Why write now about an abortion I had almost half a century ago? At my age, of course, I’ll never need another one, so why even mention such a personal matter, let alone publicize it?
In the age of Donald Trump and Brett Kavanaugh, the answer seems all too clear to me. As we second-wave feminists insisted long ago, the personal is political. Struggles over who cleans the house and who has -- or doesn’t have -- babies have deep implications for the distribution of power in a society. This remains true today, as state governments, national politicians, and the Trump administration ramp up their campaigns to harness or control women’s fertility, whether to produce babies of a desired race (as Iowa Congressman Steve King has advocated) or to prevent others from being born (as the long history of forced sterilization of women of color and poor women illustrates).
We’ve been going backwards on abortion access for decades. Since 1976, the Hyde Amendment has denied abortion services to women who get their health care through the federal Medicaid program, or indeed to anyone whose health insurance is federally funded. (A few states, like California, opt to pick up the tab with state funds.) But even for women who can afford abortions, options have steadily dwindled, as states pass laws restricting the operations of abortion clinics. Women sometimes have to travel hundreds of miles for a termination. Only a single clinic in Missouri, for example, provides abortions today.
Worse yet, the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court may well have cemented an anti-Roe majority there. But the Trump administration hasn’t waited for a future Supreme Court decision to move against abortion. It has already reinstated both domestic and international “gag rules” that prohibit federal funding for any nonprofit or non-governmental agency that even mentions the existence of abortion as an option for pregnant women. In the case of that international gag rule, organizations receiving U.S. government funds are not only prevented from providing abortion services or referrals directly, but may not donate money from any source to other organizations that do. Most of these organizations provide many other health services for women from birth control to cancer and HIV treatment. Clearly, preserving the “right to life” doesn’t apply to the lives of actual women in this country or the developing world.
So the current perilous state of reproductive liberty is part of why I’m talking about my abortion now. But there’s another reason. When I spent time in Central America in the 1980s, I found that the first question women I met often asked me was “Cuantos hijos tiene?” -- “How many children do you have?” They assumed that a woman in her early thirties would have children and this was their (very reasonable) way of reaching out across a cultural divide, of looking for commonality with this gringa who’d landed in their community. I was always a little embarrassed that the answer was “none.” I would respond, however, that, although I had no children of my own, I had a compromiso -- a commitment -- to making the world a better place for children everywhere.
I was certainly telling them the truth then -- and I hope my life since hasn’t made a liar of me -- but at the time, in some secret part of myself, I also believed that my decision not to have children was a selfish one. There was too much I wanted to do in my own life to voluntarily take on the responsibility for the lives of dependent others. Now, though, as the horrorsof climate change reveal themselves daily, I sometimes think that choosing not to bring another resource-devouring, fossil-fuel-burning, carbon-dioxide-emitting American into the world might actually have been the most unselfish thing I’ve ever done.