My primary motivation for writing this novel was to change the increasingly hostile, highly divisive political atmosphere that demonizes abortion and the women who elect it as the ultimate form of birth control.
I intentionally did not make this story overtly political, choosing instead to have the three generations of women in the Irish Catholic family personify the feminist slogan “The personal is political.” My desire was to reach people’s hearts and minds. However, this novel is firmly rooted in my deeply held political, socioeconomic, and cultural beliefs:
- All women, regardless of class, race, sexuality, income, age, religion, creed, disability, immigrant status, or any other construct that has been used to discriminate against and divide people, have the right to bodily integrity – the right to dominion over our own bodies and the freedom to know the best way to govern our most intimate, precious domain — without government interference, religious dictates, or family intervention.
- We need freedom from all forms of discrimination and prejudice, particularly racism, sexism, classism, and lesbian, gay, bi, trans, and queer oppression.
- The climate of hostility, harassment, and life-threatening violence directed against abortion providers in this country and the contempt, condescension, reproach, and self-righteousness expressed in increasingly restrictive, medically unnecessary state laws that limit the options of women who need such health care are rooted in centuries-old patriarchy, class society, and religious dogma. A woman’s right to abortion challenges those three pillars of male privilege because it gives women power over our bodies. Those of us who assert that right need to recognize that we are in a decisive battle that challenges the very foundation of male domination. And we need to be willing to fight for that right until women’s power in all realms of life is recognized legally and honored socially as equal to that of men.
- Today’s religious-based anti-abortion movement sanctifies the fetus to the point that the rights of an unborn child supersede those of women. That can only be seen as a deeply manipulative, highly controlling way to subordinate and disenfranchise women. It serves to alienate and divide women from our own reproductive capacity, from our hearts and minds. But that defies the rules of biology and human psychology. A woman is not a passive incubator whose sole purpose is to bring children into the world — does that ever reek of patriarchy! 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. A woman should not be shamed or punished if she chooses not be a mother. Nor should she be forced by the power of the state to deny her deepest feelings, kneel before a religious altar against her will, or kowtow to an elder’s commands.
- As part of our birthright, all women must be guaranteed the right to become mothers if they choose, with all the social, economic, and cultural means to support that right and without any stigma if they decide not to. To help women undertake the lifelong, life-altering responsibilities and commitments of parenthood, the following are needed to guarantee that right:
- Freedom to fully and freely exercise one’s sexuality and gender expression without fear, reproach, or coercion in a sex-positive culture.
- Free, universal, all-inclusive health care.
- Free, neighborhood-based childcare from birth.
- Free public education from pre-school through university.
- Comprehensive, parent-supervised sex education, beginning with discussion in grammar school of inappropriate touching and in high school of all types of contraception, including abstinence; sexually transmitted diseases; and how to respect, enjoy, and cherish sexual partners and intimate relationships.
- Safe contraception, which is freely dispensed confidentially by school nurses as well as nonjudgmental neighborhood clinics.
- Freedom to choose to have an abortion as a form of birth control.
- Freedom to choose sterilization as the ultimate form of birth control without an iota of social or economic pressure.
- Uncoerced, free, open adoption.
- Well-defined, equitably contracted surrogacy.
- Affordable, medically safe, free reproductive technologies to aid the infertile.
- Freedom from all types of sexual harassment, human trafficking, and violence, including incest, rape, sex slavery, and forced prostitution.
- Jobs with livable wages and safe, supportive, worker-controlled working conditions and environments.
- Quality, affordable housing.
- Free, equitable divorce and shared child-centric custody.
- Freedom to choose to be a single parent, with community support.
- In two words: Reproductive justice.
- The complex conditions needed for reproductive justice define a society that is not based on misogyny, patriarchy, or male, racial, or class privilege as ours presently is. Such a society accords women and men equal respect and asks both to honor children in word and in deed, not just in the United States but worldwide. Such a human-centered, child-safe atmosphere must meet the needs, rights, and aspirations of billions of people all over the globe. That means ending commercial enterprises that elevate profits above human needs; the accumulation of private property, wealth, and power by the few at the expense of the many; the competition for natural resources and global markets that ultimately leads to war.
- I’m envisioning a peaceful, cooperative socialist society that respects the rights of the individual as much as the community. I believe it is possible to turn the phrases “liberty and justice for all” and “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” from sacred yet hollow words into living reality. We must settle for nothing less for the future of the human race and for our precious, endangered planet.
- How can progressive social change be encouraged to bring about this new society? As a student of history and sociology, I believe in the power of activism, in people organizing and working together as a mighty force for change. That is the only thing that has ever been shown to bring about thoroughgoing societal change, which is what is sorely needed to heal the world economy as well as cure pervasive social ills. Activism is what created unions to defend workers’ rights, ending naked abuses of child labor, sweatshops, the 12-hour day, and the six-day workweek and raised the bar for all working and poor people with the 8-hour day, the minimum wage, unemployment insurance, Social Security, and Medicaid and Medicare. And look at the role of the Civil Rights movement, where African Americans and others defied all manner of political, state, and police repression to end the hate-filled restrictions of slavery in Jim Crow discrimination. The dynamism and success of that movement inspired white youth who opposed the war against Vietnam. And they responded by taking to the streets to create the multinational anti-war movement, the women’s movement, and the movement against lesbian, gay, bi, trans, and queer oppression.
Just think how many decades suffragists marched, rallied, fasted, and endured prison sentences before women’s right to vote was added to the constitution in 1920. Fifty-some years later the Supreme Court responded to women, who by the thousands spoke out, petitioned, and demonstrated in every corner of this country, by overturning anti-abortion laws in 1973. Though supportive medical and legal testimony helped, Roe v. Wade would never have happened without a tidal wave of passionate, persuasive activism. Today’s Occupy Wall Street is the latest chapter in that unfolding history.
- Another powerful force for change is the creative word. I trust the power of fiction, drama, poetry, essays, creative nonfiction, and song to address human issues that seem so insurmountable in everyday life. Just think of the women writers who challenged patriarchy, starting with Mary Wollenstonecraft who wrote the first known essay supporting women’s right to equality with men in 1792: A Vindication of the Rights of Women. Though Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own (1929) discusses what women need to become writers, it stands as a persuasive paean to women’s equality. And grass-roots journals, magazines, and newspapers flourished all over the country in the 1970s and 80s — in addition to Ms. magazine — that explored once-hidden issues like domestic violence, incest, rape, pornography, and prostitution, among the many topics that feminism and women’s liberation unearthed. One book, the Boston Women’s Health Collective’s Our Bodies, Ourselves, grew to become a national and now international institution.
I grew up relishing the positive girlhood images in books by Louisa May Alcott and Laura Ingalls Wilder, while the Nancy Drew mystery series, started by Edward Stratemeyer, offered an exhilarating example of girl power. In 1966 I took a “Feminism and Marxism” course at the Alternate U, for which 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 were required reading. Those books, but especially Engels, united my feminism with my passion for history and anthropology, and voila, I became a socialist. Talk about the power of the word!
I found a kindred spirit when I read Marilyn French’s The Woman’s Room, which reveals how hard it is for women to live in contemporary male-dominated society. I relished the positive images of independent women in books by Marge Piercy, Rita May Brown, and Barbara Kingsolver. I will never forget how Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye opened my eyes to the harsh challenges of growing up an African-American woman in a white-, male-dominated society. And Alice Walker carved out new images of Black women, both downtrodden and rising up, in The Color Purple. While Amy Tan and Sandra Cisneros offered windows into Asian and Latina families, Tillie Olsen and Grace Paley sketched stories of working-class women. So many creative works have shaped and honed my world-view – and I bet yours, too.
- In writing this book I was determined to go behind the headlines and create a family-centered story that all people who care about individual freedoms, rights, and justice could identify with. I chose not to sugar-coat the story, though I admit I did load the deck by making one of the three point-of-view characters sympathetic to abortion. Why, if she was an observant Catholic? Because her mother had died in childbirth and she had been forced to forego art school to care for her younger brothers and sisters. I gave her that backstory because those are the circumstances that inspired Margaret Sanger to make her life journey. And feminist wisdom is essential in telling this tale.
In addition, I wanted to explore the grief that some women feel after the first rush of relief fades following an abortion and offer a positive way to come to terms with feelings of loss. Why? Because some who are anti-choice prey on women’s grief, convincing distraught women that they have been victimized by having had an abortion. But playing on grief until it hardens into guilt and self-loathing is heartless and cruel. The only way to work through grief is with love and support. That led me to choose the title Love Means Second Chances.
Please read “How I Wrote This Book” which outlines how this book took shape.