We talked about it, my mother and I, back when I was a teenager. How she felt in the fall of 1964, a New York City girl just graduated from high school at the age of 17 who found herself pregnant.
They were dating then, my mother and father, and had been throughout high school. The Beatles were ringing up Number One hits. “My Fair Lady” was big at the box office. The Gulf of Tonkin resolution had escalated tensions over Vietnam. Lyndon Johnson was slugging it out with Barry Goldwater for the presidency.
My father was 18. He worked at a bike shop, made deliveries for a pharmacy and took college classes at night. The two teenagers had a few discussions. Then one night they got in the car and eloped to Elkton, a small city in Maryland.
There would be no abortion.
“There was a place you could go get one,” my mother would tell me. “It wasn’t legal, but I had friends who went. Your father and I talked about it. We decided to get married.”
This was the time before Roe versus Wade, of course, a time of hidden medical procedures and stories tinged with blood. I thought a lot about those times last week, when Alabama became the latest state to enact a near-total ban on abortions.
Under this new law — meant to provoke a legal fight up to the U.S. Supreme Court — all abortions would be illegal except “in cases where abortion is necessary in order to prevent a serious health risk to the unborn child’s mother.” Alabama’s legislators made no exception for pregnancies caused by rape or by incest.
It is a law with which I disagree, not because I disrespect life, but because I believe that life cannot be defined as life until a fetus can live viably outside the womb, either with medical intervention or without.
Given that doctors and scientists put the age of viability at somewhere between 20 and 24 weeks post-conception, I believe that abortion should remain legal until that point in time — and beyond in cases of sexual assault, incest or serious medical risk to the mother.
Of course, I am also a man. As such, my say in a woman’s right to choose carries less weight than that of the human beings who carry fetuses until birth.
Up until today, 54 years and counting, I have never once been a part of a conversation like the talks my parents had in the fall of 1964.
Speculatively, I have always believed that I would choose as my parents did, on the side of having the baby. But let’s be real: Speculation about decisions hardly carries the same stakes as facing the decision itself.
This will sound strange, but more than once I thanked my mother for choosing as she did, to give birth to me.
I admire the choice she made, though — and this is the strange part — I told her that I would have forgiven her for choosing to have an illegal abortion.
Granting me life was the original gift my parents gave me and it was made all the more valuable by the two of them having made the express choice to have me.
You can disagree. You can say that life is so sacred, the laws of man must protect it. And I will respect your argument, even though I disagree about the moment when life begins.
Personally, I prefer to view my life as a choice made by two teenagers in love, rather than the byproduct of a few politicians forcing their views onto a terrified and unwilling 17-year-old girl.