[NPR, “Morning Edition,” January 22, 2003]
Thirty years ago, when I was an idealistic college student, I volunteered at a feminist newspaper called “off our backs.” The Roe v Wade decision happened the first month I worked there. Our editorial said it didn’t go far enough, because Roe requires a woman to have medical reason for abortion in the third trimester.
I thought abortion rights were going to liberate women. Since men never get pregnant, abortion would give us equality in the workplace. And since unwanted children would be aborted, it would eliminate child abuse. Roe v. Wade looked like the first step toward a wonderful new world.
Thirty years later, I’m not so sure. I’ve heard too many friends say, “I had to have an abortion, I didn’t have any choice.” I never thought about how abortion would impact other choices. But it changed the pressures a pregnant woman feels. Continuing an unplanned pregnancy can inconvenience a lot of other people … her parents, her boss, the father of the child. Since Roe, a woman is expected to go away and deal with the problem privately. One woman told me, “I felt like everyone would be there for me if I had the abortion … but not if I had the baby.”
That must be how the numbers got to be so high … over forty million abortions since Roe. About one for every four live births. It certainly didn’t end child abuse. Since the seventies, reported child abuse cases have shot up dramatically, not declined. Yet the mothers of every single person under thirty could have chosen abortion. In that sense, every child today *is* a wanted child. But a child can be wanted enough during pregnancy, and not so wanted a few months later when they’re crying in the middle of the night. Roe established a dangerous principle, that a child is the property of her parents; it teaches that she only deserves to live as long as they want her.
I thought future generations would thank us for winning abortion rights. But now I hear from young people who oppose abortion. They call themselves “Survivors.” The mean that all of them could have been legally aborted. A lot of their generation was.
For people like me, over fifty, abortion meant liberation. For young people like them, under thirty, abortion means violence. We were idealists back then, and thought Roe v Wade would create a wonderful new world. Now I think it was a tragedy.