Abortion: then and now

Posted on 23 May 2019 by admin

Today’s topic shouldn’t surprise you. Like many other thinking women, I’m thinking about abortion. It’s an important topic for Jewish women — not just because we’re Jewish, but simply because we’re women.

I have two children. That’s what my husband and I wanted, and that’s the number of times I was pregnant. Both have long qualified for AARP and have children of their own, and my son is already a grandpa. But I well remember when he was just two, and in his pediatrician’s office, I remarked to the doctor what a handful a toddler was. “I don’t think I’ll be ready to go through this again for a long, long time,” I told him.

I trusted that doctor to care for my child, and he obviously trusted me, because this is how he responded: “Well, if something you don’t want should happen sooner than you want, I’ll take care of you.” Those were the days of back alleys, wire coat hangers and lots of blood. Although I didn’t really want to think about what he was saying, I couldn’t deny that his words were reassuring.

I knew then that no matter when I conceived, how “inconvenient” that timing might be (and really: Is there ever a “convenient” time for everything that comes along with a new baby?), I would never be able to have an abortion myself. But, in those “olden days,” I also knew at least one Jewish doctor was willing to do the illegal. By January 1973, when Roe v. Wade became U.S. law, my children were both teenagers, and I never took him up on his “offer.”

I had a good friend whose oldest child, a tall blond girl in her senior year of high school, became pregnant. She fell for a tall, blond Norwegian young man, and they made a beautiful couple. But when she became pregnant, she did not have an abortion. Instead, she was “sent away to live with an aunt for a while,” which was the euphemism of the time for waiting out the baby’s birth in a home for unwed mothers. I wasn’t surprised. That girl never saw her daughter, who was immediately given up for an adoption arranged in advance. When the young mother returned home, the great love had dissipated. Later, she married a nice Jewish boy to whom she disclosed her history. His stoic acceptance reminded me of Herman Wouk’s “Marjorie Morningstar,” a book in which the nice Jewish boy who wanted to marry a woman did so, even after great soul-searching when he learned she was not the virgin he had expected. That’s what, at least, the Jewish mindset was, back in the olden days of the ‘60s.

Truth be told, I never knew a Jewish girl or woman who openly admitted, or even hinted at, the fact she had had an abortion. My friend’s daughter, a Jew, finally met the tall, blond daughter of her first encounter many years later, when both sought birth records at the same time. In this case, that girl became a real sister to the three girls who favored their shorter, dark-haired father.

Not every adoption story turns out so well. But, I suspect that not every post-abortion story — probably not even most of them — ends that happily, either. And, consider this: Long before Roe v. Wade, my husband and I belonged to our synagogue’s Young Couples Club. All of our families were “complete,” we thought, until one of the women confided to us, in tears, during a get-together, that she was pregnant again. We women were consoling her, while the men were congratulating her husband. But not one of us was talking abortion, or even thinking about it.

Today, however, we all have to be thinking about it, and talking about it. I for one, but only for myself, believe I cannot inflict my personal views on any other woman. What do you believe?

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