Debating a right-to-lifer, up close and personal

I had just turned in a rental car after attending a high school reunion in Rochester, New York, in mid-August, and my bus to New York was due to leave in 25 minutes. So when the young man from the rental company, who knew I needed to make that bus, began chatting and he asked me what I did, I said matter-of-factly, “I’m a writer and an editor. I just published a pro-choice novel.”

“We’re all pro-choice and pro-life, aren’t we?” he said, with a slight assertiveness in his tone.

“Sure,” I answered obligingly, wondering what would come next.

“Every woman needs to make her own choice, but giving a baby up for adoption is a real gift for a couple who wants a family but can’t have kids. Don’t you think?”

“Yes, it certainly is,” I said, knowing exactly where his was headed. But that made me think of two friends from high school who gave their babies up for adoption in the 1960s before abortion was legal and before “respectable” unmarried young woman didn’t keep their babies.

“So wouldn’t you say that it’s the best choice for women to go through with their pregnancies and give couples the ultimate gift?”

“No, I wouldn’t. A woman has to go through all kinds of physical, emotional, psychological changes during a pregnancy, and it’s often not easy to give up a child after carrying it for nine months.”

I was remembering the many heartfelt conversations I’d had with both friends, who had grieved for their children year after year. One has since happily reconciled with her daughter, who sought her out, but the other hasn’t, even though she’s registered her desire to reunite with her daughter. The loss continues for her, trapped in a deep, dark emotional cavern, rarely spoken of, but very real – like a bleeding wound after a limb has been amputated.

“But it’s so important to cherish and revere life. That should be every woman’s choice,” he stressed, as he swung into the bus station parking lot.

“But you’re only thinking of the potential child, not of the tremendous cost to the woman who has a right to her own life.”

“But studies shows that women who have abortions suffer terrible remorse and guilt and have trouble getting pregnant again.”

“That’s not true,” I retorted, eager to have the last word before hopping out of the car and racing to the gate. “The Guttmacher Institute, which studies such things, says there’s no scientific evidence of that.”


“Thanks for driving me,” I said, opening the door. “I’ve got 15 minutes before the bus leaves and I need to buy lunch.”

He offered me his hand after lifting my suitcase out of the trunk, and I shook it, wondering if I’d made a dent in his carefully constructed pro-life armor. I doubt it. He had been obviously coached to use pro-choice lingo to disguise a pro-life message. I doubt he’d heard what I said about a woman’s right to life.

The experience of supporting one of my high school friends who left home after she started showing and moved to her aunt’s farm about 40 miles from Rochester in the spring of 1961 – to avoid the shame of being an unwed mother — had a profound effect on me. The injustice of that —  and the emotional, physical, and psychological pain that my friend experienced and that lives with her still — stayed with me, motivating me in the late 1960s to become an activist for women’s rights and particularly for reproductive justice.

Whose life takes priority? The woman’s life. Consciousness of that is what’s profoundly missing when misogynistic, self-righteous, anti-abortion hardliners like Rep. Todd Akins in Missouri — and the entire Republican Party for that matter — seek to deny women our right to make the most fundamental decisions about our lives.