Memories of life before Roe evoke the terror and resolve of Michigan women

Legal abortion has changed women’s lives.

After Roe, “we weren’t trapped anymore,” one woman told me, able to choose motherhood or not.

Before Roe, the social stigma against unmarried women and girls who became pregnant was cruel. Often they disappeared, went on a “trip” or cloistered in a special house until the baby was born. Then they would be allowed to go back to normal life – but everyone knew that. Women and girls who became pregnant were labeled “fast” or “slutty”, labels that had no male equivalent.

But the right to abortion is not simply the right to terminate a pregnancy. It is about a woman’s right to bodily autonomy – the same right that men no doubt enjoy. It is about a woman’s ability to decide her own destiny. The ability to control if, when and how often we become pregnant is the essential condition for our participation in civic and economic life, electoral politics, friendships or careers.

“It’s about self-reliance, but it’s even deeper than that, I believe,” former Detroiter Carol King, 73, told me. “If we don’t have the right to control if or when we become mothers, we don’t have any rights. It’s so central to our growth, our development, our womanhood, our opportunities, that I think everyone else rights fade.”

That autonomy, that personality, is in jeopardy: This summer, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to overturn the landmark 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade who legalized abortion.

Continued:Opinion: Lawsuits may not be the only option for abortion haters in post-Roe Michigan

Continued:Michigan GOP AG candidates slam case that struck down law banning use of birth control

“People don’t believe this is going to happen,” said Renee Chelian, a longtime abortion rights advocate. “It’s going to happen, and we’re going to find out very soon.”

A public health crisis is looming, she says, that will have painful consequences for women and girls. For women like King and Chelian, there is also a sense of surreality. Back hereafter so long.

“As if God had given me a second chance”

Chelian was a high school student in 1966. She was 15 years old. This is the year she got pregnant.

Chelian’s parents were planning a rushed wedding when her 16-year-old boyfriend’s parents raised the possibility of an abortion.

Even married, Chelian would not have been allowed to go back to high school – even though her boyfriend could have continued his studies. She had seen what happened to high school girls who had given birth: rejected, excluded from school and cut off from the path to a viable future.

Abortion was illegal in Michigan. But her boyfriend’s father was a state official with the connections to find a doctor to perform the procedure, and the money to pay for it – $2,500 in 1966, over $22,000 in US dollars. today. Chelian had four siblings. Her family lived hand-to-mouth, she said, and would never have been able to afford the procedure.

Chelian had never heard of abortion. But it felt like a miracle.

“It was like God gave me a second chance,” she said.

Chelian and her father drove to a parking lot, where they were blindfolded and driven to a warehouse somewhere in Detroit. It wasn’t particularly clean. She was afraid to look anyone in the face, lest they cancel her abortion. The procedure has been extended. His mother’s gynecologist had refused to perform the abortion, for fear of prosecution, but had agreed to take care of Chelian afterwards. He put her on antibiotics immediately; without them, she says, an infection could have rendered her sterile.

At the age of 20, Chelian began working for this gynecologist, arranging flights to Buffalo for the doctor and for women who needed abortions.

Years later, she opened the Northland Family Planning Centers in Westland. She didn’t want another woman to suffer what she had.

“Power and Control”

Michigander and longtime pro-choice activist Edwina Davis, 84, recalls the abortion she had in 1969. Already a mother of three, Davis said: “I wasn’t going to live it until the end.”

Davis’s family found a doctor who would perform the illegal procedure, for which they paid $2,500 in cash — more than $18,000 in today’s dollars — then and now, prohibitively expensive for many women. The doctor who performed Davis’ abortion had already been imprisoned once.

Davis then worked for Planned Parenthood, providing security for the healthcare provider’s clinics.

“We slept in the clinic on Friday night, because then we could open the door,” she said, before the clinic’s insurer ended the practice. “Right to Life was coming in the morning, and we thought if the door was open, we could help our customers get in.”

Reproductive freedom, Davis said, “should be a basic right, it’s the defining factor in women’s lives. Men want control, men want power. It’s all about power and control. But if you don’t have the power to make those decisions on your own account, that doesn’t give you the full privilege of the world. You would never stop a man from that.

“I will never forget the terror”

King didn’t have an abortion, because she didn’t have to. In 1967, she was 18 and a student at Western Michigan University when she became pregnant.

“I couldn’t have carried the pregnancy to term,” said King, who later became executive director of the Michigan Abortion Rights Action League. “I was the first in my family to go to college. My father had passed away and my mother was a devout Catholic. The thought of being pregnant while single would have been a raging scandal.”

King never forgot how scared she was. “It was the only time in my life that I seriously considered suicide. It didn’t last long, but it was one of the things I thought about, and I can still remember and reminisce. the feelings I had at that time,” she said. “I will never forget the terror, the fear and the helplessness, and the idea that my life would change so drastically from what I had imagined, and the shame I felt, put me in a state suicidal.”

King knew something was wrong and scheduled a gynecological exam – her first – at the university clinic. “The doctor was very cold, very judgmental. I look at him between my legs, and he stood up, took off his gloves and said, ‘I don’t know why you think you’re not pregnant, because you are.

“The terror at that moment, the panic…”

A few days after the appointment, when she started having a miscarriage, it was a reprieve. A few weeks later, her boyfriend married someone else.

“When I graduated and got involved in the women’s movement, I never forgot that experience and didn’t want another woman to go through that,” she said. “And the idea that responsible men never have to do anything, that they can walk away at any time. That’s what carried me through the women’s movement and got me so involved in this particular problem.”

As a feminist, King says, she works to create a world in which every child is joyfully welcomed.

“When kids are seen as a punishment for having sex when people think you shouldn’t have it, it creates a different and very destructive dynamic, which really prevents a woman from achieving what she wants to achieve. .”

‘Have the kid, or go to New York’

For Jane, who asked to be identified only by her first name, now 73, the decision was quick.

“I got married in 1970, and it would have been 1971 or 1972,” she said. “I had an IUD inserted to avoid getting pregnant, because I was in college and wanted to finish my education and start my career. I wasn’t at the point where I could raise a family. “

But the IUD failed. When Jane’s gynecologist told her she was pregnant, she asked him what she could do.

“He said, ‘Your choice is to have the child or go to New York,’ and a few days later I went to New York.”

After New York State made abortion legal, Michigan women seeking to terminate their pregnancies joined the more than 400,000 out-of-state residents who had legal abortions in New York. York between 1970 and 1972.

The experience was shocking, Jane said. The clinic was near the airport; the women flew in and out the same day, boarding return flights shortly after the procedure was completed. Jane’s husband went with her. There were no complications.

Back to the past

If the United States Supreme Court overturns Roe this summer, Michigan women will face a future many of us cannot imagine.

A group called Reproductive freedom for allan effort supported by the ACLU of Michigan, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan and Michigan Voices, launched a petition in January to put reproductive rights on the ballot this fall.

“That’s what I hope your readers will think: who decides? said Chelian. “We need you to vote and sign this petition to protect your daughters, your granddaughters, your sons.”

Nancy Kaffer is a columnist and member of the editorial board of Free Press. She covered local, state and national politics for two decades. Contact: [email protected] Become a subscriber.

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