A Recovery Blog

This blog is about my continuing recovery from severe mental illness. I celebrate this recovery by continuing to write, by sharing my music and artwork and by exploring Buddhist ideas and concepts. I claim that the yin/yang symbol is representative of all of us because I have found that even in the midst of acute psychosis there is still sense, method and even a kind of balance. We are more resilient than we think. We can cross beyond the edge of the sane world and return to tell the tale. A deeper kind of balance takes hold when we get honest, when we reach out for help, when we tell our stories.

Friday, April 20, 2007

The Rights of Women

In 1973, the year I turned eleven, the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Roe versus Wade that state laws could not forbid a women an abortion during the first three months of pregnancy. The reason for this decision was based on the the Constitution which protects the right to privacy even though there is no actual amendment to that effect. Interestingly the amendment that is most often cited to support the Roe V. Wade decision is the 14th Amendment created in 1868 to provide citizenship for former slaves and to give them full civil rights. In looking back on history it is no great leap to say that women have been treated nearly as slaves, if not actually so. It is important to note that women did not get the right to vote until 1920, a mere eighty seven years ago. The Supreme Court decision to legalize abortion throughout the United States gave women of childbearing years the personal and private right to choose whether or not to continue or terminate a pregnancy. Freedom of choice. Right to privacy. The basic right that a woman should be able to decide what is best for her own body and spirit, not the church and not the government or any combination of the two.

Abortion has been legal since just before I got my first menstrual period. And all this time it has been always within my power (assuming I'm not barren) to decide when or when not to have a child. As fate would have it, I never had a child and I was very fortunate in that I never had an abortion either. When I was a young woman I would worry from time to time if I were pregnant when my period came a few days late. With Saul I don't think I ever seriously considered having a child but the idea of having an abortion was as frightening to me as that of finding myself pregnant. The bottom line was that I didn't want either alternative. I wanted to remain pregnancy free. And so I used birth control. It was sometime during my relationship with Brendan that I finally confronted the possibility that if I got pregnant, I would have an abortion. I did not want Brendan to be the father of any child I bore, he was too sick and too abusive and at the time I felt sick also. To have a child would not have been fair to any of us, not as long as the situation stood as it did. I never had to make that choice, but if I had to, I could, legally and safely.

Okay, so obviously I'm pro-choice but the older I get the more disturbing I find abortion, especially as my body will prepare in the next few years for the end of my child-bearing years. I will probably never have a baby and considering my history of mental illness that may be just as well. And so I look wistfully at the babies I do happen to pass by when out driving or shopping. The ability to create new life is truly amazing. If I had been well, I would have tried to have a baby. It's only just now that I am slowly letting go of any such idea. And so I find the thought of abortion a bit painful because a part of me (even now) wishes that I could become pregnant. I don't like abortions and personally would only have one if I felt there was no other alternative and if I could do it right away, but then I never was in the position to make that choice. And now, if I got pregnant, despite my mental illness, I know I would want to try to have the baby. Perhaps not a sensible choice, certainly an emotional one. So I feel conflicted.

I value life and the thought of destroying life upsets me but I believe even more strongly in the right of each woman to make her own choices. It is not my place or anyones to tell a woman what to do with her body or to tell her the state of her soul. And I really don't believe that most women treat abortion casually. Pregnancy is a serious dilemma in many instances from incest and rape to extreme youth to lack of financial resources to a simple desire not to have a child (and there are women who never wanted a child and never will and that is perfectly okay too in my book). The resolution of that dilemma is, unfortunately, for some women an abortion. That is their right. The right to "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

There are over 7 billion people in the world. Billion! It's okay not to have children. It's even better to adopt. Adoption is probably the most loving thing a person could do. If I were sensible I would say that when (and I'm being hopeful) I am fully recovered I would rather adopt a child than give birth to a child, mainly due to my age and the possible genetic predisposition to schizophrenia. I don't know the policy for adoptions or for being a foster parent. My history of mental illness might disqualify me for that too. But right now it doesn't matter, I am neither well enough nor do I have a partner. The next five years I will find out one way or another and make my peace with it.

What got me started on all of this was that yesterday I read in the New York Times that the Supreme Court had ruled in a 5-4 decision to ban a certain method of abortion starting in the second trimester. As far as I can tell, this is not a major blow because women in the first trimester are still legally free to have an abortion if they so choose. What unsettled me was some of the language used by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy: "'Respect for human life finds an ultimate expression in the bond of love the mother has for her child. It is self-evident that a mother who comes to regret her choice to abort must struggle with grief more anguished and sorrow more profound when she learns, only after the event, what she once did not know: that she allowed a doctor to pierce the skull and vacuum the fast-developing brain of her unborn child, a child assuming the human form.'" Instead of being a good judge, impartial and just, he is using a clearly biased and manipulative scenario to make his point. And he is one of the five judges who passed this decision, all of whom follow a similar logic. The other very disturbing issue is that there is but one woman who is a Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg (who voted against this ban). How can an issue so vital to many women's lives be decided by a majority of eight men to one woman?? Right now, the freedom of choice to have an abortion during the first trimester is intact, but such obvious bias and imbalance on the court may some day attack our basic right to privacy and our right to make our own moral decisions. I hope that day never comes.
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