Pro-Choice: what being it actually means by K E Garland

“Everybody’s a teacher if you listen.” — Doris Roberts; actress, author, and philanthropist.

When I posted, “My Abortion Story + Jury Service Pt 2,” I neglected to tell you something important; were it not for Kathy Garland’s courageous and honest blog post that you’ll find below, I might not have published it. (Her account first appeared at PULPMag on Feb. 13, 2020.) Perhaps you remember Kathy from when she was a prior guest at Happiness Between Tails? (And by the way, here’s another excellent post about the subject contributed by Infidel753.)

Below, she mentions Planned Parenthood. Funding for the organization was signed into law by President Richard Nixon who decreed, “no American woman should be denied access to family planning assistance because of her economic condition.” Planned Parenthood provides far more than abortions. The agency is committed to giving affordable reproductive health care to all genders, all ages,  all over the world. They offer sex education, cervical cancer screenings, contraception including vasectomies, and help with sexually transmitted infections.

Kathy has taught English for 25 years, which makes perfect sense, given how she inspires all who read her posts. A wife and mother, she lives in Jacksonville, Florida. Her award-winning work is featured in anthologies and many other places. For info about the three books she’s published and to contact her, check out her personal blog. In addition, she hosts a site to normalize conversations about menopause

Blogger/author/teacher K E Garland.

“What it Actually Means to be Pro-Choice” by Kathy Garland

My father taught me about sex when I started my period. We sat on the loveseat, where he explained how menstruation worked, a banana balanced on his thigh. I suspected this was my mother’s idea, although she and I never discussed sex or women’s bodies. 

My father explained bleeding meant I could now get pregnant, if I ever had sex, and that it was my responsibility to avoid such circumstances. A condom would do the trick. He pulled one out of his pocket, ripped open the small package, and showed me how to put it on the banana, a mock penis. I suppose he thought it appropriate to cram three separate topics — sex, safe-sex, and periods — into one conversation, because we never revisited either again. But at ten years old, I couldn’t comprehend what fake penises and condoms had to do with the pain in my lower abdomen or the blood that soaked the pad I’d just learned to wear. I wanted the conversation to end so I could finish playing with my dolls.Cover of "Daddy: Reflections of Father-Daughter Relationships" by Dr. K E Garland.

Six years later, my mother suddenly died from kidney disease. My maternal grandmother was an expert at pushing emotions aside and had advised me to do the same.

“Don’t cry,” she said, “you’ve had your Mama for a long time. Sixteen years is a long time.”

So, I followed her lead and stifled the pain.

 My father physically moved on by dating a new woman a week after my mother’s burial. He spent my junior year, courting his newfound love and ignoring me. Taking care of a teenage daughter seemed to be too much for him. The following year, he sent me to live with my grandparents in a small Michigan town called Covert. I was angry. There were more students in my former Chicago high school than in the entire township. I was saddened by how quickly my father discarded me and our relationship. But I’d learned to suppress and ignore all negative emotions. My plan was to keep to myself, graduate, and apply to colleges.

School began the day after Labor Day. It was hard not to be noticed in a class of sixteen seniors, but I tried. Even when I knew the answer, I remained as quiet as possible in English IV, hoping no one would speak to me. In typing class, I hid my nervousness behind intermittent pops of pink Bubble Yum; maybe my aloofness would repel others. Conversations were sparse until I went to computer class. That’s where I met him. He was a junior. He cracked my feigned exterior by making me laugh. He helped me bury my mother’s death. He helped me forget why I was living in Covert in the first place. His name was Eddie.

Our long phone conversations turned into afternoons at Eddie’s home where we sat on his family’s brown sectional and watched movies on their floor model TV. His mother was rarely home. Watching movies turned into tongue kissing and sex, sometimes on the couch or floor, other times in his room.

We became a couple and I’d forgotten about the talk my father and I had seven years prior. I’m not sure what Eddie’s safe sex lessons entailed. By the first day of fall, my period hadn’t come, so I asked his mother what she thought that meant.

She inhaled a long drag of her cigarette, blew a thin, cloudy stream out of the corner of her mouth, looked at me, and said, “Either you late, or you pregnant. And if you pregnant, you need to talk to Eddie.”

I was pregnant.Cover of "The Unhappy Wife" by Dr. K E Garland.

I knew I could trust my senior English teacher, a brown, petite, no-nonsense lady. Her church dresses and high heels felt like home. The day I confided in her, she asked if I could tell my grandmother. I assured her I could not. Expectations were high in my family, especially my mother’s side. My grandfather had been president of the school board for several years. My grandmother was an important figure at the local civic center. A seventeen-year-old pregnant granddaughter was outside of their equation.

My English teacher neatly wrote the name, Planned Parenthood on a sheet of paper and underneath it, a phone number.

For my initial visit to the clinic, I called into my work-study job and made the 36-mile-drive alone in the car my grandparents had lent me. The appointment was scheduled to ensure I was, indeed, pregnant. Once confirmed, I’d have to return on a separate day for the actual procedure. A nurse told me what I should bring: a change of clothes, socks, pads, and a person to drive me there and back. I also had to commit to a form of birth control. I opted for the pill.

Eddie drove us to the clinic in his mother’s blue Chevy. We sat in the waiting room and watched daytime television with other women of varied ages, until they called my name.

After recovering, we returned to Eddie’s house. His mother had allowed me to hide my car in her garage, so that passersby wouldn’t know I was there. I lay on the brown sofa for several hours, fading in and out of sleep. His mother encouraged me to eat her homemade meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and gravy. The meal warmed and comforted my spirit.

When it was time to leave their home, I hid the paper bag full of antibiotics and pain meds in my backpack and left around eight at night just in time to arrive at my grandparents’ house, as if I’d been working all evening.

Though physically painful, the days following my abortion were liberating. I not only escaped shame, but also teen motherhood. I didn’t want to be a part of the statistically low numbers of adolescent mothers, who never attended or finished college. An abortion ensured I never was.

Thirty years ago, having an abortion offered me a real choice, with no restrictions, followed by a birth control option.

But this isn’t the case in 2020.

In some states, women are currently faced with the strictest abortion regulations to date. Fetal heartbeat laws restrict abortions after six weeks, which is typically the timeframe for confirming a pregnancy and the earliest that abortions can be completed. My teenage self would’ve had no choice but to prepare for birth. Furthermore, states like Missouri that have one abortion clinic, limit access and add stress to an already stressful situation. Also, as it stands now, the national dialogue is centered on extreme cases. Questions like what if a woman is raped or what if the woman might die tend to exaggerate and cloud the idea of choice. While I agree that these are valid reasons for having an abortion, any situation is reasonable. 

When we focus on the need to prove rape or death, we create a hierarchy of reasons. When we begin ranking rationale, we also implicitly say, you don’t have the right to choose. The state will choose for you. And that is not pro-choice. That is punishment sanctioned by someone else’s idea of morality.

When I reflect on my senior year in Covert, I know it was best not to bring a baby into my world of anger and resentment. Furthermore, Eddie and I said we’d be together forever, but like many teenage relationships, ours didn’t last. We broke up by the beginning of my second year of college. Although conditions are never perfect, raising a baby with a sixteen-year-old boy in a high-poverty environment, while delaying my education wasn’t ideal. It wasn’t time.Cover of "Kwoted" by K E Garland.

But politicians dismiss stories like mine. Even though a study showed that women who have abortions do so because it would “interfere with their education, work or ability to care for their dependents, or they could not afford a baby at the time,” the current political climate ignores these as valid reasons to terminate a pregnancy.

Governments have successfully reframed the pro-choice narrative to only include situations like rape, incest, or a mother’s impending death. These are not pro-choice examples. These are abortion bans intended to punish women and teenage girls for not having protected sex.  

I’m grateful I was able to drive a safe distance to a Planned Parenthood within the state and I’m thankful I didn’t have to involve my grandparents by having them sign an informed consent form, which is current Michigan law. I’m glad I was able to make a choice that was best for me. This procedure allowed me to complete high school, and subsequently college with ease, which in part have contributed to the life I live today as a wife, mother, and professional with a terminal degree. I want the same choice offered for other women, who, for different reasons may become pregnant, but not want to birth a baby. I want our country to return to a true definition of pro-choice, one where women can safely decide the outcome of their situations, without their state’s interference.

To contact K E Garland and for more of her writing, visit her personal blog, or her site that normalizes conversations about menopause.

When were you challenged to make a pivotal decision only you ought to have decided?

My Abortion Story + Jury Service Pt 2

Your comments to Part 1 of this post on my jury duty have lent me courage.

On Olvera Street, you can buy stuff like these Calaveras-style (skeleton) caricatures and plush versions of Mexican pastries. Photo by da-AL.
On Olvera Street, you can buy stuff like these Calaveras-style (skeleton) caricatures and plush versions of Mexican pastries. Photo by da-AL.

In posts and comments here and elsewhere, I often mention the importance of blogging, how delighted I am that social media and our freely commenting allow us to become closer to each other. The simpler it is for people to express themselves into the ethers, the smaller our the world becomes. When we speak from our hearts and personal experience, we see we all need each other and that every single one of us linked in doing our best to get by each day.

All that, and still I left out a vital bit of my own story last time. In that post, “My Jury Duty Pt 1 + Infidel753 Works for Justice and Freedom to Choose,” guest blogger Infidel753 told of his experience as a volunteer for an abortion clinic. As a “pro-choice escort,” he navigated women past the intimidation efforts of anti-choicers. As a result, some readers were inspired shared their views on abortion rights. (By the way, My Jury Duty Pt 3 is here.)

Pico House, across from downtown Los Angeles' historic Olvera Street. Photo by da-AL.
Pico House, across from downtown Los Angeles’ historic Olvera Street, was built in 1870. Photo by da-AL.

My Story

When I was in my mid-20s, I terminated two pregnancies. Within the same year, I got pregnant twice, each time using different forms of birth control. At the time, I’d been living with a boyfriend since I was 18, a sweet, intelligent man I loved dearly.

We were surviving on sporadic work, earning hardly above minimum wage. For that and many more reasons, I didn’t feel like I could give a child the kind of start on life that I would have wanted.

The procedures were expensive and weren’t covered by my health insurance. Each was horribly painful. Afterward, I ran fevers of 104 and was forced to take days off from work, which I could barely afford.

The picturesque old church across from Olvera Street. Photo by da-AL.
The picturesque old church across from Olvera Street. Photo by da-AL.

Fortunately…

I had a kind lover to help me through. Never have I regretted my decisions.

In addition, in my 30s, I was sexually assaulted. Good luck, as if the term can apply to any part of such a trauma, is the only reason I didn’t get pregnant.

Throughout, I’ve enjoyed sheer fortune. What I mean is, the freedom to choose is easy for lucky women, regardless of laws. Those to whom life offers stepping stones and opportunities, circumstances that allow them respectable status and money — they can always spend enough to choose when and if they have children.

Part of the fun of jury duty was walking the local sights, like these stalls of Olvera Street. Photo by da-AL.
Part of the fun of jury duty was walking the local sights, like these stalls of Olvera Street. Photo by da-AL.

Choice

When people are eager to control others, they often interject comments about the for people to “be held accountable.” Their fingers continually point, and always away from themselves.

When we kid ourselves that we know what’s better for our neighbor, it’s easy to view the world as “them” vs. “us.” It’s not so very long ago when United States medical officials decided it was ok to pretend to treat black people for syphilis when really they were studying the full progression of the disease. (Check out that real life horror out here.)

If a woman is resource-poor, network impoverished, lacking in status, uneducated, plain ol’ poor and any of the rest of the often insurmountable challenges life can present — the option to decide whether she bears children is often beyond reach.

What if you’re very young and your family is the opposite of a Hallmark card? What if you’re not emplyed? Or your job doesn’t provide insurance and sick days? What if the rape was more than you could bear? And you don’t want the added burdens of facing the police, defending your reputation as well as your case, can’t afford a good lawyer, and don’t want to confront whoever assaulted you in court?

It was closed when I strolled by, but here’s where you can go up to see a David Alfaro Siqueiros (one of Mexico's greatest muralists) mural that was hidden for many years. Photo by da-AL.
It was closed when I strolled by, but here’s where you can go up to see a David Alfaro Siqueiros (one of Mexico’s greatest muralists) mural that was hidden for many decades. Photo by da-AL.  

Accountability and Responsibility

What if, what if, what if? No, it’s no one’s business why or how many times any woman has an abortion.

When statistics tally how many people consider abortion acceptable, they sidestep the real question. What begs to be asked is whether government is entitled to rule the female body.

It is neither your right nor mine to decide who gets abortions, to force anyone to get sterilized, or to force them to bear a child.

What is your business and mine is this: it’s their body. End of story.

Is it still legal to get an abortion?

How sad that anyone needs to ask. Mercifully, the answer in the United States is yes, in good measure due to the work of Planned Parenthood.

The organization offers all kinds of affordable health care, mostly but not all concerning reproductive health, to all genders, all ages, all over the world. Interestingly, in 1970, President Richard Nixon signed into law funding for family planning services, Planned Parenthood included. According to Wikipedia, Nixon decreed, “no American woman should be denied access to family planning assistance because of her economic condition.”

Remember, however, it’s not enough to win our rights — we must continually work to retain them. Unfortunately, the right to choose is continually endangered by anti-choicers.

Need proof we can’t rest on our laurels? According to Wikipedia, here’s what happened elsewhere: “Poland is one of the few countries in the world to largely outlaw abortion after decades of permissive legislation during Polish People’s Republic. About 10-15% of Polish women seek abortion in neighbouring countries due to the strict restraints in their own country. Poland’s abortion law is one of the most restrictive in Europe, along with a group of other traditionally Roman Catholic countries of the region (Malta, San Marino, Liechtenstein, Vatican, Monaco and Andorra).”

In non-Covid-19 times, the plaza at the mouth of Olvera Street is filled with performers and audiences. Photo by da-AL.
In non-Covid-19 times, the plaza at the mouth of Olvera Street is filled with performers and audiences. Photo by da-AL.

What about Pt 2 of my jury duty?

It was a holiday weekend, so we all stayed home that Monday.

Since my car was in the shop, on Tuesday my husband lent me his car. Ten minutes away from home, his “check engine” light blinked on.

Fortunately (a word I don’t use lightly, as explained several headings ago), I had another car I could borrow. My mom lives with us and she was away visiting my brothers who live in different states. Can one take a vacation when one is retired? Regardless, her generosity allowed me to continue jury duty, albeit half an hour tardy that day.

Today’s post was an emotional one and it took a lot out of me so I’ll leave off here and fill you in on the rest of my jury service next time…

Here's one entrance to the Olvera Street outdoor mall. Photo by da-AL.
Here’s one entrance to the Olvera Street outdoor mall. Photo by da-AL.

In the meantime, since the courthouse was in the Los Angeles Historic District, these photos are of Olvera Street. I walked there during our lunch break. According to Wikipedia, it’s “been the main square of the city since the early 1820s, when California was still part of Mexico, and was the center of community life[ until the town expanded in the 1870s.”

How much control do you want your government to have over your body?

My Jury Service Pt 1 + Infidel753 Works for Justice and Freedom to Choose

Photo of Spring Stree Courthouse, Los Angeles, California, By Los Angeles - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4070759
Photo of Spring Street Courthouse, Los Angeles, California, by Los Angeles – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4070759

Consider me two weeks behind in everything, including the story I’ll begin with below. I’ve just finished jury duty, so in terms of everything from blogging and novel writing to general life stuff plus venturing into a podcast version of Happiness Between Tails.

Thank you Infidel753 for generously guest posting here today! Before we get to him, indulge me in a recount of Part 1 of my recent civic experience. Find Pt 2 here and find Pt 3 here.

Jury duty. Duty. Justice.

Justice, doing one’s duty can be inconvenient. Same with voting, giving blood, and such. How far we’ll put ourselves out to work for the greater good is no body else’s business. I only hope we’re all thoughtful and kind about our choices, soul-searchingly aware that our only hope is if we know we’re all in this together. Each of us is a potential everyday hero for each other, all of us breathing the same air, if you get what I mean.

Friday before last, I started my service. Is jury duty the same all over the United States? All I know is California. Strike that. All I only know Los Angeles County.

A cousin in the UK reports jurors there rioted over crummy sandwiches they got for lunch. Lunch?! Believe me, here we’d be overjoyed to be offered anything other than tap water from the building’s fountains. The cafe in the basement charges for food. And it closed daily at 12:30 (maybe because of COVID restrictions?) even though lunch breaks were usually noon to 1:30.

Photo of Walt Disney Concert Hall By jjron - Own work; stitched panorama from seven original images, GFDL 1.2, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19436299
Photo of Walt Disney Concert Hall by jjron – Own work; stitched panorama from seven original images, GFDL 1.2, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19436299

Parking where I served, the Spring Street Courthouse, was a little over half a mile away and included a shuttle ride. Loving exercise, I didn’t mind jogging instead. The garage was beneath the Walt Disney Concert Hall, which is quite something to see as it’s one of Frank Gehry’s architectural marvels.

Let me rewind to before I got there.

The way jury duty works here, for a week, every night one calls to see if they’ll be needed the following day. I’d heard that if you’re not needed by Thursday morning, you’re home free.

Not so, Nay, nay, nay. Thursday night, they instructed me to go in — to a location much further than originally promised.

Photo of 701 Freeway, Los Angeles, California, By Dicklyon - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=76153668
Photo of 701 Freeway, Los Angeles, California, by Dicklyon – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=76153668

Along the drive there, on the 710, a busy freeway favored by semi-trucks, my engine blew, stalled, went caput. After $2,000 and another week, I’m hoping I’ll be able to drive it again. It happened on the lane second from the fastest as vehicles wizzed by. Mercifully, on that section of road, there was a safety shoulder to coast onto. After several deep breaths to calm myself and to count my lucky stars, I called AAA for a tow. They told me to sit tight for an hour. Then I phoned the courthouse, expecting they’d excuse me, but they wanted me to call them back later.

Within ten minutes, a Metro angel tow truck pulled up behind and rescued me!

If you ever break down on a Los Angeles freeway, call 511. For no charge, they’ll come out faster than anyone else can and help you get your car running (i.e., jump start, tire change, gallon of gas, radiator water, etc.) or tow you to the nearest exit.

From there, AAA took me to my mechanic, where my husband met me (whew! he was working from home that day). It was 12:15 when I arrived home. When I phoned the courthouse, they asked me to get there ASAP.

I inhaled lunch and darted through confusing one-way streets of downtown in search of jury for parking. No one said it would be far from the actual site… Fortunately, I didn’t run anyone over as I dialed the jury room…

At 2:15, soaked from running downhill and uphill as well as roaming the courthouse, I got there. An hour later, I became a juror for the first time.

Now for today’s guest, Infidel753. He’s blogged here before, when he amazed everyone by his compassionate veganism, which is despite his not being into cuddling up with furry and feathered and scaly folk.

Wait! Surely you’re curious about how the trial went? Check back soon for that tale, dear readers. In the meantime, here’s a photo of how our tomatoes (first introduced here) are coming along…

Close up of 3 huge tomatoes from my garden.
The best tomatoes are home grown!

Back to Infidel753, whose courage and conviction amaze me. Definitely check out his site. His Sunday posts are especially popular. That’s when he offers tons of funny and sober links. Here’s a picture from one of his links that still makes me laugh, particularly since this guy resembles my dear K-D doggie (who surely regrets being cared for by me who doesn’t eat meat).

Photo of a dog with a huge bone wearing a sneaker in it's mouth.

Here Infidel753 recounts the period of time when he stuck his neck out as a “pro-choice escort”…

A small contribution to the fight for freedom by Infidel753

For about a year, starting in late 2003, I volunteered as a “pro-choice escort” at an abortion clinic here in Portland.  The anti-choice protesters gathered there every Saturday morning to harass the clinic’s clients, so Saturday mornings were when I and the other escorts had to be there.

Most of the volunteers came as often as they could — on any given morning there were three to six of us there.  The only ones who were there every Saturday were S and W, the informal leaders of the team.  We were always careful to avoid mentioning full names or identifying information — in at least one case, the anti-choicers had managed to identify one escort and started sending him threats through the mail.  S was a woman, W a man.  The escorts generally were about 50-50 male and female.

Theoretically, the escorts’ main job was to be on the alert for protesters harassing the clinic’s clients on their way to and from the building, and intervene to shield them.  In practice, such cases seldom arose.  Most clients parked in a lot at the back to which the protesters had no access, and even when some did use the front door, the protesters rarely approached them.  But if there had been no escorts present and ready to intervene, I’m quite sure the anti-choicers would have approached and harassed them much more often than they did.  Our presence served as a deterrent.

Aside from that, both sides were engaged in more of a kind of psychological warfare.  The enemy’s goal was intimidation — making the clinic’s staff and clients feel isolated and surrounded by hostile forces.  Our purpose as escorts was to provide a positive presence to counter this negativity, so that clients would not feel they were in completely hostile territory.

Most of the protesters were regulars, and we knew their habits.  Some just stood around holding signs.  Some engaged in ostentatious religious chanting and praying.  Some stood as close to the clinic as the law allowed and performed long, bellowing diatribes which always seemed to be more about God and the Bible than about abortion as such.  There was one protester who always wore a gun, which I was told he had a permit for.  Due to some previous incident, there was a standing court order prohibiting him from being on our side of the street, so he stood across the street and scowled at us.  Another protester had a personal fixation on S; he had once said to her, “Women like you deserve to be raped”.  I once heard a protester shout at a man who was accompanying a woman into the clinic, “Why are you letting that woman kill your baby?  Be dominant, sir!  Be a man!”  Yes, he really said that.

I never saw any actual violence, but the situation was often tense, especially when there was a new person among the protesters, since anyone new to us was by definition unpredictable.  We all knew about cases in other parts of the country where clinics had been bombed or doctors murdered by the fanatics, and in at least one case an escort had been killed.  So we were always alert for any sign of danger.

The escorts had varied motives for being there.  I hold individual freedom to be among the highest values, and if someone else can infringe on your absolute freedom to decide what happens inside your own body, then what freedom can you securely lay claim to?  S had strong feminist convictions, and W was a libertarian who opposed the anti-choicers’ goal of forcing others to abide by their own religious taboos.  Most of the other escorts, as best I could tell, had some combination of similar motives.

Confronting religious fanaticism face-to-face is very different from reading about it in books.  Ever since that year, I’ve had a much deeper sense of what these people’s mentality is really like.  They will not be satisfied until the lives of the rest of us are dictated by the taboos of their own religion, backed up by the force of law, as in Iran or Saudi Arabia.

The clinic was in a residential neighborhood, and local people would often stop and chat with the escorts, bringing us hot drinks on cold mornings or otherwise offering encouragement.  On one occasion an elderly woman approached me and said, “I don’t agree with abortion, but I’m glad to see a man standing up for women’s right to make their own decisions.”  And that’s what it was really about — the right of all of us to make our own decisions, not have them made for us by somebody else’s religion.

Read a longer version of the above at Infidel753’s site here.

What is duty like for you?