Teri Orr: My choice is mine…
I was 26 with two very wanted children, 5 and 3. I was getting divorced. Cindy worked in my clothing store for children. She was about my age but so very ’70s single. She was all the parts of my youth I was and yet had missed. I loved her free spirit.
She came to me one day saying she would need a day off and a ride — to Reno — about an hour from where we lived in Tahoe City. I said — of course. She asked how I felt about abortion. This was just a few short years after Roe v. Wade had become the law of the land. The first years were pretty tricky. Abortion may have been legal but it wasn’t easy.
I drove her to Reno and asked her just once if she was sure this was the best decision for her. I offered support if she chose to keep the child. She said it was really her only choice. I didn’t ask anything else. I took her to lunch and then drove her to the address she had been given — a tiny nondescript brick house. I used the time to walk the mall. There was something comforting in the distraction of Sears being Sears, the candy counter and make-up samples. I came back at the appointed time. She was sitting quiet and very pale on a bench out front. I was morally — in favor of abortion — as a right to choose but with some hesitations I hadn’t unpacked. Cindy was subdued. I asked her carefully if she was OK. She said it was different this time. I asked her what she meant by “this time” and she shared — this was her third abortion in as many years.
It was a decade later and with a second marriage imploding — now in this state — when I sat in my doctor’s office and he told me — given all my circumstances and the odds about the fetus I was carrying — he really could only recommend an abortion. He promised to help me through the process and he did. It was a sad day and a decision I didn’t reach lightly. I think about that choice every year — at unexpected times.
In the early ’90s I became part of a group of people — who moved women across the country in a kind of Underground Railroad way — out of abusive life-threatening relationships. We helped them start life over — safely — with folks who would care for them — find them housing and work, enroll their kids in school. Create new identities. One out of three women are victims of domestic violence. And these groups — though far more professional and supportive with funds and the muscle of law enforcement — are still finding safe havens for women threatened by men.
And now it has come together in an ugly way — all those years, votes, lives disrupted, damaged, threatened — just for women to have the autonomy to make their own choices about their own bodies. After the vote in Alabama on Tuesday night to make abortions illegal all over again — this time women had a new tool to use to fight the patriarchy — the internet. Closed groups sprung into action promising to help women move across state lines — give them rooms, rides and shoulders to cry on.
We became a group of Aunties in a keystroke — first in the States, then quickly Canada, then globally. It was dubbed the The Pink Railroad by the media within hours. With promises to help came stories from women often tying the unwanted pregnancy to domestic violence — rapes, beatings — fear for their existing children. Incest — there were so very many stories of a relative who thought it was his right to violate a woman he was related to.
We have as many reasons as we have hairs on our head, but we all have one irrefutable one — these are our bodies and therefore our choices. We still have — for now — the Supreme Court ruling on our side. The morality of a procedure we chose should be the complicated decision of each woman alone. What we should not have to do — is re-fight this right every generation.
And here’s a sad little secret for the patriarchy — women have been figuring out — in unsafe ways — since the beginning of time how to end an unwanted pregnancy. Roots and herbs guaranteed to abort. Voodoo women and back alley men who perform rituals that were often fatal procedures. “My body — my choice” isn’t a new idea. We have been taking control since the beginning of time. And we have been dying in the process — just to have the right to control our own bodies.
There are so many giant problems on the planet from climate change to displaced refugees. Could we please just focus our energies on those and leave women’s decisions about their bodies to women?
There is a kind of koan making the rounds on the internet. It was posed a few years back by journalist and science fiction writer Patrick S. Tomlinson. It goes like this — if you believe embryos have the same value as a human life, what would you do if you came upon a burning clinic with A) a package with 1,000 embryos in the fridge and B) one 5-year-old boy who was pleading for help? Which would you save — A or B. There is no C … C, he poses, is “You all die.” You can only save one. … The living breathing boy is not the same as the embryo. Not a thousand embryos. Not a million embryos. And his one precious life should be supported and wanted and have the chance to flourish. We, his mothers across time, will always choose the living boy.
We want to be left alone to manage our bodies, our mental and physical health, and not have to be in a battle zone for basic rights men never, ever, ever have to consider for their bodies or mental health.
We will always find ways to stop unwanted pregnancies. And we will always support each other in those difficult individual decisions. We shouldn’t have to fear death because we expect autonomy over our bodies. Enlightened men have always understood this all the Sundays in the all the parks…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
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