I tell this story of my experience to add to the stories of the many thousands of women who made difficult but considered decisions about if and when to have children. (“The untold stories in the abortion wars,” Forum, Shawn Hubler, Jan. 17)
I sat on the hospital bed next to my 89-year-old mother during her final days, watching the Senate confirmation hearing of Justice Sonia Sotomayor. My mom commented how happy she was that she lived to see women in such positions of power and respect, as well as how relieved she was that, in her lifetime, abortion became legal and safe.
I was surprised by the latter comment. Forty years ago, she discovered that I had an abortion as a law school student at New York University Law School, she was furious and denounced me. I was home during semester break, a few days after the abortion, when she found the clinic discharge instructions. It was just a few years after the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, and abortions still had a deep stigma of shame.
We never spoke about it again, until that day in the hospital. She explained to me then that her fury had been rooted in her terror for my well-being. I was able to access abortion services at a local Planned Parenthood clinic in New York City and pay for it based on the clinic’s sliding scale, a necessity given my student finances.
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While I deeply wished that my contraceptive device hadn’t failed all those years ago, I was fortunate enough to have the ability to make my own decision to terminate an unwanted pregnancy, to afford safe medical care and continue with my life plans to become a lawyer and advocate.
I fulfilled my professional goals and with my husband planned for and raised two successful, loving sons. One is a lawyer and the other a medical student.
The story was quite different for my grandmother, I learned that day. As a 9-year-old child, my mother witnessed her own mother almost bleed to death from a “back-alley” abortion.
My grandmother had five children already, and as poor immigrants, the family didn’t have the resources to support another child. Because abortion was illegal at the time, she had very few choices for terminating her pregnancy.
As my mother tells it, after the abortion, my grandmother began howling in pain and bleeding profusely. My grandfather left the apartment unable to bear it, leaving my mother to witness the agonizing scene. My mom recalled her terror as she saw her mother bleeding and screaming, certain that she would die.
This is what my mother feared for me when she found out about my abortion. If it were just a few years earlier – it might well have been without access to legal, affordable, safe abortion services.
After she told me her story, she glanced up to the TV monitor and expressed a hope that this new Supreme Court justice would uphold abortion access so no one else would ever have to see her mother nearly bleed to death or fear that fate for her daughter. I promised her that I would work to make abortion safe and available to all women. I share this story in the hope that it makes a difference.
Claire Lipschultz, an attorney who lives in Carmichael, serves as a board director of the National Council of Jewish Women Sacramento Section and as a national board director of the National Council of Jewish Women Inc.