PERSONAL STORIES – Before Roe, what was it like to talk about abortion?

It is the fall of 1971. I have just walked into a room in a church basement, where there is a meeting of NARAL (National Abortion Rights Action League), the organization created two years earlier by Betty Friedan. Although abortion had been legal in New York state since 1970, it was still illegal in most states…. The meeting is called to order by a short, dark, wiry, fast-talking woman. Quickly, we get down to tactics….Then our leader says, “What we need is to talk about why we’re all here. The problem is no one wants to talk about abortion. But I think it’s important to make things personal.”

Each woman tells her story…. Everyone is silent. People hug, and there are tears, but the group leader was right: We are energized for the fight, however long it takes. Talking about it has made what we had gone through seem more normal; we were given strength, knowing that what had happened to us had happened to many, many women—women we admired, loved, mourned.

Two years later, Roe v. Wade was passed, and we believed that we had won the fight. We knew a majority of Americans were with us. We were unprepared for the relentlessness of the antiabortion movement, and for the money behind them. We didn’t expect that evangelicals, who at first were not important to the movement… would align with Catholics in hijacking American religion in the name of a minority belief.

We were unprepared for the weakness of our democracy. And we were unprepared for the murder of doctors, the bombing of abortion clinics. We were unprepared for a fear that our beliefs could bring danger to us and to the people we loved.

As a mother, mother-in-law, godmother, and retired teacher of beloved students, I am enormously distressed to realize that the dangers I had thought were past are still a present fear. And that it is no easier to “come out” about having had an abortion than it was 50 years ago. Harder, perhaps, because America is a more violent country than it was 50 years ago, and many more Americans are armed with ever more dangerous weapons.

One in four American women has had an abortion, and for nearly half a century they have done so safely. Women have always had abortions for very good reasons, and they have often died in the process. The spectacle of thousands of deaths must spur people of goodwill, people who value life to stand together. And tell our stories. Like the women in the room.

SOURCE: Vogue Magazine, by Mary Gordon, 10 October 2022
+ PAINTING: Catherine Repko, Continuum, 2022, oil on canvas, 55 x 45 cm;
Painters Painting Paintings, Hertfordshire