Commentary

What about my right to life? | Opinion

May 28, 2022 6:00 am

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In 1983, I was 22, with an unexpected pregnancy, residing in Texas. A government-forced birth would have traumatically altered the course of my life, physically and mentally.

Roe v Wade was my safeguard. The recent leak of a draft of Supreme Court Judge Alito’s opinion overturning Roe is sure to seal the fate of a federal safety net that has protected women since 1973, when the Supreme Court ruled for a pregnant woman’s liberty and right to privacy.  The current turn of events will have devastating consequences to the human rights of women in America, a betrayal of the 14th Amendment. 

My abortion story does not contain sexual violence, incest, date rape or a medical catastrophe — the horrific scenarios in which anyone with decent moral compass should be able to comprehend why abortion must remain a human right: safe and legal.

I was in a steady live-in relationship with a man I loved. I had been training for months for a physical agility test — part of a series of tests to become a Fort Worth firefighter. My monthly cycle had been erratic from the intense training.

My partner and I practiced three types of birth control conjunctively: The rhythm method, the Billings method and condoms. Birth control choices were limited and the pill, with its side effects, made me terribly sick. 

One month, breast tenderness confirmed my greatest fear — our birth control had failed. I was in tears. He was out of state on a work contract, my family was in Minnesota, and there I sat in Texas, feeling very much alone. We did not want this pregnancy — resolutely — neither of us. 

My boyfriend made arrangements for me to join him in California and then get to a women’s clinic. I called my parents, who offered comfort and support, solidly backing my (our) decision to terminate. 

I told my boss I needed immediate time off, which was graciously granted when I explained the urgency. I also withdrew my application from the firefighting pool and told the captain, my mentor and supporter, why.  He hugged me and said he understood. Like my father, he was a father to daughters. 

Today, in Texas, the men who sympathetically supported me, could be the same compassionate men sued under the current Texas abortion ban for “aiding” me in our decision to abort. Private citizens with no knowledge of circumstances and no connection to the people involved can report others, creating an abortion police state.

I arrived in California, my boyfriend at my side. The women’s clinic physician talked us through every step of the first trimester process. The procedure was short and done, discomfort far less than the monthly cramping I often had during my period. The safe medical abortion was nothing like the propaganda spun by abortion foes. 

The abortion narrative needs to be changed: the trauma lies in the unwanted pregnancy. Yet our society has created shame, stigma and the burden of secret, which places guilt on the women impregnated. 

Abortion opponents, with total disregard to the social and gender justice of the living women, demand forced birth, a dystopian view eerily played out in Margaret Atwood’s “Handmaid’s Tale” and the recent TV adaptation.  

Amnesty International declares: “Forcing someone to carry an unwanted pregnancy, or forcing them to seek out an unsafe abortion is a violation of their human rights, including rights to privacy and body autonomy.”  

The following year, 1984, age 23 and single, I returned to Minnesota and to my hometown doctor.  I told him about the unwanted pregnancy, our decision to terminate, and my ambivalence towards a society that condemns human sexuality for one gender while championing it for the other. 

I paid for and secured a tubal ligation to ensure I would never get pregnant again. My friends — several of them OB/GYN providers — have told me that under the same circumstances today, I could be denied my request for a tubal as a matter of clinic, doctor or insurance decision.  

Again, this would place my body autonomy and health choice in the hands of others.  The number of women like me are growing — women who want to be child-free.   

I am grateful for the federal law that allowed me freedom over my own reproductive health.  Women, infamous and famous have stated, “If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.”  I agree. 

My parents supported me because they came from a day and age prior to Roe v Wade, when girls were shuttled out of town to “visit relatives” and conveniently returned home after several months. The book “The Girls Who Went Away” should be a staple on every high school bookshelf as a reminder of a society that shamed unwed pregnant girls to give up their babies or face condemnation in their families, churches, and schools. Forced adoptions were a secondary trauma to an unexpected pregnancy.  

My mom, Jacqueline Dowell, chose nursing as her profession (after my parents divorce in 1972) to fight for women, healthcare, and reproductive rights. She went on to become a volunteer for Planned Parenthood.  

The author’s mother, Jackie Dowell, at an abortion rights rally. Photo courtey of Pam Dowell.

As recently as May 14, at 88 years, she actively participated in a Bans Off Our Bodies rally. Her sign, with a drawing of a large coat hanger, declared: “Never going back.” 

No regrets. Ever. 

Nearly one in four women will have an abortion in her lifetime. Her story may not fit your belief system, but her story, her rights, her body, and her privacy are central to her life. This is the life that must be protected: ethically, constitutionally, and free from religion. 

Minnesota must keep abortion legal to counter states like Texas. Women have always known we will never go back — not to dangerous, secret, unsafe abortions, not to second class. 

I am more determined than ever to battle this cause. I have a car. I will transport others across state lines to safe, legal abortions.  Why? Because each one of these women are me. I am not pro-choice, I am pro-abortion. Period. 

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Pam Dowell
Pam Dowell

Pam Dowell is a freelance writer specializing in social justice and human interest stories. She lives in Grand Rapids, Minn.

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