The Abortion I Attended

When I was still in college I got a job working at an emergency shelter for youth. Kids were occasionally brought in late at night by the police or a county’s on-call social worker. More frequently they came with social workers directly from court hearings and they lived at the shelter for days, weeks, even months, waiting for a spot to open up for them in a residential program.

After a year, I applied for another job within the agency. I was hired as a staff supervisor at a residential treatment center for adolescent girls. There I met many good people including one of the women who has stood by me through much of my life, peak and valley, and who inspires me still. My co-workers joined in celebrating my marriage, even as much as many didn’t think it was such a good idea. Some maybe even took bets on our chances. (Ironically the stately old house that was once the group home facility now houses Awesomesauce and Awesomesauce, the law firm that represented me in my divorce.) It was there where I first began to educate youth about sexuality, a role which would become a growing part of my professional life over many years and several more positions.

The residential treatment center provided a relatively intensive therapeutic environment to teen girls who were mostly survivors of various forms of abuse. Anti-government types might have called the facility a re-education camp for the children of the very poor. Most, but not all, of the clients were from poor families. Some of the girls were pregnant. Some of them were mothers. All who required access to reproductive healthcare were provided it. This included education, contraception in many forms, and in at least one case, abortion.

Condom tin, circa 1930, unearthed 2010 in St. Paul, MN

We can digress here and talk about Margaret Sanger’s views on eugenics, but what we did at the facility wasn’t about keeping the poor and down-trodden from reproducing. It was about helping all these young women control their reproductive lives. When women (or in this case, girls) gain control over their reproductive lives, they wait longer to have children, they have fewer children, they are better parents, and the economic situation of the entire family is improved.

The girl who had the abortion was homeless. Though she hadn’t yet had any formal sex education, she knew a lot about sex. Her mother was a drug-addict and a prostitute. They actually do have prostitutes in the Midwest, something which surprised me at the time. The girl had gone along on “calls” with her mother. After one of the Johns loudly and assertively solicited the girl’s services in addition to her mother’s, the girl was left at home, often to look after younger siblings while her mother went off to work. The children never knew when their mother would return. She had occasionally been arrested and disappeared for days.

Bad men would drop by looking for the girl’s mother, often for the money they felt they were owed. Somehow or another, the state got involved, and the girl and her three siblings were placed in a foster home. The foster parents insisted that the girl leave the parenting to them even though she had grown quite accustomed to not only doing the parenting, but to being the only responsible person in the room. She didn’t know what to do with herself, that is until she met a reckless, wild boy at school who gave her a lot of friendly attention, at least at first. He was white and he had heard black girls were easy. (She was actually bi-racial; her mother was white, but that didn’t seem to matter.) The boy was horny. The girl was flattered by the attention; too flattered. Most everyone knew the boy’s father was rough-looking and drove a beat up pickup truck, but they didn’t know that the man routinely kicked the boy, his siblings, and their mother in an alcoholic rage that he was unlikely to remember the next day. Most people didn’t know that the boy’s mother, sweet as she was, was thoroughly cowed.

You probably see where this is going. The prostitute’s daughter fell in love—or what she thought was love—with the rough boy who mistreated her. As far as either of them knew, it was just how men treated their women. The prostitute’s daughter ran away from her foster home and slept in the bed with the rough white boy’s mother most nights. It was the same bed the boy had been conceived in. The boy’s mother adored the girl, and the father also liked her. The father also believed that black girls were easy. That was how this girl finally came to us; that and stealing the father’s pickup truck to get away. She was barely fourteen.

Hers was the potential baby Rick Santorum thinks she should have viewed as a gift. Any way I look at it, I still can’t see any gift. Maybe Rick Santorum knows something I don’t. Surely he thinks he knows something as he has had a lot to say about sex and sexuality and what is normal and proper. (Dan Savage can tell you all you need to know about that.)

After scrounging up private resources to cover the cost, I went with that girl to the clinic. She was afraid and her hand shook as she put it in mine during the procedure. We returned to the facility and she went to her room to rest. I brought her a glass of water.

“Thank you,” she said, “you know, for everything.”

She deserved a great life and I told her so. Unlike a lot of the girls I worked with, she believed me. I wrote the report to the Court that concluded with a recommendation that she be required to receive the Norplant as a condition of her probation. It was not the only time I made such a recommendation.

That girl worked the program with a grim determination I have rarely seen in another human being. She showed her mettle many times, confronting her past, confronting her mother, confronting her peers, and learning to respect herself and to demand respect from others. She was smart and she worked hard, graduating to an independent living program and from high school. She went on to college and to medical school, and to have a career and a family of her own. Most stories like this one don’t end this way, but this one did and it offers hope.

Thankfully, that girl’s mother was not allowed to “remake” her daughter in “her image.” Shame on you for the things you have said, Rick Santorum. Really, shame. While we are at it, shame on all the GOP state legislators proposing bills that would make the lives of girls more difficult when we should be doing exactly the opposite. Shame on those who support such bills and on the Governors who sign them, and if and when we stand by and watch, shame on us, too.


11 comments to The Abortion I Attended

  • Thank you for this, and for sharing that girl’s story. Things like this are all too common, and when people like Santorum spout their religious beliefs, it makes me angry. Not because they have those beliefs, but because all to often those beliefs are not tempered by first hand experience. I am one of those girls. My Mother left when I was four, leaving me with an abusive father and extended family that looked the other way when he began to see me as my Mother’s replacement. At age 9. I, like a lot of girls in that position, said nothing. I hid it. And it happened for years. When a girl is sexually used at such an early age, nature tries to respond to the demand by speeding physical maturity. At age 10 I found myself developing and experiencing my first menstrual cycle. For the next three years, *someone* was looking over me because I did not become pregnant. When I was 13, I learned about birth control. I went to the one person that I trusted (a social services counselor at school) and told her I was sexually active and I needed birth control, but that I could not tell my family. I couldn’t bring myself to admit that it was my Father I needed the protection from. I was not sexually active with anyone *but* him, and I didn’t have a choice there…but I could damn well make sure that I exercised the choice that was available to me, though it was difficult and humiliating to see that choice through. Two years later my Father found my pills and went into a rage like none I have ever seen. He demanded to know who I was ‘whoring around’ with. He beat me. When I finally felt like he was going to kill me, something unlocked, I had nothing left to lose and so I screamed at him that it was HIM. I was protecting myself from becoming pregnant by HIM. I don’t remember much after that…but for the first time the next day I had visual bruises. Social services finally got involved. I was moved to foster care. And that saved my life, and opened a world of options I didn’t even know existed.

    Access to birth control kept me from becoming trapped. Because my family would have forced me to complete a pregnancy. That was my role as a female. And once I had a child, I *would* have been trapped. A teenager in very small town Midwest with no salable skills and no access to transportation to get away. I would have been essentially a prisoner.

    I am now in my 40′s. I have no contact with my family of birth. But, I have married into a wonderful and loving family who treasures me. I have a wonderful Son who has known love his entire life. I am educated, I am free. Because I had access to reproductive care and a legal right to choose that care.

    I cannot see taking that right away as ‘God’s will’. I cannot. I will not. God could not have meant for women to become enslaved. For *anyone* to become enslaved. Take away that choice, and sex becomes a tool of power that can be used to control lives instead of the loving and sharing experience it’s meant to be.

    What these people are preaching is not a loving God’s will, it’s the will of men who want women back under their power.
    Tess recently posted..Curry Pepper BBQ PorkMy Profile

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  • Tess, I admire your courage. I am so glad you came to know that an ever-after that is happy. Your story gives hope.

    (That curry dish looks delicious, btw.)
    Annie recently posted..The Abortion I AttendedMy Profile

  • debi lesko

    Annie, thanks for having the courage to write this. And you too, Tess! These type of things are one of the many reasons I am, and always will be, pro-choice. I posted Annie’s story to my Facebook and I’m fairly certain I’ll get some nasty comments or oooooh my!, they might unfriend me. I hope they do! Because if you don’t believe in reproductive rights for women, or can’t simply respect the fact that others have rights to have different opinions, then you are no friend of mine.

    Thanks again Annie; I always enjoy your writings!

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    • I struggle with the issue of ‘unfriending,’ and it periodically annoys me that Facebook suggests as friends those who have already unceremoniously ‘unfriended’ me. (Mostly people I knew from high school who have rarely left the zip codes they were raised in.) There are a number of people on my Facebook friends list whose views I do not share, but I learn from them and I do try—and it isn’t always easy—to keep an open mind. Also, when we stop talking to one another, it is easier to make the other THE OTHER and when we lose our humanity or diminish another’s all sorts of bad things can happen.

      Thank you for your encouragement!

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for posting this. I agree with everything you are saying. By taking away women’s health care (and isn’t that essentially what Rick and others are proposing?) we would go back 50-plus years. I am so frustrated by (mostly)men’s views on this. I had an argument with a very “Republican” man (that is in quotes because no one ever fits into a mold) and explained to him why Rick and others were so wrong. The guy didn’t even know that most birth control involves PRESCRIPTIONS! He thought you bought them like vitamins. Or that was his excuse. It seems to me that most people opposed to insurance companies are very uneducated. Not by school, just that they are fed the wrong information and believe it.

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  • Thalia

    Thanks for this!

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  • Well written, well done. I assume you’ll get lots of flack about this, but I’m glad you could share this story. I don’t have stories of rape, incest, neglect or physical abuse, but I’ll say this: When I lost my virginity to my longtime boyfriend I was already on the pill. My ability to get to a doctor and take care of myself in these matters without having to involve my parents is not one I took or take for granted (even though my tubes are tied now and birth control is the farthest thing from my mind). I have daughters now. And though I hope we will have the kind of relationship that would allow them to come to me, I would like other options and resources available to them — just in case.

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  • Thank you for sharing that story. We are on the cusp of slipping backwards into a time and place our daughters would find unbelievably demeaning.
    Denise Emanuel Clemen recently posted..Post-Divorce HuntingMy Profile

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  • Debi Lesko

    I see your point Annie (Facebook unfriending, not talking to each other about things). First in regards to the friend suggestions, you have no idea how many times my ex-husband’s face appeared there until I finally wrote them to please stop! Lol! Also, I may have sounded flippant about the whole unfriending thing, but honestly, it comes from growing up in a very small (and small minded) town, being a people pleaser for too many years and even when I stood up for something I believed in, I allowed others to put me down and shut me up. I live in a suburb of a city now, but in a very conservative state (Missouri) and at almost 44 years old, I’ve just had it. I have friends who are pro-life, or religions I may not agree with but we remain friends because we respect each other’s rights to have different opinions on things and focus on the things we do have in common and enjoy about each other. So maybe I didn’t express it very well earlier, but what I meant was if someone doesn’t agree with something I post, no problem! But if they are not going to respect that I have the right to my own opinion (and vice versa, of course), and would rather unfriend me than discuss, I would really rather they be gone. Seriously.

    Denise, I read your “Post Divorce Hunting” about finding a new home; congratulations! But the best part was your lovely descriptions of yourself at the bottom, one of them being “recovering wife”. That was GREAT! It’s soooo true and you nailed that one! Thanks : )


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  • Michele

    It’s especially heart warming after a kindness is extended, to see someone take a positive road in life. I’m sure you helped many girls who continued to make poor choices and continued to have difficult lives. I think even for those girls, though they didn’t shine like the girl you wrote about, helping them likely prevented them from a much worse life. Sometimes thats hard to imagine, but I know that things can always be worse. The kindness you showed will carry those girls, as it would anyone, through the darkest moments of their lives. I remember the kindnesses shown to me over the years. It meant a lot then and even more now, to know someone cared to go out of their way for me. God bless you.

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