A few months ago, our daughter returned from working on a political race in South Dakota. While there, she had bought a documentary about the state referendum on prohibiting abortions, except when the mother’s life was endangered. (The proposed law was defeated in the November 2008 election.) One night, she and I began to watch the documentary, Unplanned Democracy: America’s First Vote on Abortion.
I found I couldn’t finish watching the documentary, no matter how provocative and well-made it was. Watching the first half-hour or so, as the politicians dithered and pontificated and the women and men and children in the street demonstrated and spoke heatedly, I felt nothing as much as an overwhelming fatigue.
Roe v. Wade, decided in early 1973, is now 35 years old. But we are still fighting the same cultural war, still mouthing the same arguments, still locked in a death-embrace of misunderstanding. All these years later, how can that be?
“I can’t watch the rest of this,” I told my daughter, and we turned it off. I tried to talk to her about how this particular issue had played out in the foreground and background of my entire adult life. It made me tired and sad to see nothing had changed. The years had passed, the minds and hearts had hardened, and we’d all gotten older. I still have strong pro-choice beliefs, but I couldn’t bear to re-live the struggle again, on film or in real life. It was time for another generation to step in; mine — speaking personally — was worn out.
Well, so I thought. But then I read today’s newspaper about how three Republicans in the Texas Legislature are trying to push through a bill requiring each woman seeking an abortion to watch an ultrasound of her uterus, while the doctor explains the images and amplifies the fetus’s heartbeat. Freedom is not entirely lost, however: The woman can avert her eyes during this mandatory exercise. That’s because Republicans value freedom from governmental interference when it comes to your eyeballs.
I’m sick of the rampant hypocrisy in a country where an estimated 30-40 percent of women of childbearing age have had abortions, but fail to speak up about it. It’s still one of the great taboos.
I happen to think that abortions are private tragedies — but they often avert greater tragedies. I’ve never regretted the abortion I had in 1974, but it was a wrenching experience I’ll never forget. I can’t imagine how much worse it would have been with right-wing interference and political posturing at the expense of pregnant women.
You want to prevent abortions? Try improving sex education and contraceptive availability and stop kidding yourselves that abstinence education really works. Save us all from these drooling legislative doofuses and conservative zealots who want to bring more kids into the world so they can deny them a good education and comprehensive medical care and any other social services. There’s nothing remotely pro-life about sparing the fetuses, then neglecting the children they become.
(Copyright 2009 by Ruth Pennebaker)