My grandmother came to the United States from Ireland as a young woman in 1911. She was already married with five children, my mother two years into her future, when women got the right to vote in 1922. She worked her entire life and everything she worked for – her money, her home, her children, even her own body – was owned by her husband.
My mother was born in 1924. The youngest of six living children, she was expected to become a nurse so that she could care for her parents as they aged. Her older sister had taken the Nun option, so her choices were nurse, teacher, or wife. She ran away and married a young man in the Army Air Corps in the middle of World War II, and was promptly disowned by her family for a decade.
She gave birth to three children in the first three years of her marriage, two living and one dead. She was Catholic, and birth control was not permitted.
She was losing her mind. She went to her priest and begged for a dispensation to use birth control because she couldn’t bear the thought of becoming pregnant again and she did not have the right to refuse her husband sex. The priest told her no, that God wouldn’t give her more than she could bear.
She found herself pregnant again in the forth year of her marriage.
She was at the beach in Cape Cod that summer with her two small sons. She told me once that she remembered thinking that if she swam out as far as she was physically able she would not be able to make it back, and it would be over. She was in the middle of doing that when she looked back and saw her sons playing alone on the beach.
She came back in.
I was born in 1959. My options as a child were the same – nurse, teacher, mother – but times were changing. The world was opening up.
Birth control was available, and with it came possibilities.
Back then, women fought for every breath of freedom, every tiny kernel of respect. My father told me he “wasn’t going to waste his money educating a girl”? I could work 3 jobs. My teacher told me he’d never given an ‘A’ to a girl in math and I “sure as hell wasn’t going to be the first”? I could fight. The dean at UVA med school told me he wasn’t going to waste his time interviewing a female? There were other schools.
If we were strong enough, and determined enough, and angry enough, there were possibilities, now that we had control over our own bodies.
It’s hard to fight when you are pregnant with two small children clinging to your skirt.
My father frequently joked to my brothers that women should be kept “barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen.” Not much of a joke, really. If you have no resources, are having babies every year, and are overwhelmed with responsibility, you will never have any possibilities in your life.
It is 2018 now.
I thought we were past this. I thought women were believed, at least on the surface, to be equal. But now we are limiting access to birth control, shutting down women’s health care centers, and trying to outlaw abortion.
We are pretending this is a religious issue, that we are doing it because we believe abortion is wrong–when what it is really about is control over women. If we truly wanted to prevent abortions we would strive for easily accessible, free birth control and sex ed in schools. We would punish rapists in the court system. We would respect women’s voices. We would not strive to take away their control over what is happening inside their own bodies.
Amendment 2 on the Alabama ballot on November 6th outlaws all abortion–with no exceptions for rape, incest, or to protect the mother’s life.
Outlawing abortion only outlaws safe and legal abortion. Before abortion was made legal, hundreds of thousands of women had illegal abortions every year. Between 200 and 2700 of these women died, depending on the year. Hospitals had abortion wards that would fill up on Monday mornings with women dying from trauma and sepsis, leaving children behind.
When it was illegal women still had abortions, because sometimes there is no other choice and it is worth risking death. Just ask my mom, swimming out to sea.
The best and most effective way to control women is to keep them barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen. Just ask my dad.
Then vote No to Amendment 2.