Fifteen years ago, I sat across the dinner table from a Texas state district court judge. He was a neighbor — short, pompous, red-faced and self-absorbed — and I can’t even remember why we were having dinner with him. He did like to talk, though. I remember that.
“I’ve never yet met a woman,” he announced over the entree, “who didn’t regret having an abortion.”
I exchanged glances with my husband.
“Oh, really?” I said. “Well, you’ve met one now.”
Now, I’m not in the habit of bringing up my abortion at dinner parties. I’m a very private person and getting an abortion was a very personal decision.
But I also have a profound dislike for morons, especially those in judicial robes, who completely lack appreciation of their own limitations. And, over the years, I’ve come to believe it’s wrong for women like me to remain silent when we have the chance to speak up. We have to be public about those very private choices we’ve made in our own lives.
So, I told this man — and, to his credit, he did listen — about the decision I’d made. I talked about how I hadn’t been ready for children, how I’d known that my husband and I wouldn’t have been good parents all those years ago, when both of us were young and still in school. We’d always been conscientious about birth control, but it had failed us. We were fortunate that Roe v. Wade had been passed by the U.S. Supreme Court a year earlier, so abortion was legal, safe and available.
“I regretted getting pregnant,” I said, “but I’ve never regretted the abortion.”
Thirty-five years after Roe v. Wade, I’m still convinced that a decision to abort is a sad one. But I didn’t need this judge — or Justices Scalia, Alito, Thomas, Kennedy or Roberts — to weigh in on my choice. They know nothing of me or my life. They know nothing of the icy fear of an unwanted pregnancy that can irrevocably change a woman’s life.
As you get older, it’s too easy to forget those fears, easier not to speak up. But then I think of my daughter and the young women of her generation — especially those from limited circumstances who can’t afford to travel for abortions, whose young lives could be ruined without access to freedom of choice.
Yes, I do think abortions are sad choices. But the alternative — having no choice at all — is far worse, far sadder.
(Copyright 2008 by Ruth Pennebaker)