Much of my maternal family is buried Montefriore, a large Jewish cemetery in the suburbs of
When my grandmother speaks of her older sister, she paints a picture of a sweet young woman, in love with life but hampered by a life-long heart condition which required a muted existence. Dating, like most activities, was rare; still, she fell in love with a sensitive, passionate young man by the name of Martin.
Martin moved into the row house Ray shared with my grandmother and great-grandmother, starting their common-law marriage.
Then, Ray discovered she was pregnant. Terrified that childbirth would overstrain her fragile heart, she went to the family doctor to seek an abortion.
Though abortion was legally permissible should a doctor deem it necessary for the mother’s health, and though the family doctor gave Ray only a 50/50 chance of surviving childbirth, he refused to terminate the pregnancy.
By my grandmother’s account, Ray was hysterical when she arrived home from the doctor that day. But a friend knew a woman…
In a turn of brutal irony normally saved for O’Henry stories, Ray died from an infection caused by the procedure meant to save her; she was 20 years old.
The story of Ray, my phantom aunt, and Dana L (News and Record, What happens when there is no plan B?, Sunday, June 18, 2006) illustrate a hushed fact about the women who have abortions.
Dana, you may recall, was married and financially stable when she decided to terminate her accidental pregnancy. Her decision was based on a cholesterol medicine she took, known to cause birth defects, coupled with being at an age (42) when birth defects become increasingly more likely, coupled with her inability to get a prescription for Plan B emergency contraception which would have prevented the pregnancy altogether.
So what is this elusive, hushed secret that neither side of the abortion debate wants to discuss?
Pro-lifers would have you believe that most women who have abortions are immoral and promiscuous, using abortion with frivolity as a means of birth control; pro-choicers try to convince us that a fertilized egg isn’t a life and therefore not deserving of any sort of emotional attachment.
But the two-part quiet truth is that most women who have abortions are average, wonderful women. They serve you your food, they teach your children, they run your companies. Chances are you have loved or respected or appreciated a woman who had an abortion.
The other half of the secret is that the decision to have an abortion wasn’t easy for a single one of them. Those women felt the quickening of life within them and knew that they couldn’t allow it to grow because they were physically, emotionally, financially or otherwise unfit. For years after having an abortion, women report dreams of their unborn child and the feeling that every misfortune is punishment for their decision.
Perhaps if pro-lifers could express their opposition without degrading the women involved and pro-choicers could admit that the decision is painful and long-lasting, we could get beyond our picket-line battle cries and truly start to communicate.
This article was first published in the News and Record on June 28, 2006