A Personal Story About Women's Lives

Letter to the Editor: Women need to do something now to stand up for reproductive rights.


I was 12 years old the night John F. Kennedy was elected president.  I remember it vividly.  We were living in a little brick house in south Salt Lake City in a very poor section of town.  We had enough to eat because my stepfather hunted every fall and there was plenty of venison.  My grandmother flew out from Los Angeles that day because my mom was ill.  I kept sticking my head in my mom’s bedroom to tell her the election results as they came in on the TV.  My grandmother wouldn’t let me all the way in the bedroom. 

It was late when it looked like Kennedy would win.  The doorbell rang and there standing on our porch was Dr. Jenkins, our family doctor.  He had never made a house call before, and since it took him an hour to get from his apartment on the Avenues to where we lived, I was very surprised to see him.   Five minutes later my mom was on the way to the hospital.

After she left with my grandmother and stepdad, I went in to her bedroom.   There was blood everywhere.  Every towel we owned was soaked with blood.  The bathtub was full of blood.  Who knew there could be that much blood in my little mother?  It looked like my grandma had been trying to rinse out bloody towels when Dr. Jenkins arrived. 

At the hospital, my mom was transfused six units of whole blood.  She didn’t die - although I think she came very close.  The day before she had locked herself in the front bathroom and in between chanting, “I can’t be pregnant, I can’t be pregnant,” she spent the day scrubbing the bathroom with what I now know was a very lethal mix of cleaning chemicals. 

At the time the state of Utah mandated that women had to bear all the children they conceived.  My mother had three children living, and had had three that didn’t live, three stillborns.  At 31, my mother decided she wasn’t having another pregnancy. 

In 1973, The U.S. Supreme Court ruled it was up to women to make such decisions, not the government, in a decision known as Roe vs. Wade.   But in 1960, if you got pregnant, you had no options.

I have read that most women who have abortions now are married women who already have children. The Virginia Senate just passed a bill that inserts state government into what I think should be a private decision.  The Virginia Senate just voted that if your birth control fails and you want to terminate an unintended pregnancy you should be debased and treated like a criminal. 

Some Republicans want to outlaw birth control.  A personhood law would require all women to bear all the children they conceive without regard to their health or family situation.  A progenitor of mine, the Old Quaker, William Wynne of Tazewell, had 27 children. He went through two wives having all those progeny.   Is that the world Republicans want us to return to?   They want women to be pregnant, barefoot and uneducated - having baby after baby after baby until they die? 

I was never much of a feminist.  And I have allowed strident feminists to speak up for  the rights of women to make decisions about their own fertility.   I don’t expect religious people will ever change their minds.  This letter isn’t written to religious people.  It’s written to those folks who don’t like to even think about abortion because it isn’t genteel, it isn’t nice.  It’s an issue that confounds our moral principles. 

This letter is written to women who want to be in charge of their own lives.   Republicans have a voting majority in the Virginia legislature.  If you don’t do something now to stand up for your rights to make decisions about your own fertility, those self-righteous, sanctimonious members of the state legislature are planning on taking those rights away from you.

I learned two things the night Kennedy was elected.  I learned that even if you win most of the votes cast in an election, you don’t necessarily get to be president.  I also learned that some women would rather die than be forced to have more children. 

Kathy Kaplan

Reston, Virginia   

LH February 06, 2012 at 07:41 PM
A powerful and well-written letter. Thank you for sharing, Kathy.
Arielle Masters February 06, 2012 at 08:04 PM
Exactly why abortion needs to be safe, legal, and accessible. Thanks for sharing, Kathy. I'm sorry your mom and your whole family had to go through that. I hope your mom recovered physically - I'm sure she never did emotionally.
Melissa Hammond Gifford February 06, 2012 at 08:06 PM
Thank you for having the courage to share your mother's story. Frankly, I'm surprised there hasn't been more outrage over the Virginia General Assembly's current attempts to legislate the personal health care decisions of Virginia women. Your personal story is an important reminder that we must continue to fight for our rights.
Kim February 06, 2012 at 11:02 PM
Kathy - thank you so much for sharing your story and I am behind you all the way with regard to women's rights. Your story was very inspirational - I went through something very similar with my mother back in the 60's. Your personal story is an important reminder that we must continue to fight for our rights.
Marguerite Leishman February 06, 2012 at 11:28 PM
In order to keep these bills from becoming law, we must vote! The outcome of the last VA Senate and House races might have been different if more people had gone to the polls. The handwriting was on the wall for women's rights after the election. Every vote counts and we needed many more of them. I feel like we are stepping back to the dark ages with the attacks on the health care rights of women! Where is the outrage?
Monica Russ February 07, 2012 at 02:05 PM
Thank you for sharing your story, Kathy. Women have sought abortions since ancient times and will continue to seek them, regardless of their legality. Do we really need to return to the era of back street abortions and accidental poisonings? As you point out, those times were not so long ago that we have forgotten what our mothers and grandmothers lived through. No woman makes the decision to abort casually, as some conservative groups would have us think - hence, mandatory sonograms. Safe and legal abortions need to be available. A woman has the right and responsibility to judge the morality of the issue based on her own circumstances. As a society, we cannot presume to make that decision for her.
Tammi Petrine February 07, 2012 at 03:15 PM
kudos to Kathy and the women who have commented in support of her conclusions. Where are the men in this conversation? This is a matter of basic principle: freedom of choice. Men should be as concerned about this breach of rights as women and stand up in support. Kathy, thank you for writing your poignant and important letter. I am standing.
Judith Andersen February 07, 2012 at 03:43 PM
I would love to do something about this atrocity of a law, but what? How to generate the outrage that the Susan G. Komen/Planned Parenthood debacle generated? What can be done now, aside from waiting for election day, by which time the issue may well be forgotten? Any ideas?
LH February 07, 2012 at 04:23 PM
@Judith: There are a number of anti-choice laws going through the VA state legislature at the moment aimed at drastically changing our rights as women. NARAL Pro-Choice VA (http://www.naralva.org/) and Planned Parenthood Advocates of VA (http://ppav.org/) both have action websites that allow you to send letters to your representatives urging them to vote against this harmful legislation. Planned Parenthood is also having a "Pro-Choice Day of Action" around the state on Feb 23 to help do your part and get the word out. http://ppav.org/keyissues/2012dayofaction.html; Spread the word!
Melissa Hammond Gifford February 07, 2012 at 05:10 PM
Too bad Janet Howell's amendment didn't pass - http://www.washingtonian.com/blogarticles/health/wellbeing/22729.html
martha February 13, 2012 at 01:01 PM
Sad story. I must ask, however, why didn't your dad just pick up a box of condoms? Or here is a novel idea. Why didn't your mother just keep her legs closed? As humans, we are not like dogs in heat. We can use self control..
LH February 13, 2012 at 01:32 PM
Wow Martha. If you must ask, then truly you have no idea. And very little compassion. What a cruel statement. Have *you* no self-control?
Karen Goff February 13, 2012 at 01:34 PM
Martha. Not only are you oversimplifying this situation and human nature in general, I think your comment is quite cruel.
Arielle Masters February 13, 2012 at 01:34 PM
Martha - your nasty, insensitive comments are way out of line. Everyone else - don't feed the troll.
martha February 13, 2012 at 02:04 PM
Well I really can't think of anything that is more cruel than a woman killing her own baby. Does killing your unborn child not go against human nature? As a nation we should work to reduce abortion, to celebrate life, and to promote personal responsibility. But libs, who usually are against the death penalty for those convicted of heinous crimes, think its no big deal to kill an innocent child.
Arielle Masters February 13, 2012 at 02:10 PM
The existing, alive, thinking, breathing, decision-making mother's life, health, and well-being come first. If she chooses to die or risk her health, life, or anything else for her unborn child, that needs to be HER choice, not anyone else's. If you're against the death penalty and against abortion, you'd better also be a total pacifist and against sending people to kill or be killed in wars.
Kathy February 13, 2012 at 02:13 PM
I was hoping someone would ask about the condoms. There was a large box of condoms in my stepfather's top drawer. My girlfriends and I, with the irreverence of 12 year olds, used to take a few out and unroll them with much giggling whenever we found ourselves home alone. We couldn't imagine that in a box of 100 anybody was counting. Wrong. Somebody was counting and boy was he mad. Alas, contraception fails. Even birth control pills fail. IUDs fail. Diaphragms fail. Your reference to my mother as a dog in heat is offensive. As many women in that era, she had no job, no income of her own, she couldn't even write a check on the checking account. Any money she got came from her husband's hand. Five dollars here, ten dollars there, for groceries. She and my stepfather had an arrangement that was quite common during that time. She gave him sex and he gave her money to feed her children. A few years after this episode, he abandoned her and his two children. He wasn't getting enough sex. My mother enrolled in a nursing course and supported us by working two night shifts as a nurse's aide over the weekends in addition to her coursework. It took a lot of effort and work for her to become self-sufficient and independent. She worked as a nurse for the rest of her life and was adored by the people she cared for. Your reference to my mother as a dog in heat is offensive. I said it twice. Kathy Kaplan Reston
LH February 13, 2012 at 02:17 PM
Karen, your mother sounds like an admirable woman. Who gets to decide the "price" a woman should pay for having sex? The trauma of an abortion isn't enough? You must have a child you can't care for? The solution isn't "keeping your legs closed". The solution is "making a responsible decision". And certainly, it seems your mother did.
martha February 13, 2012 at 02:30 PM
Kathy, I apologize. Pro-life people and pro-choice people will never agree on this delicate subject. I do feel bad for offending you. I'm sorry that your mother and your family suffered this way. The comments on this story are wrong however, in suggesting that I "have no idea". Again, I apologize. I will refrain from commenting further on this site.
Karen Goff February 13, 2012 at 04:00 PM
Martha - I welcome debate on pro choice vs. pro life - and you are correct, that is one that people on both sides will mostly not see eye to eye on. What I do not welcome here is personal and cruel attacks, which your comments contain. Life choices are never easy. There is a way to stand up for pro life beliefs without calling someone's mother a dog.


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