It's a Woman's Right to Choose, Not Yours

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It's a Woman's Right to Choose, Not Yours

Before the murder of Dr. George Tiller and the discussion of abortion rights is wiped from the headlines and replaced  by the latest act of homegrown terror, I want to revisit the very thorough discussions that both Rachel Maddow and Andersen Cooper gave to the subject over the course of the last couple weeks.

Appearing on the cable shows were women at the helm of women’s health centers and organizations. The message I heard again and again, in addition to calling violence against doctors and abortion clinics (as well as harassment of women at these clinics) acts of domestic terrorism, women must also speak out for the need of safe and legal abortions.

Here’s the problem: very few women do speak out. Due to familial or societal stigmas, on top of the fear of being thrown in harm's way, women do not tell their stories in the public forum.

Over the course of my adult life, I’ve heard stories from close friends, ex-girlfriends and family members who have sought abortions. It’s a topic that has never been brought up or discussed lightly or casually, but instead has arisen in the protected confines of hushed conversation. Whatever you may believe about when life enters the fetus, this has nothing to do with the reality of the women throughout history and across cultures who have sought to abort a pregnancy.

As a woman, I  honestly don’t believe in judging a woman when it comes to her womb. And, thankfully, I’ve never been in the situation myself, but I wanted to share two stories that frame the issue for me.

My great-grandmother on my father’s side died of a self-induced abortion in 1919. She was 33. Her name was Cleopatra Moody Collins. Cleo left behind two sons and a daughter, my grandmother, who was six years old at the time of her mother’s death.

It’s not clear why Cleo needed to abort her pregnancy, though I know from oral history that side of the family was speckled with violence and abuse. Cleo’s death was such a scandal the family hid the cause of her death. They buried her in an unmarked grave in Ohio and removed all of her pictures from the family photo albums. My grandmother, who grew up with her cousins, lived her entire life not knowing how her mother actually died or having a picture to remember her by.

A year or so before my father died, he told my older sister how Cleo had passed. My sister, being the family historian she is, promptly ordered Cleo’s death certificate from the Ohio State Historical Society where it is kept on public record. It read: cause of death salpingitis (known as pelvic inflammatory disease). And in the doctor's own handwriting it says “self-induced abortion (slippery elm).”

In 2003, 84 years after my great-grandmother died, my sister and father had Cleo Moody’s name carved on a proper gravestone.

A member of my mother’s family (who asked I not name her) had an abortion in 1961. Her father flew her to Japan, where abortion procedures were legal and medically safe. She described her experience as being well taken care of in an impeccably clean Japanese clinic. Her recovery time was quick and she even had a chance to enjoy a bit of Osaka before returning home to Hawaii. This relative went on to live a full and adventurous life, seeing her children into adulthood.

Cleo Moody, my great-grandmother, was a nameless and still faceless woman written out of my family history.  I can’t imagine how many women like her there were, are or will be should safe and legal reproductive procedures be taken away. When we lose our reproductive rights, we loose our safety, our ability to self-determine and, more tragically, our place in history.

Comments [10]

camomileroses's picture

the fact that women only

the fact that women only reluctantly come forward to tell their stories demonstrates that their decision was the product of a very difficult and thoughtful process. instead of using that fact as a negative, it should be used in the positive. this shows that legalized abortion hasn't encouraged women to have frivolous abortions.

i think that education is the key to everything. the christian right has made this such an emotional and polarizing issue that their campaigns seek only to grab people by the gutteral gonads without any thought or reason.

Presenting information in a dispassionate way in a public forum (tv if the networks are brave enough) is the best way to defuse the gutteral, primative impact of the right's propaganda and infuse a little rational thinking. REFRAME THE ISSUE AS ONE OF D E C I S I O N S, not "choices"...a woman's right to make decisions. The word "choice" connotes frivolity, arbitrariness...
Have a public information ad with a couple of firsthand "survivor" stories [anonymous if needed]. Have them talk about the emotional, excruciating yet reasoned DECISIONS they had to make in difficult circumstances.
The message must be: These are not women making a frivolous choice between a pbj or blt sandwich. This is a "choice" no one would "choose" to make. In fact, no choice is being made at all, a decision is being made by a woman after thoughtful and painful deliberation.
Choice is the wrong word...the issue is about a woman's right to make decisions.

Grace Moon's picture

I totally agree. this debate

I totally agree. this debate is hung up on language and what that language implies.

tweet tweet @gracemoon

deedee's picture

I am a Out Pro Choicer and

I am a Out Pro Choicer and Proud of it (I wonder how much hate posts I will get for saying this)

Xanadu's picture

One of the commentators of

One of the commentators of our Wellington paper just wrote his thoughts about Tiller's murder ... about 99% of the article was him condemning 'late term' abortions.

He could see no reason for them.

I've written back, asking that he educate himself on just ONE of the reasons: Anencephaly (Wikipedia it if you dare) ...

I've known a number of women (I would class them as being against abortion) who have faced this, in their pregnancy. No women enjoys making this decision, but it's another tragic fact of life.

lucia_2008's picture

Very moving.

Very moving. is good!!!

Sarah Pappalardo's picture

To speak or not to speak: it

To speak or not to speak: it seems like this is the toughest subject to be "out and proud" about. While plenty of women in my family have had abortions (or wished they had), it's not the sort of thing that turns women into poster-children for Choice. "I aborted my fetus, and look at how happy I am!"

That may sound a bit smartassey, but really, how do you frame a convincing discussion from the point of the woman? It's just very problematic to frame women as victims of patriarchy when most Pro-lifers don't even know what patriarchy is.

Tex's picture

Grace, when you are

Grace, when you are personally and intimately connected with a topic your writing is moving - you have a way that conveys your intimate feelings....I remember the blog you wrote on OC when you went to Hawaii....that was the first glimpse of your heart.

As a lover of familial history, it is such found stories that touch me the most....and hopefully make me a better person.

A woman's rights begin and end with her person. No other human has the right to judge her or in any way imply to her that any deity will judge her on her decision to abort. We can debate all day long, but if a woman decides that aborting is the best for her situation, I assure you, it is also the best for the fetus.

For all those who judge, walk a mile in those shoes first....

Twitter Time @kdhales

Not2Taem's picture

Grace, this is a vitally

Grace, this is a vitally important story excellently told. Cleopatra Moody Collins now has a place in our history. Thank you.

minniesota's picture

Grace, this is the best

Grace, this is the best article I've read yet in response to the Dr. George Tiller murder.

Still searching for the right brainy quote.

Kelly McCartney's picture

Maddow had a female doctor on

Maddow had a female doctor on last week who spoke to the need for the 45 million women who have had abortions to stand with the providers and show that there's no shame in having a legal medical procedure. The former pro-life leader guy she's had on a couple of times too is awesome. He speaks as one who was on the inside of the movement for a long time.

Won't you be my neighbor? @theKELword