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Commentary: Stay the course

Heather McIlvaine-Newsad
courtesy photo

This year marks the 10th year of the Women’s’ Voices commentary series on Tri States Public Radio. As in previous years we have a rich and varied group of women from the tri-states region who will be contributing their thoughts on current events to the series over the next nine months.

In early June WIU Professor Emeritus Janice Welsch, TSPR General Manager Heather Norman, News Director Rich Egger and I gathered at the radio ranch to review the past year and consider new voices for the upcoming series. As the meeting ended, we all agreed that it was highly likely the U.S. Supreme Court would overturn Roe v. Wade, which granted women the constitutional right to bodily autonomy – including abortion. I don’t think that any of us thought that the decision would be overturned so quickly, stripping women of a right that had been granted in 1973. As such, we have decided to focus the first Thursday of every month on this topic and the wide diversity of perspectives on it.

I was in Pittsburgh, surrounded by female artists, getting the first installment of my long-awaited tattoo from Hannah Aitchison, when the news broke. There was a collective inhale and exhale as we began to digest what had just transpired. There was no crying or screaming or even disbelief in the news. There was however a sense of resolve to continue the work begun by our mothers and grandmothers as we began to share our stories of our own abortion stories. Mine is just one of many.

My husband Michael and I always knew that we wanted children. If we were fortunate enough to have our own biologically, we would. As a fourth-year graduate student we found ourselves pregnant. We went to the student health clinic at the University of Florida and started the prenatal checkups. A few weeks into the pregnancy I had some sharp abdominal pain and a bit of bleeding. We went in for an ultrasound and found out that I was experiencing an ectopic pregnancy.

In a normal pregnancy, the fertilized egg attaches itself to the lining of the uterus. “An ectopic pregnancy occurs when a fertilized egg implants and grows outside the main cavity of the uterus” often in the fallopian tubes. According to Planned Parenthood, two out of every 100 pregnancies are ectopic pregnancies. It is scientifically impossible for the fetus to be viable and if left untreated can result in the death of the mother.

The health care providers at UF were kind and efficient in treating me with the oral medication methotrexate, which stops the cell growth and dissolves the existing fetal cells. I wasn’t hospitalized and was able to continue my work and studies. Later Michael and I became the parents of two wonderful female humans. The point is, if I had not had the right to decide what to do with my own body, I would be dead. Neither of our children would exist and Michael would have been a widower at the age of 31.

For me the decision to overturn Roe v Wade is not about protecting the rights of unborn children. As the late comedian George Carlin said in his 1996 special titled Back in Town, "Pro-life conservatives are obsessed with the fetus from conception to nine months. After that, they don't wanna know about you….They’re anti-woman, simple as it gets. They believe a women’s primary role is to function as a broodmare for the state.”

The individuals who have been in power since the founding of this country are scared. Scared of losing power that they think they have. It is simple math. 51% of the planet is female. By 2045 demographers like those from the Brookings Institute predict that non-Hispanic whites will be a minority in the US. What we are talking about is a significant shift in power fueled by a younger female dominant non-white population. This is why we need to stay the course.

Martha Beck writes, "They say the night is always darkest right before the dawn. A flame rises just before it goes out. Dying creatures have a last surge of energy just before the end. And often, when life seems hardest, something good is about to break our way—I call it ‘The storm before the calm.’”

Psychologists call it an “extinction burst.”

As the patriarchy takes its last gasp, I find the concept of extinction bursts comforting and I hope you do too.

Heather McIlvaine-Newsad is a professor of Anthropology at Western Illinois University.

The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the university or Tri States Public Radio. Diverse viewpoints are welcomed and encouraged.