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The Right to Choose

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Roe v Wade Rally

In writing this article, I am inviting bushels of rotten tomatoes to be hurled at me through cyberspace.   Having had the real-life versions, and worse, tossed at me because I chose to voice my convictions peacefully and legally, I can deal with Internet insults from strangers.


I am a longtime proponent of Roe versus Wade.  I am also a woman who struggled to have a child of my own and who, despite state of the art medical intervention via renowned experts, remains childless.  My perspective on this topic, therefore, is not driven by religious zealotry or a myopic brand of feminism.  It is driven by logic.  When men can conceive and bear children, then and only then might they (underline “might”) be allowed to legislate what takes place within a woman’s body.


Freedom, however, always has a price.


In the late 1980’s, more than ten years after its much-publicized adjudication, Roe v. Wade came under serious attack by its opponents.  It appeared that the bill would be overturned.  A group of Episcopalian priests, whom I knew peripherally through a third party, was mounting participation in a march on Washington to stay the course of the bill.  The priests were part of a nationwide protest well organized by NOW (National Organization for Women).  I decided to march with them.  I marched for Debbie and I marched for Maria, whose names have been changed to protect their privacy, and who could not have been more diametrically opposed in mindset and lifestyle.


Debbie was the dimwitted assistant who’d been foisted upon me in the name of nepotism.  Maria was an elderly, devout Catholic with whom I’d struck up a friendship.  Their names have been changed here to protect their privacy.  A few years after Roe v. Wade was approved in 1973, Debbie ended her pregnancy legally, under anesthesia and in safe and sanitary surroundings.  She did so to be free of the physically abusive philandering husband who had stolen money that was hers alone, through inheritance, and had left her virtually penniless.  Freed from the financial and emotional burden of caring for a child begotten by a rat bastard, Debbie ended her marriage, got stronger, and a little wiser.


Maria, by contrast, had been born strong and smart.  During the Great Depression, as the sole support of her children and disabled husband, Maria had self-aborted two fetuses.  Choosing to keep the roof over her head and food in her family’s bellies, she did the unthinkable.  She did it in fear and pain and silence.  She did it in grief for the two babies she would never meet, in order to keep the four she already had, and her husband, alive. 


And so, I marched for Debbie and Maria.  I marched for every other woman I did not wish to become a Maria.  I marched for my sister, my friends, my co-workers — none of whom were pregnant or planning to be.  I marched for those who could not march, and I marched for my two nieces who were not yet twinkles in their fathers’ eyes.


I paid for a seat on a bus going from The Big Apple to DC, took a day off from work without pay, and lined up for two hours in the freezing pre-dawn of an early spring day.  The unannounced drizzle that had begun earlier became a downpour.  Soaked to the skin, none of us got off the line or abandoned our cause.


Five hours later, we arrived in DC, deposited unceremoniously near the city’s then newly-renovated underground for a quick trip to the capital proper.  Climbing up from the dark bowels of the earth, I beheld the dome of our nation’s capital in the distance and the breath caught in my throat.  I had participated in organized protests before, for causes I’d deemed justifiable, but not at this level.  And I had visited DC thrice before, but never for anything like this.


As far as my eye could see beneath a sun that had finally blossomed, there flowed rivers of humanity, men and women, young and not so young, black, white, yellow, and brown.  They had come to ensure the freedom afforded us by Roe v. Wade.  As I watched, the rivers converged in an orderly manner, proceeding quietly, like a ballet without music, toward the White House.  Later, my husband, who’d been watching the news back home, informed me that 2 million of us had marched that day under NOW’s auspices.


Passersby caught sight of the flapping brown robes on the Episcopalian priests and inquired if we were there for the march.  When we said, “Yes”, the strangers rallied with, “We’re here for the Right to Life!”  One of the priests snapped, “We’re here for the right to life, too: women’s lives!”   This declaration earned us vile curses, for starters.


Those who professed to protect human life and who’d sanctioned and/or engineered the bombing of abortion clinics stood on the sidelines, barely held in check by the police.  But there were more of them than there were police.   We endured insults, death threats, rabid screams, and a few who broke through the barricades to attack us physically.  They spit on us and threw things at us.  Rocks, unopened cans of soda, which are heavy and dangerous at those speeds, and broken bottles.


Not one of us got off the lines.  Not one of us did violence to our attackers or detractors.  Our cause was too important for distractions.  Almost silently, we merged and moved inexorably toward the structure housing the Oval Office.


Because 2 million of us showed up that day, I did not get as close to the White House as I’d wished.  Instead, I saw Bela Abzug, feisty in one of her signature hats, but she did not phase me for I was a New Yorker, as was the Congresswoman-activist.   Jesse Jackson did phase me, for I had never seen him in person before and he was about to throw his hat into the Presidential race.  The crowd was like an immense sound barrier, so I only caught snatches of phrases from both Abzug and the future Senator.  But my sense of being a part of something larger than myself, a sense of carving a moment in history, was acute.  That day is like a fly caught in amber. Burned into my memory, that day will live forever in my mind and heart.   Never have I been more proud and humbled to be an American citizen.


The Constitution of the United States afforded me the freedom to speak out, by my very presence, against those who would rob me and every other woman of what I saw then, and what I still see, as our unalienable right to choose.  In the end, I was one voice among the 2 million who made a lasting difference.  Roe v. Wade was not overturned.  Women did not return in fear to the back alleys and the butchers with dirty coat hangers.  If that law is ever threatened again, and if I am alive and well enough to do so, I will march once more upon our nation’s capital and exercise my right to free speech. 

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