All of the “Greatest Generation” hype will soon, if it hasn’t already, reached the point of going over the top. Talking about it with my mother, who is a veteran of World War II, she said that she thought it was too much. She said she didn’t want to be seen only as the three and a half years of her life that were taken up with that service, proud though she is of it. She noted that she lived almost ninety other years and she thought there was a lot about those years that was important.
Other than the big names that have made it a feature of their show business careers, you can understand how the children of those people are trying to grasp onto parts of our parents who are rapidly dying off. To look at someone in their late 80s and 90s is to realize that what are called the implications of mortality are far more than merely implied. They are it.
The reason to study the past, to gather information from other peoples’ experience is to find ideas useful in shaping the future. Without that part of it, history and memoir are mere hobbies on the level of curio collecting.
There is a generation that is passing whose information is desperately needed and which couldn’t be more essential to planning for our future. The accurate memories of women who had illegal abortions in the period before it was legalized need to be more widely known. Abortion was never abolished in the United States, not by any means. It was common and available, though dangerous in most cases and ineffective in others. I remember more than one young women who were beaten by boyfriends hoping to induce a miscarriage. Ending pregnancies was a profession, like all illegal professions the qualifications of those practicing the profession went from the homicidally negligent and incompetent to qualified doctors practicing in hygienic conditions. There were a few doctors who risked professional ruin and prosecution to provide abortions. Ability to pay and connections to elite abortion providers was the deciding factor in which kind of abortion you had access to. Desperation to end a pregnancy had the effect of condensing the defects of the medical system into one area where it could be seen more easily.
As I hear the Stupak-Conference of Bishops side on abortion, that glaring lie is the one that needs to be hollered out until everyone has to deal with it. They aren’t trying to end abortion, they are trying to revive the abortion practices of the 1950s. Those are what will come back, with women dead, women injured, a flourishing trade in illegal abortion including the worst of the butchers of the past, women and ethical abortion providers always fearful of arrest. And there will be arrests and prosecutions. There will be prosecutors who vie with each other to prove themselves in this area, especially if the prohibitionists show their political power.
So, it is couldn’t be more important that we all hear the experience of women who had illegal abortions and those who provided them during the period when it was legal nowhere in the United States before that testimony is lost. The lies of the other side are eternal, they aren’t founded in experience, they aren’t written in pain and blood. If our side is going to be heard, it is that record that has to be taken down and forced under the noses of the media. If they’re going to insist on the she said-he said coverage of this issue, let’s force them to face the world that the other side is trying with all their might to recreate. In a sobering number of cases, the enemies of choice in abortion are also working to restrict contraceptive availability. Just as in the 1950s, the anti-abortion side seem to want to produce more of them.