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Some thoughts on “My Mother’s Abortion”

by | Jul 8, 2013

By Dave Andrusko

unborn_baby68Last week we published a powerful email sent to National Right to Life that generated a tremendous response. “Abortion and future children: a letter to my aborted half-sibling” touched on dimension of the abortion debate that almost always gets glossed over: the impact on the baby’s death on his or her siblings.

Never let it be said that the anti-life set does not have a response, no matter how feeble, for everything. Enter “My Mother’s Abortion,” written by Beth Matusoff Merfish, that appeared in Saturday’s New York Times.

The setting is the debate over Texas’ omnibus abortion bill which a previously obscure pro-abortion state Senator filibustered for upwards of 11 hours. In tandem with a mob in the galleries, they derailed passage in a Special Session. But pro-life Gov. Rick Perry called a second Special Session and is confident the bill will become law, no matter how hysterical the pro-abortion opposition.

Merfish sets the table by telling us how she, her older sister, and her mother had been in Austin as part of the mob. Momentary celebration, she tells us, ended because (as noted) Gov. Perry would not give in. She ties this to the passage of an ultrasound law to paint a picture of unrelieved gloom.

Sharing her indignation was her mother, who “embodies maternal warmth.” I’m sure she does. Merfish segues from this to tell her readers that her mother aborted her older sibling in 1972 when her parents were a couple but not yet married.

For our purposes here, we’ll not go into any detail into Merfish’s conclusion: “What the movement for reproductive rights needs is for the faces of freedom to emerge from the captivity of shame”—i.e., make sure that people know they’ve aborted rather than keep it a secret.

It is a familiar lament: don’t act as abortion is something to be ashamed of. As she puts it, “You have made decisions that are private, even anguishing, but the weight of this political moment demands that you shed light on those decisions.”

Her own mother had long been quiet, “even as she passionately, publicly supported reproductive freedom,” Merfish writes. (Referring to her mother: “We had volunteered at Planned Parenthood and canvassed for candidates who supported abortion rights.”) “This is the first time we’ve discussed her abortion in public.”

Merfish was, as she explains, “shocked” when her mother told her about the abortion in her first year at Wellesley College: “I naïvely believed that only other women — not my family and certainly not my mother — needed this right that our family had long supported.”

And while it took a few years for that shock to wear off, “knowing made me even more proud of her and more determined to defend reproductive rights.” Pardon?

All it took, apparently, was to be told “that her choice was the right one and that her love for my sister and me was unequivocal” and “My mother said she wanted to reassure me that I had no reason to doubt her support in any situation I might face in my own life.”

Everybody’s different, I understand that. But my strong suspicion is that for most women being told, between the lines, that if they ever faced “any situation”—like an unplanned pregnancy—they’d have their mother’s support to abort would not suffice. Indeed, it would sound both threatening and ghoulish.

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It reads as if Merfish’s pride in her mother’s willingness to tell her own story trumps what is in that story—the death of an older sibling. As if being told she would stand behind Merfish’s decision to abort her grandchild compensates for the truth that it could have been Merfish who was aborted. As if being assured that her mother’s love was “unequivocal” would wipe away the truth that her love (and that of her fiancé later husband) failed the test when it mattered most.

Like many critics of Texas’ proposed law, Merfish manages to avoid the truth that the bill would also save unborn babies capable of feeling pain from an unimaginably horrible death. I wonder why.

Maybe because glib assurances that women have the “power to cement in the minds of your communities and families the importance of reproductive freedom” doesn’t hold a candle to the picture in our mind’s eye of an unborn sibling dying because his/her parents “were thoroughly unprepared to be parents.”

If you like, join those who are following me on Twitter at twitter.com/daveha. Please send your comments to daveandrusko@gmail.com.

Categories: Abortion