurched.
Once in her office, Aunt Lydia asked me a series of questions about my life and how I saw my future. I answered, trying to sound like a woman who envisioned a future filled with options and unbounded potential. As I answered her probing, I waited for actual intake questions — height, weight, age, medical history, and so on — so I could get on with the procedure and the business at hand. Those questions never came. Not that day, nor the next, nor even the next.
For three days, I roomed in an extension of the hospital’s maternity wing, listening to the sounds of women pushing through contractions and the rushing around of medical staff as alarms sounded and machines beeped, punctuated, of course, by the screaming of newborns as they were thrust out into the harsh cold world that might one day judge them, too.
Although abortion had been officially legal in New Zealand since the late 1930s, tolerance of the procedure was still largely unaccepted. As attitudes around sex and women’s rights heated up in the 1960s, so did the debates around reproductive health rights and, in particular, abortion.
From 1974–1983, laws were changed in New Zealand and, in theory, it became much easier for one to access safe and legal abortions on that island nation. In the bigger cities, where there might have been more pro-choice activists, I’d like to think this was the case. Where I was, however, was the smaller municipality of Dunedin in the south of the country and it didn’t seem social acceptance had caught up with legislation.
The Aunt Lydia counselor I was required to see became my interrogator and ultimately took it upon herself to decide that my case did not meet the criteria for an abortion. She delivered the news with a smile and assured me that I was a bright young woman and that I’d be able to tackle motherhood easily.
She didn’t say “Those hips and that waist” like the doctor I’d first seen, but she might as well have. There must have also been a medical visit at that hospital, but if so, it didn’t register in my brain. Maybe I’ve just blocked it out.
No, what I remember is that I had no actual say in the business of my body. No matter my protestations, tears, or disappointment, my wishes were not to be honored.
Following half a week spent waiting with the neonates for my future to be judged, I took the bus back to Queenstown and reported to Mrs. G., the only other person who knew of my predicament, that the abortion had been denied. Meanwhile, days were passing and my window of time for a safe procedure — wherever it might happen — was narrowing.
Early the next morning, Mrs. G. was busy organizing my abrupt departure from New Zealand, a flight to Australia, and yet another hotel and abortion clinic where I’d try my luck again; this time across the Tasman Sea.
In the end, I had the abortion two days later in Sydney. I spent a few nights alone in a hotel next to the clinic. I prepared alone, went through the procedure alone, and recovered alone. And I bled alone. I bled so much.
Then I never spoke of it again. I was not sad. I did not question myself. To this day, I still have no regrets whatsoever about ending that pregnancy. None.
On the other hand, increasing by the day, I do have tremendous trepidation and concern for future generations of people living in the USA.
My disgust with this SCOTUS decision to revoke a federal right for pregnant people is shared by many. Particularly when we think of the already existing health inequities in the USA. Doubly so when factoring in that our health care system — which was already inadequate — has been decimated by the COVID-19 pandemic which IS NOT YET OVER!
Rich people will still gain access to abortion services as they always have. Thus the burden of this decision will fall disproportionally on those without the social or financial capital to bypass laws. Abortions will not stop but maternal mortality and morbidity will increase. BIPOC pregnant people will suffer the most, as they always have, as a result of this decision handed down by predominately white cisgender males.
But I sincerely hope that most people who’ve accessed abortions have not experienced the trauma I did of having to travel from place to place, pleading my case, only to be denied the medical procedure I needed and had the right to access.
We cannot allow our country to go back 50 (or more) years. Millennials, Gen-Z, Gen-Alpha, and all who will follow do not deserve this. Gen-Z is feisty. I know this because I have the privilege of working with them, and my money is on them to reshape our future for the better but their path is already fraught with obstacles and seeming impossibilities.
Nobody — no body — should ever have to endure the psychological trauma of being denied agency over their physical existence. Nobody. I’ve always fought for the rights of all pregnant people to make their own choices regarding their bodies. That will never stop. But I must be louder. I must own this.
To quote ACTUP, “Silence = Death.”
Remember that motto from the 1984 Olympics: Play a Part in History. We have a lot of screaming to do. Never give in. Never.