Wednesday, January 23, 2013


January 23, 2013:

     Well, how would I know, right? I'm a man; men don't have to bear the burden of childbirth, and they can't have abortions. But I've been close. I read a piece the other day, I think in the NYTimes, about what would happen if women lost the right to a legal abortion. What would happen? They would go back to having illegal abortions, without the protection of medical assistance. The descriptions were graphic: clothes hangars: poisons of various kinds; scalding hot baths; deliberate starvation--anything to shed themselves of an unwanted foetus. And I have indeed been close to this experience. Before I was Anthony Brandt I, too, was a foetus, and my mother did all she could legally do to rid herself of my particular lump of clay. Scalding baths, she told me, were one means. She jumped up and down a lot, hoping, I suppose, to loosen my grip. She ate the foods that were supposed to be abortifacients. I'm hoping my father didn't punch her in the stomach, supposedly another abortifacient; that's too painful to think about, not only for her but for me.

     Actually I've often thought about it. She must have been desperate, and scared. A miscarriage has to involve a lot of blood loss, a lot of psychological trauma, and pain anyway you think about it. The year was 1936, my parents had one child already. My father, like almost everyone else in America, lived in constant fear of losing his job. They didn't think they could afford me, and probably they were right. But apparently I was meant to be. Meant in what sense who can say, but there I came, weighing eleven pounds, an extremely difficult birth at that size, born at 3:05 a.m. on Nov. 21 after an epic struggle. They did not put me up for adoption. They raised me, they were exemplary parents, tough by today's standards but loving and funny and caring, and models of stability and reliability in our none-too-stable extended family. What luck. My mother told me about her efforts to abort me when I was in my late twenties. It felt a bit strange, but I had no complaints about my upbringing, and had she succeeded in aborting me, there would have been no complaints about that, either, because there would have been no one to complain. I loved them both very much. It was all good.

     And then I was married and the father of two, both born by Caesarean section, another lucky accident; my head was too big for my wife's hips, which meant the children were likely to be too big in the head to emerge without doing serious damage to my wife's body, and when her abdomen was opened and the children emerged one of them had the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck--must have been my son--and would have choked to death in childbirth. My daughter's cord was twisted; something might have gone wrong there, too. And then came the accident. My wife, a visiting nurse, was driving down a road and a truck, driven by an Italian immigrant who spoke no English, ran a stop sign, made a left turn right in front of her and nearly killed her. As it was the car was totaled and my wife was rushed unconscious to the hospital  for X-rays. She turned out to have a cracked skull and a broken kneecap. They X-rayed her entire body while she lay there. No one, including us, knew she was two weeks pregnant. When she missed her period and got tested, it was a month later. She's a nurse. She knew what it meant to be X-rayed when your foetus is two weeks old. It means that there's a fifty-fifty chance of major developmental problems in both the body and the brain. Neither one of us hesitated. Time for an abortion

     It was 1969, however, in these good United States, and abortion was illegal. We went to her gynecologist, one  of the best in New York City and an advocate of abortion rights. He suggested we go to Puerto Rico and talk to a taxi driver. (She never went back to him.) She asked around among her medical colleagues. Nobody would tell her anything. In the end we had to borrow money from my parents and fly to England for her abortion. My parents, having been through this themselves with me, were understanding. The English doctor was understanding. The whole thing was over in an afternoon.

     How many women have I known who have had abortions? I can't cite figures, but I know a number of them, including a few who had them before abortion was legal. The illegal abortion one of those endured made her sterile; another had to endure being raped by her abortionist before he performed the abortion. Prelegal abortion was a nightmare.

     But women will have abortions, nightmare or not. They have been having abortions for as long as there have been records, and it's not going to stop just because certain Republican lawmakers think they have the right to prevent women from controlling their own bodies. No wonder women are moving away from the Republican party in such numbers. Power is nothing if it does not include power over your own body, and what sensible woman would want to give that up? Maybe we should rewrite the Constitution, as some people have suggested. If so, we should write abortion rights into it. Plain as day, First Amendment plus one. Congress shall make no law abridging the free exercise of the reproductive rights of any person, including the right to an abortion. In other words, get your filthy mind out of my sex life, Paul Ryan. It's my business, not yours. This is the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. I've lived through the nightmare, not in my own person but in the persons of women I've loved and cared about. I would do anything in my power to prevent us going back to the Dark Ages on this issue.