Ann Marie Beckley was born, and not aborted, in 1932. In that year, illegal abortions killed an estimated 5,000 to 10,000 women.
In 1972, Ann Marie Beckley, after seven still-births and five daughters, aborted her thirteenth pregnancy in New York, the only state in the nation in which the procedure was legal. Her Catholic husband had refused to use contraceptives.
Ann Marie Beckley survived the procedure. The greatest injuries that she suffered as a result of her abortion were incurred afterward, in beatings delivered by my grandfather in their New Jersey home.
She felt guilty about the abortion. This was, perhaps, unremarkable, given my grandfather’s habit of greeting her, afterwards, as “the murderer of his only son.” Years later, he called her that in front of the police; the officers saw that Ann needed to be hospitalized, and heard their eldest daughter’s pleas to arrest her father for assault. But they understood, they were men. It was recorded as a “domestic squabble.”
Times change. By 1986, feminism had been declared dead because, its eulogists decreed, its sole purpose — advocating legal contraception and abortion — seemed irreversibly achieved. One feminist (BR ’77) gave birth to a (planned) daughter in that year, and to another (unplanned) in 1989. She told her daughters that feminism was not dead, but that abortion and contraception were indeed irreversibly legal.
Mother was wrong.
In funding, political acuity, and organization, groups that oppose legal abortion are eviscerating the groups that support it. Politicians know it; Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani have spent the past year renouncing their old, recorded, interpretations of civil rights. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards argue that abortion is “a necessary evil” rather than a reason for women’s happiness and a human right from which all citizens staggeringly benefit. The Supreme Court upheld the “Partial Birth Abortion Ban,” a title that Bush’s Congress felt was synonymous with “The Ban of a Perfectly Safe Procedure by which an Unviable Fetus, which is, Definitively, Unborn, is Aborted.” The Court argued, without precedent, and in contradiction to all science (including even the medical findings of Surgeon General investigations begun by multiple Republican administrations because Reagan “had a hunch” that women suffered “Post-Abortion Stress Syndrome”), that abortion wrought psychological damage to the women who had them.
Though legal abortions are safer, medically, than childbirth in America, and though abortion is a relatively non-invasive procedure to terminate a non-human life, the legality of abortion is no longer safe. If a justice dies, if a Republican is elected to the presidency, women’s constitutional right to their own bodies will be further eroded: The government, to protect you from guilt, from infertility, from hell, denies you, kidnaps your body, and your womb is the ransom.
Though the groups opposed to abortion are winning, there is no “abortion debate.” Abortion’s acquaintance with humanity is contemporaneous with pregnancy’s. It was never about abortion. Abortion is true, and human, and regardless of the law will continue to be a human behavior. The current, and false, opposition of “life versus choice” is peculiar to American politics because it is a whitewash, one that obfuscates the two real questions that, despite the spilling of ink and blood, have remained unresolved for millennia.
The first question: Is fact received by God, or the product of secular inference?
The second, though it came first: Is chaos the immutable consequence of women’s freedom?
Accept Eve, or History: The necessity of abortion to women’s integrity, safety and happiness is true whether or not orphanages become better environments, rape ends, and teenagers stop becoming pregnant. While the physical, psychological, and social consequences of intercourse, pregnancy, and motherhood continue to be so disproportionately divided — as though by a drunk — between the sexes, an 80 percent male Congress cannot legislate gynecology. And a social movement that requires female guilt, that reduces the true and uninterrupted misery that women, and not men, experience as “sex” to “God’s plan,” and their choice to abort to a “sin,” words like “baby-killer” should be removed to the shelf that stows apartheid bigotries, and sit next to the word “nigger.”
And the real point that is never made is not about women’s rights, which are fundamental though pathologically qualified: It is that no one has the right to be a parent. We license marriage, driving, ownership of a handgun. But two teenagers can fuck and if a child is the consequence — fine, no problem. That child will somehow be provided for by the children it has for parents. The American government is, right now, aborting lots of 75th trimester Iraqis. When our 75th trimester babies (18-year-olds) are aborted in Iraq, the nation lauds their souls and loyalty and sacrifice but considers their right to life insignificant in comparison to our national interest. The right-wing keeps death row. The right-wing opposes taxes that will pay for better public schools. The right-wing thinks that owning a gun, a weapon that is designed to kill people, is a Constitutional right. The right-wing loves the unborn till they are alive. Parenthood is the only sacred commitment in life, not a responsibility we must expect children, or the unwilling, or the unable, to shoulder when intercourse leads to pregnancy. Protecting unborn life is about ensuring that children are only born, to parents that both want and are able to provide for them. This would require a radical legislative agenda.
But mother was wrong again: Feminism is dead.
Olivarius-McAllister is Political Action Coordinator of the Yale Women’s Center. She is a junior in Branford College.