Lead editorial in The New York Times this morning -- "If Roe v Wade Goes" -- got me thinking: Let's say the Romney/Ryan ticket wins. How long will it take for Texas to make abortion illegal?
Romney used to support Roe v. Wade, but now he joins Ryan in proposing that abortion be made a crime except for when incest is involved or to preserve the mother's life. An aging roster of justices on the Supreme Court should make that easy for a Romney White House to pull off.
We spoke here recently about the possible Texas trajectory toward becoming the American Teabagistan, no matter who wins the White House. So if both things happen, the final Tea Party takeover in Austin and Romney/Ryan in Washington, how long will it take for abortion to become illegal here where we live? Ten minutes?
And what would that mean for women in Texas? How would their lives change? That thought put me in mind of another piece I saw in the Times several years ago: In 2008, a retired Boston obstetrician/gynecologist named Waldo L. Fleming wrote an op-ed piece for the Times recalling his own memories of illegal abortion before Roe v. Wade, back when a woman either had to be rich enough to travel abroad for an abortion or brave enough to face the coat hanger. In his years of practice, Dr. Fielding often found himself called to the hospital emergency room to deal with the horrific aftermath of botched back-alley abortions.
I found that piece again this morning. In it, Dr. Fielding recounted that the coat hanger was no mere metaphor: "The familiar symbol of illegal abortion is the infamous coat hanger -- which may be the symbol, but is in no way a myth," he wrote. "In my years in New York, several women arrived with a hanger still in place. Whoever put it in -- perhaps the patient herself -- found it trapped in the cervix and could not remove it."
Coat hangers were not the only things Dr. Fielding found: "Almost any implement you can imagine had been and was used to start an abortion -- darning needles, crochet hooks, cut-glass salt shakers, soda bottles, sometimes intact, sometimes with the top broken off."
Wait. I'm sorry. But I have always believed anti-abortion protestors were within their rights to confront me with blown-up photos of aborted fetuses. Maybe it's because of my work. I believe if somebody shows you the truth, you need to look at it. But you need to look at all of it, and that would include mental images, because we don't have photos, of women -- we men can think of them as our mothers, wives, sisters, girlfriends, perhaps even the daughter we pushed into it -- arriving in the E.R. screaming in a wad of bloody sheets with a broken Coke bottle in her fist or, as Dr. Fielding recounts in another example, a portion of her intestine protruding from her vagina, accidentally hooked and ripped from place by the misplaced coat hanger.
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In a 2006 study, The World Health Organization reported that 19-20 million unsafe abortions take place in the world every year, resulting in 68,000 deaths of pregnant women every year. The vast majority take place in developing countries where abortion is illegal or women lack access to qualified medical personnel.
That number -- 19 to 20 million -- should tell us one thing. There will always be significant numbers of women on this planet who will not be told by regimes, families or cultures that they must bear babies they don't want to bear. They will risk death, maiming, indescribable pain and unimaginable fear in the exercise of their personal physical liberty and sense of maternal responsibility.
We know exactly what Romney/Ryan will mean in Texas. We can connect the dots. We know the history of illegal abortion. We see its bloody palm-print across the globe today. We know that once the banning if abortion is enabled in Washington, Texas will rush with glee to jump on that bandwagon.
Yes, I believe we need to look at the picture. But we need to look at the whole picture -- the one with the woman in it, mother, wife, sister, daughter, friend, stranger. Eyes wide open.