When I was in high school there was a girl in my English class who “got in trouble” and was sent away to visit her aunt in some far off state. We were scandalized. Did she have an abortion? Who took the baby? How could she let this happen, we whispered, as if we never put our own pure and righteous selves at risk for a hasty trip out of town.
But that was in the days when we were more hypocritical than compassionate, and I’m not just talking about gossipy teenage girls. That’s why it’s hard to believe that all these decades later we could be regressing and in the future be telling stories about how it used to be when there were safe places girls and women could go for help in making very tough choices.
Elizabeth was single, in her 30s, working as a writer and a teacher with a city apartment. As she says, “I had a very nice life.” She was conscientious about birth control and when she discovered she was pregnant she was horrified. She said she liked the man a lot. He was attractive and intelligent. But she doubted he would want to marry her. Besides, she didn’t consider herself ready to have a baby.
She went to the Planned Parenthood clinic in her town intending to get an abortion. And there she met a counselor who changed her mind. “She was very warm and very kind. She had children. She’d had an abortion herself. She asked me questions like, where was I in my life? How did I feel about this pregnancy? How would I manage as a single parent.”
Elizabeth left Planned Parenthood that day conflicted about her original decision. “I needed to go home and think about it. This time I felt differently,” she said.
She said this time because Elizabeth had two previous abortions. Her diaphragm had failed her those times, too.One abortion was done at a Planned Parenthood clinic when there had been no question that it was “neither the right time nor the right man.”
The other was at a hospital in Eastern Europe where Elizabeth was teaching and it was a terrifying experience. “I remember screaming and being held down. There was no anesthetic.” The hospital conditions were so grim the staff washed the surgical instruments in the same hot water used to boil the noodles for lunch.
Now with another abortion pending Elizabeth went back for a second meeting with the Planned Parenthood counselor. Plus she started seeing a psychoanalyst. Neither of them told her to have a baby or not have a baby.
What they did, Elizabeth said, was “help me see someone I didn’t know I was. That I could have and love a child.”
That baby is now her bright wonderful grown-up son and Elizabeth is a grateful defender of Planned Parenthood.
“I owe that woman. I wouldn’t have gone ahead if some indifferent person had been there. She listened to me. She saw me as a worthwhile young woman at a fork in the road. She helped me decide I didn’t want to miss this chance and that what I needed in the end was to have a child.”