Monday, June 27, 2022

#MicroblogMondays: Unfathomable. Infuriating. (And a lot of other adjectives.)

I was 12 years old in 1973, a Canadian. I'm not sure when I became conscious of Roe v Wade or the ongoing battles over the abortion issue (on both sides of the border). It was not something we talked about, at home or even among my friends (that I remember). I don't remember hearing that anyone I knew had had an abortion until I was in my early 20s. 

But I knew, as I came into my teenage and then young adult years, that (a) pregnancy (if not sex itself) was to be avoided at all costs, until I had finished my education and found a job and a husband, (b) that birth control existed (and was essential), and (c) that if I did find myself unexpectedly pregnant, there were options available to me.

I was certainly aware by the time I was in university, in the early 1980s. I was actually a member of the youth wing of what was then known as the Progressive Conservative party (vice-president of my campus club, in fact...!).  The party has changed since those days (radically -- and I have changed too, albeit they have moved further right and I have moved further left) -- but back then, there WERE "progressive" conservatives leading the party -- pro-business and fiscally cautious but still socially progressive -- honourable men (and a few women too) I admired -- the leader and (briefly) prime minister, Joe Clark; his predecessor, Robert Stanfield; Peter Lougheed, the premier of Alberta (I saw him once, years later, on the steps of the office building in Toronto where I worked, and I was thrilled!);  Bill Davis, the bland but extremely successful longtime premier of Ontario;  David Crombie, the mayor of Toronto (whose son, Jonathan, captured hearts as Gilbert Blythe in the classic "Anne of Green Gables" television mini-series);  Flora MacDonald, who ran for the party leadership in 1976 as the lone female candidate with what she was assured was strong support -- only to come up short when the votes were actually cast (grrr...).  

But even then, there were hard-core far-right conservatives with their own agendas. I remember being at a provincial party convention in the early 1980s when I noticed the necklace worn by the woman I was chatting with. I wasn't sure what the unusual-looking charm on the chain was -- at first I thought it might be a pair of ballet slippers? -- but the woman noticed my interest and proudly explained it was "precious feet," representing aborted fetuses.  I was taken aback, realizing she was one of the anti-abortion people I'd heard about but never openly encountered. 

Here in Canada at that time, abortion was legal, but there were restrictions. (Wikipedia has a fairly comprehensive basic history of the issue, if you're interested.) "Therapeutic" abortions were legalized in 1969. You could get one if a committee of doctors agreed that your life or health was endangered by the pregnancy. ("Health" could be defined strictly or loosely, depending on the committee members -- almost all of them men, of course.) During the 1970s and 1980s, the work and legal battles of  Dr. Henry Morgentaler in Montreal were constantly in the news (and he is someone you should read about if you're at all interested in this issue). Morgentaler (a Holocaust survivor, who died in 2013) was considered a saint by many in the pro-choice movement -- and the devil incarnate by those on the anti-abortion side. (There was a huge uproar when he was named to the Order of Canada in 2008.) He felt the abortion laws were too restrictive, and that women were perfectly capable of making their own decisions on this matter. In 1969, he began doing abortions in a private clinic in Montreal, as an alternative to the hospital system. In the early 1980s, he began opening other clinics across the country, including ones in Winnipeg (shortly after I left university there) and Toronto (which was firebombed in 1992).  

Over the years, Morgentaler was repeatedly arrested and jailed, and his clinics raided by police. Finally, in 1988, in the case of Regina v Morgentaler, the Supreme Court declared the existing 1969 law was unconstitutional and struck it down, on the grounds that it denied women the right to life, liberty, and security of the person. The Progressive Conservative government of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney made one attempt made in the early 1990s to re-regulate abortion. The proposed bill failed, and no government since then (even the Conservative ones) has revisited the issue. 

Today, as Wikipedia explains

Abortion in Canada is legal at all stages of pregnancy, regardless of the reason, and is publicly funded as a medical procedure under the combined effects of the federal Canada Health Act and provincial health-care systems. However, access to services and resources varies by region. While some non-legal barriers to access continue to exist, Canada is the only nation with absolutely no criminal restrictions on abortion. Nevertheless no providers in Canada offer abortion care beyond 23 weeks and 6 days as outlined by provincial regulatory authorities for physicians.

There are still protests outside clinics, and it's still an issue among conservative groups, but for the most part, it is not in the national news much these days. 

Like many (most?) girls & women, I never thought I would ever need an abortion, or to even THINK about the subject... until I did.  There was a time, when I was in grad school, that I thought my birth control might have failed and I might be pregnant. I went to the student health centre and burst into tears while talking to the young female doctor. I remember telling her I knew my parents would ultimately be supportive of whatever I chose to do -- but I also knew they would be so disappointed in me. :( 

En route out of the clinic, I stopped in the washroom -- only to discover my period had started. Whew. 

And then, there was my much-wanted, doomed pregnancy.  At a routine ultrasound, about 18 weeks into my pregnancy, I learned there were problems. Among other concerns, the baby was far smaller than it should be. I had amniocentis -- and had to wait an agonizing 3 & 1/2 weeks for the results -- more ultrasounds, a fetal echocardiogram. The doctors hinted that I might have to make some "decisions" -- soon, as I was fast approaching the point in my pregnancy where a termination could not be handled locally (meaning I would have to travel to the U.S.). The amnio results finally came back, showing the genetics were normal. Whew. But that didn't mean there weren't still problems -- and while I still had hope, some problems simply can't be resolved. When I went for another ultrasound on August 5, 1998, there was no heartbeat. I delivered our daughter two days later. She weighed just 125 grams, about 1/4 pound. 

I suppose some people become more likely to oppose abortion after they have children, or endure infertility and/or loss.  In my case, infertility and loss made me even more firmly pro-choice. Getting pregnant is not always easy. Staying pregnant isn't either. It can be downright dangerous at times, for both mother and baby. Even when a baby arrives, even when that child is very much wanted, raising a child is (at minimum) an 18-year commitment, highly stressful and very expensive -- especially in the U.S., where guns are abundant, but maternity leave, affordable healthcare and affordable childcare are not. NO ONE should be forced to go through it. 

(And don't get me started on the idea promoted by certain U.S. Supreme Court judges that women can just give up their babies for adoption and then get on with their lives (la-di-da...), as if nothing had happened. Anyone who knows anything about adoption knows it's not that simple -- for the birth mother, for the adoptive parents and/or for the child themselves -- and the idea that a woman could be forced into carrying a child, just to create a bigger supply of infants for infertile people like me to adopt, sickens and offends me. No thank you.) 

In the years after our daughter's stillbirth, dh & I attended and then facilitated a pregnancy loss support group (and I frequented several pregnancy loss & infertility forums online). We heard dozens, perhaps hundreds of stories about much-wanted pregnancies gone wrong -- mothers who nearly lost their own lives as well as their baby's;  babies diagnosed in utero with fatal conditions, whose parents made the heartbreaking decision to end the pregnancy rather than consign them to a life of suffering, however brief. Many of them had other children whose futures needed to be considered too.  Parents who never in their wildest dreams imagined something like this happening to them -- until it did. More of them than most people realize, or could ever imagine. Outside the group, many of them suffered in silence. Some had never told their families what really happened, only that they lost the baby. It took several years for one woman, who became a good friend of mine, to admit to me privately that her lost pregnancy had actually been a termination. 

The thought that I, that any of these people, could have been denied the choices and medical care that they needed, on top of all the other extreme physical, mental and emotional stress they were enduring... it's unfathomable. 

It's infuriating that American women went to bed on Friday night with fewer rights than they woke up with -- than their mothers and even some of their grandmothers enjoyed. That they'd planned their lives around the assumption that these rights were theirs -- only to have the rug yanked brutally out from underneath their feet. 

It's mind-boggling that guns have more rights than women in the United States right now. 

It's unbelievable that there are hints of more rollbacks of more rights to come -- contraception, fertility treatments, LGBTQ marriage... (But not interracial marriage -- at least, not yet. Clarence Thomas's wife, of course, is white. He noticeably left that one off his laundry list of future targets...!)  

I'm menopausal now. I'm not an American. But I'm still a woman (an aging, childless woman, at that -- two more strikes against me!), and I remember what those fertile years were like -- how the prospect of an unplanned pregnancy at the wrong time (even after I was happily married) could threaten everything I'd planned and hoped and worked for.  As a result of this verdict, all American women have been rendered second-class citizens -- and women all around the world know that it easily could be us next. I don't doubt for one moment that there are conservatives here in Canada and elsewhere who are looking enviously across the border and trying to figure out how they could pull off the same thing. 

All I can say is, vote -- at the municipal, state/provincial and federal/national levels -- like your life depends on it. (Because it does.) 

You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here

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Other ALI/CNBC bloggers writing about this issue: 

A 2009 post I wrote on this issue (after the murder of Dr. George Tiller in Kansas): "No fairytale endings". 

I've also been gobbling up the last few days' newsletters from my favourite feminist Substack writers... some of their work is paywalled for subscribers only, but some is not, and they're worth a read:  Lyz Lenz, Jessica Valenti,, Meg Conley, Anne Helen Petersen, Jill Filipovic

Valenti & Conley, both mothers, reflected on how this ruling will affect their daughters' futures. I teared up while reading both of them: 


  1. Me, personally could never have one but I believe a woman should have to right to decided that choice.

  2. Thank you for sharing the heartbreaking examples from your pregnancy loss support group. There are many reasons why a woman might need an abortion. People who say they would never get one do not think about ectopic pregnancies or a fetus with anencephaly.

  3. I was you in university - terrified I might get pregnant. Fast forward almost 20 years, and I was devastated to be taking methotrexate for my ectopics. It is such a complicated issue, and is never black and white. Great post.

    (PS. Publishing under my Separate Life persona, because my blogger login won't work for some reason.)

  4. Wow, thank you for the history of abortion in Canada -- that was fascinating! It's so true, you do not know when your circumstance could put you in the position of making difficult decisions. I don't think anyone is like, "you know, I really want to have an abortion one day!" Your point about increasing supply for adoption is solid too -- I can just imagine people seeing that we a best solution without knowing (or caring?)about the trauma and the far reaching impacts of that. Makes me think of dystopian baby farms. And yet again, seeing women as body parts and not humans capable of making decisions. Ugh. This is so true: "It's mind-boggling that guns have more rights than women in the United States right now." There's a meme going around that said something to the effect of, "your government is strong enough to force you to have a child but too weak to ensure they make it to recess alive." Ugh.

  5. I want to honor you and your beloved Katie (xo). Thank you for sharing your story in light of current events. Also, your parenthetical paragraph on the simplistic model of more babies for adoption? Clapping.