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Review: One Kind Word: Women Share Their Abortion Stories
image credit: Three O’Clock Press
One Kind Word: Women Share Their Abortion Stories (Three O’Clock Press)
Edited by Martha Solomon Photographs by Kathryn Palmateer
“To say that Canadians just don’t think about abortions anymore…duh! If you need one and can’t get one, you think about it. If you need one and got one, you think about it. If you know someone who got one, you think about it. If your period is three days late and you wonder what the hell you’ll do “if”, you think about it.” -Laura
When I was 24 years old, I had an abortion.
I had an abortion because it was not meant to be. I had other plans and dreams for my life and most of all, I didn’t want to be connected to the biological father for the rest of my life. I had an abortion because this was not the time in my life I was meant to be a mother.
I did not feel an ounce of guilt, fear or regret about my decision. I felt empowered, relieved and ready to move on from the experience even before I had had the abortion. I had never had a major medical procedure before and was far more curious about how the procedure would feel.
At 24, I was already committed to my feminist ways; no one was going to convince me they knew what was best for me. No one’s advice was going to help me raise a baby I didn’t want and moreover, was not ready for. My mother and a friend who I thought was more liberal said ‘Heck, you’re 24, have the baby.’ My boyfriend at the time said he didn’t agree with my decision. These were his last words to me before I marched into the Morgentaler Clinic.
When I was in the clinic, I asked to look at the monitor during the ultrasound and the technician refused to let me see the screen. I wanted to see the 7-week old zygote. I was convinced it wouldn’t change my mind or beat into my heart. I looked at the whole experience like a science fiction novel. I never felt morning sickness or other symptoms of pregnancy. Looking at the screen was voyeurism; I had never seen an ultrasound of a pregnancy before. I think the technician didn’t let me look because they thought it might have made me all messed up about it. I don’t think it would have at all. There was nothing that could have changed my mind back then. Not even seeing the tiny dot of the baby on the ultrasound screen.
One Kind Word is a book about women’s experiences of abortion across Canada from 1972 onward. The women in the book had experiences of rejection, acceptance, judgment, shaming, support and facilitation when trying to access their abortions.
One of the things women in the book talk about experiencing most was the stigma of accessing an abortion no matter what the year, the province or the circumstance. Women were scared to talk about their abortions for fear of judgment by family, friends, the medical system, and society at large. Paige, a contributor, says: “There is still so much stigma around abortion. How can we talk about abortion when we don’t even have permission to really talk about, have, pursue or enjoy sex? Our sexual freedom has improved but when you look at the current US government and the Christian right, you realize that in many ways we are still in the dark ages.”
And that brings us to the book’s next point; not all women across Canada have the same access to abortions, even now in 2014. In the second foreword of the book, Jillian Bardsley says:
“In Canada, abortion is only truly accessible to documented women living in cities who know how to navigate the healthcare system. Young women, undocumented women and women who live outside major urban centres continue to struggle to access the services they need. There are women in Canada who are still inducing their own terminations, resulting in significant morbidity and unimaginable pain. There are mothers in the North and rural Canada who must leave their families, jobs, and other responsibilities for days at a time to seek out a procedure that takes approximately fifteen minutes. Outside of Canada, in developing and developed worlds, women are still dying in attempts to control their futures and make decisions about the welfare of their families. The war has not been won for them.”
Another common thread in this anthology was how many of us were judged for not feeling guilty or more broken up about it. Many of us felt relieved to know we had been approved for an abortion (from Therapeutic Abortion Committees in 80s’), were able to make the appointment or get the money needed, instead of feeling bad about so-called ‘ending a life,’ (terminology that is part of the anti-abortion mentality). Guilt was not something we felt in making this decision to do what we thought was best for our lives although many people believed we should feel guilty. _ One Kind Word_ is a remarkable collection of women’s experiences around accessing abortion in Canada and how we got there; both by our own personal circumstances and by the law/medical community allowing us to have self-determination over our reproductive rights as women. One kind word from a family member, partner, friend, or doctor at the time could have shifted many of these women’s experiences of the shame, guilt and the stigma associated with having an abortion.
Glossary of Terms Pro- Life [or anti-abortion]: Anti-abortion movements are involved in the abortion debate and advocate against both the practice of abortion and its legality. Modern anti-abortion movements generally began as countermovements in response to the decriminalization and legalization of elective abortion in various countries.
Pro-choice is the position which advocates the existence of a woman’s right to choose whether or not to have an abortion. Pro-choice can also be a position of support of a person’s right to choose whether or not to end his or her life by euthanasia or assisted suicide and other social ethic issues concerned with ones personal autonomy. The term is most often used to emphasize a position of bodily integrity, individual sovereignty and self-determination, particularly on issues of public policy, law, political controversies and medical ethics.
Henekh “Henry” Morgentaler, CM (March 19, 1923 – May 29, 2013), was a Polish-born Canadian physician and pro-choiceadvocate who fought numerous legal battles aimed at expanding abortion rights in Canada. As a youth during World War II, Morgentaler was imprisoned at the Łódź Ghetto and later at the Dachau concentration camp. After the war, Morgentaler immigrated to Canada and entered medical practice, becoming one of the first Canadian doctors to perform vasectomies, to insert intrauterine devices, and to provide birth control pills to unmarried women. He opened his first abortion clinic in 1969 in Montreal, challenging what he saw as an unjust law placing burdensome restrictions on women seeking abortions. He was the first doctor in North America to use vacuum aspiration and went on to open twenty clinics and train more than one hundred doctors. Morgentaler challenged the constitutionality of the federal abortion law, winning R. v. Morgentalerin 1988. In 2008 Morgentaler was awarded the Order of Canada “for his commitment to increased health care options for women, his determined efforts to influence Canadian public policy and his leadership in humanist and civil liberties organizations.”Morgentaler died at the age of 90 of a heart attack.
A Therapeutic Abortion Committee (commonly known as a TAC) refers to a Canadian committee of three medical doctors who would decide whether an abortion fit an exemption to the Criminal Code of Canada, which only permitted lawful abortion if continuation of a pregnancy would cause a woman medical harm. TACs were almost always composed of men, due to fewer women practicing medicine and even fewer having these types of high level positions. This code was ultimately was struck down and invalidated by the Canadian judicial system in R. v. Morgentaler in 1988.
After the Roe v. Wade decision in the United States Supreme Court in 1973, many Canadian women found it much easier to travel abroad to seek medical treatment for unwanted pregnancy. Some women continued to resort to illegal abortions, often by unqualified practitioners, or even attempted to perform the procedure upon themselves. Sometimes this had dangerous or even fatal consequences (see Abortion in Canada).
Reproductive rights are legal rights and freedoms relating to reproduction and reproductive health. The World Health Organization defines reproductive rights as follows:
Reproductive rights rest on the recognition of the basic right of all couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing and timing of their children and to have the information and means to do so, and the right to attain the highest standard of sexual and reproductive health. They also include the right of all to make decisions concerning reproduction free of discrimination, coercion and violence. Reproductive rights may include some or all of the following: the right to legal and safe abortion; the right to birth control; freedom from coerced sterilization, abortion, and contraception; the right to access good-quality reproductive healthcare; and the right toeducation and access in order to make free and informed reproductive choices. Reproductive rights may also include the right to receive education about sexually transmitted infections and other aspects of sexuality, and protection from gender-based practices such as female genital mutilation (FGM).
Check out this article about abortions on TV.