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Commentary: Someone Has to Speak Out About Abortion Rights; Might as Well Be Me

Beth Howard

I had an abortion 32 years ago. This is not something I would normally talk about, but these are not normal times, not since the Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade in June.

I’ve been so angry, so appalled, and so baffled at how our country can go this far backwards in time, stripping away women’s reproductive rights. It’s already bad enough we haven’t passed an Equal Rights Amendment.

I was so upset by the SCOTUS decision that I emailed my Iowa senator, Joni Ernst. I asked her, “As a woman, how can you deny other women the freedom to choose whether or not to have a family? Especially given you had that freedom during your own child-bearing years.”

My questions turned into more of a rant as I went on to say, “Women have myriad reasons for not wanting to bring children into this world: compromised health, lack of finances, abusive or unstable relationship, the list is long.

Republicans talk of small government and not interfering with one's personal freedom—you’re fine not mandating masks during a public health crisis, you promote open-carry and the sale of assault rifles amidst an epidemic of mass shootings—and yet you not only want to rob women of the right to choose—even in cases of rape, incest, or risk to their own survival—but you also don’t support the babies once they’re born. Please prove to us that you care about the personal freedom of women.”

She wrote back in one of those pat-answer form letters, saying, “Although we may not see eye to eye on this issue, I believe we can both agree that, as a society, we must continue to care for all lives after birth. During my time in the Senate, I have worked tirelessly to protect women's access to health care.” And then she boasted about her support for contraception, a claim that I wonder if she will make good on when her GOP cohorts want to take that right away too.

I was so dissatisfied with her reply that I wrote to my old boyfriend—let’s call him John—the one who impregnated me with his super-swimmers three decades ago when my birth control failed. John is a Republican from a large Midwest Catholic family, so I was interested in hearing his thoughts about Roe v. Wade. Thanks to the internet, his email address was easy to find.

I began my note with a friendly “Hello. I’m sure you’re surprised to hear from me after all these years,” and then I cut to the chase. “You know how we got pregnant and opted for an abortion, and how we discussed our options thoroughly? We had some meaningful conversations and our decision was not hasty; it was rational and mutual.” I asked him if he would still make that decision today, and how he felt about abortion rights in the current political climate.

He wrote back. First, he gave me some BS about not being able to accurately recall something from that long ago, and that he regarded it as a private matter between us. He certainly wouldn’t want me talking about it on public radio!

He said he regards himself as a political independent with views that do not align with the extremism of our major parties, and that at a time when our country is so divided, he didn’t want to be associated with an issue that evokes such passion and inflames both sides.

His reply was about as satisfying as the one from Joni Ernst. Why wouldn’t he take a pro-choice stand when the right to choose had been available to him, one that he not only exercised but benefitted from it? This is exactly the problem: people like John are hiding behind their lame excuses, too spineless to stand up for women’s rights, and for the freedom to make our own decisions about what’s right for our lives and for our bodies.

Someone has to speak out, which is why I’m sharing my story.

For the record, I never did have children. By the time I got married, I had an autoimmune condition that prevented it. But have I ever regretted having that abortion with John? On the contrary, I have never been more grateful.

Beth Howard is an author and essayist. She blogs at The World Needs More Pie com.

The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Western Illinois University or Tri States Public Radio.

Diverse viewpoints are welcomed and encouraged.