‘Love Means Second Chances’:
Reproductive Freedom in a Novel
by Susan Elizabeth Davis
On a bleak December day in 1979, I had an epiphany: I would write a pro-choice novel. A novel, I thought, could cut through all the anti-abortion lies and pro-family hypocrisy and assert that every woman’s birthright includes the human right to control our own bodies. A novel could change the political climate demonizing abortion and women who use it as the ultimate form of birth control.
Hadn’t Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin helped to end slavery? The power of the word could affirm that all women have the right to own our own lives.
As a founding member of CARASA (the Committee for Abortion Rights and Against Sterilization Abuse) in 1977, I was dedicated to ending patriarchy and all forms of oppression and exploitation through socialist revolution. I was also bored in a dead-end job as a book editor at a New York publishing company. A novel could shift the culture in a pro-choice direction and reorient my professional life.
As a result, I wrote ‘Love Means Second Chances.’ Admittedly, it took another 32 years for me to write, rewrite (several times), complete and self-publish the book. Despite the long process, my impetus for writing is still as relevant – the political culture was hostile to abortion then, and is hostile to abortion today.
In 1979 Jerry Falwell founded the Moral Majority, giving voice to the evangelical movement. Opposing abortion, under the misleading pro-life, pro-family slogan, was a core position, along with opposing LGBT rights.
In addition, the corporate media had begun drawing an equal sign between those who opposed abortion and those who supported it. But the two are hardly equal – those opposing abortion generally could care less about women’s or children’s lives after birth, while the other is thoroughly women- and child-centric. Being pro-life and pro-family should mean society provides full social and economic supports for all women, whether they choose to be mothers or not, and for all families regardless of race, class, sexual orientation and all forms of oppression. That’s the essence of reproductive rights, the political platform then being formulated by groups like CARASA, which grew out of the 1970s socialist-feminist women’s liberation movement.
Today’s political climate has become so polarized that it’s now toxic to women and children. The hostility, harassment and deadly violence directed against abortion providers and the contempt, condescension and self-righteousness in medically unnecessary laws are manifestations of centuries-old patriarchy, class society and religious dogma. Women’s right to abortion challenges those three pillars of male privilege because it gives women power over our bodies. Living, breathing characters in a novel could add new dimension to the cultural conversations around abortion.
Personal and Activist
Electing to have an abortion in 1985 — despite wanting a child, but not wanting to be a single mother — I experienced relief and support after the abortion and it was a surprisingly positive experience. It furthered my desire to write a book about abortion.
After all, the power of the word had played a profound role in my becoming a political activist. Three books, in particular, influenced me, each introduced in a course titled “Feminism and Marxism” that I took at the Alternate U in 1966. Required reading included Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook and Frederick Engels’ The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State. Those books, especially Engels’, united my feminism (inspired at age 10 by a visit to the Susan B. Anthony house in my hometown of Rochester, N.Y.) with my passion for history and anthropology. Voilà, I became a socialist and an activist.
I continued pro-choice and other activism with writing the novel as a personal goal. History shows that activism – pushing back the forces of oppression — is the only way to bring about change. When other groups faded away in the mid-1980s, I worked with Merle Hoffman (publisher of On The Issues Magazine) in the Pro-Choice Coalition to keep the movement alive and kicking. In 1989, I helped found WHAM! (Women’s Health Action Mobilization!), which organized a series of memorable mass mobilizations, culminating in 1994 with 5,000 women and men keeping 37 abortion clinics open in New York City when Operation Rescue threatened to blockade them during the Democratic Convention.
My own understanding continued to grow, as well. Editing CARASA’s Women Under Attack: Victory, Backlash, and the Fight for Reproductive Freedom in 1989 (South End Press) and Gynecology, published by the Women’s Health Education Project in 1995, deepened my knowledge.
In the meantime, I experimented with plots and characters with the goal of reaching the hearts and minds of people who care about individual freedoms, rights and justice. My novel is dedicated to the principle that a woman must want to be pregnant and want to be a mother, with all the attendant responsibilities, joys and sorrows for the rest of her life. Determined to personify the feminist slogan “the personal is political,” I created a story of three generations of Irish Catholic women.
I elected to hit the issues head-on when 18-year-old Christy becomes pregnant despite taking the pill. Her mother, Carole, who had to get married at 18 when she became pregnant with Christy, is totally opposed to abortion. But Christy’s grandmother, Mary Louise, helps them find a way to get through the crisis based on their love for each other. An observant Catholic, Mary Louise experienced her own life trauma when her mother had died in childbirth and Mary Louise had had to forego art school to care for her younger brothers and sisters. That back story is what inspired Margaret Sanger to make her life’s journey. So having the same experience gives Mary Louise the feminist wisdom to support whatever the woman wants, despite her Catholic roots.
My passion for choice has only deepened over the years. Currently, I volunteer with Haven to take in women from out of town who are having second-trimester abortions.
We who assert the right to reproductive justice today must recognize we are in the decisive battle that challenges the very foundation of male domination and of class society driven by capitalist greed and power. I believe in a cooperative socialist system in which women’s power is honored legally and socially as equal to that of men in all realms of life. I am willing to fight to that end – in words and action.
Susan Elizabeth Davishas been a reproductive justice activist since participating in the first abortion rights demonstration in New York City in March 1970.