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It's a Woman's Right to Choose, Not Yours

It's a Woman's Right to Choose, Not Yours

Before the murder of Dr. George Tiller and the discussion of abortion rights is wiped from the headlines and replaced  by the latest act of homegrown terror, I want to revisit the very thorough discussions that both Rachel Maddow and Andersen Cooper gave to the subject over the course of the last couple weeks.

Appearing on the cable shows were women at the helm of women’s health centers and organizations. The message I heard again and again, in addition to calling violence against doctors and abortion clinics (as well as harassment of women at these clinics) acts of domestic terrorism, women must also speak out for the need of safe and legal abortions.

Here’s the problem: very few women do speak out. Due to familial or societal stigmas, on top of the fear of being thrown in harm's way, women do not tell their stories in the public forum.

Over the course of my adult life, I’ve heard stories from close friends, ex-girlfriends and family members who have sought abortions. It’s a topic that has never been brought up or discussed lightly or casually, but instead has arisen in the protected confines of hushed conversation. Whatever you may believe about when life enters the fetus, this has nothing to do with the reality of the women throughout history and across cultures who have sought to abort a pregnancy.

As a woman, I  honestly don’t believe in judging a woman when it comes to her womb. And, thankfully, I’ve never been in the situation myself, but I wanted to share two stories that frame the issue for me.

My great-grandmother on my father’s side died of a self-induced abortion in 1919. She was 33. Her name was Cleopatra Moody Collins. Cleo left behind two sons and a daughter, my grandmother, who was six years old at the time of her mother’s death.

It’s not clear why Cleo needed to abort her pregnancy, though I know from oral history that side of the family was speckled with violence and abuse. Cleo’s death was such a scandal the family hid the cause of her death. They buried her in an unmarked grave in Ohio and removed all of her pictures from the family photo albums. My grandmother, who grew up with her cousins, lived her entire life not knowing how her mother actually died or having a picture to remember her by.

A year or so before my father died, he told my older sister how Cleo had passed. My sister, being the family historian she is, promptly ordered Cleo’s death certificate from the Ohio State Historical Society where it is kept on public record. It read: cause of death salpingitis (known as pelvic inflammatory disease). And in the doctor's own handwriting it says “self-induced abortion (slippery elm).”

In 2003, 84 years after my great-grandmother died, my sister and father had Cleo Moody’s name carved on a proper gravestone.

A member of my mother’s family (who asked I not name her) had an abortion in 1961. Her father flew her to Japan, where abortion procedures were legal and medically safe. She described her experience as being well taken care of in an impeccably clean Japanese clinic. Her recovery time was quick and she even had a chance to enjoy a bit of Osaka before returning home to Hawaii. This relative went on to live a full and adventurous life, seeing her children into adulthood.

Cleo Moody, my great-grandmother, was a nameless and still faceless woman written out of my family history.  I can’t imagine how many women like her there were, are or will be should safe and legal reproductive procedures be taken away. When we lose our reproductive rights, we loose our safety, our ability to self-determine and, more tragically, our place in history.