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.