I do not want to live in 1972. That was my first thought upon waking up. Emotions have been pretty raw today. Of course, I made some art, as it’s my favorite way to process things. I went to see John and the dogs. I cuddled with the Pointers, and when I got ready to go home John gave me a tube of Mod Podge, so I decided to make a collage of some favorite works on paper. Then I painted waves all over it, because we’re all floating in a sea of uncertainty.
Of course, there are good things in my life to take stock of and seek comfort in: I smell just a little bit like an English Pointer because we cuddled so hard. My own personal dog went to great trouble to lick my shins and restore ownership. There is art, there are books, there are friends. My art show with Sarah Rimboch was so wonderful and we did use it as a platform to speak up. I also like to think that we offered our friends a beautiful colorful experience and a nice place to come together on a day when we were all sad and shaken. I’m also grateful for my independence, financial and otherwise. Did you know that in 1972 women could not have their own credit cards? I’ve had my own cards since I was 19. I will use them to consciously purchase products from companies that support reproductive rights and I’m glad a lot of companies are deciding to help their employees should they have to travel to access healthcare. Still, this is all so surreal.
I grew up being taught by all the women in my family that abortion access was fundamental. The women all had different stories and their personal choices, reproductive and otherwise, varied greatly, but they were all united in one opinion: politically they believed abortion should be allowed and accessible. I remember being 12 or maybe 13 and being a bit shocked by their vehemence. The women were religious and in many ways much more conservative than I was growing up to be. But they were adamant that abortion rights were fundamental.
The women, of course, were older. I was growing up in a society where the right to choose was a given, but the women in my family had lived through different times. I’m young enough not to remember life under communism, or to remember it only occasionally in unclear and unfocused fragments, like a movie I might have seen once but didn’t really pay attention to. I was told stories, but these stories are not mine. I grew up in a budding democracy, grew up with the excitement, intoxication, and occasional anarchy of newfound freedom. Being a teenager in Romania in the 90s was like being Pointer puppies running wild. We partied and told authority figures to go f themselves, we attended protest marches, voted in free elections as soon as we were 18, skipped school to go to the cinema, exercised our freedom of speech in not always appropriate ways, traveled abroad, smoked in the restrooms at school, and yes, took ownership of our own adolescent bodies. A few girls got pregnant in high school and these girls had abortions. We talked and gossiped and comforted and held hands. We judged a little too because we were young and stupid and for that I am sorry because I’ve since learned that no woman should be judged for having sex, for getting pregnant, or for choosing not to be pregnant anymore. We talked about whether the girls would be sad or relieved and whether they would break up with their boyfriends or stay together. It never ever occurred to us that a few years back the girls would not have had the right to terminate their pregnancies and go on to pursue their dreams. Or that they would not have been able to terminate these pregnancies safely and with dignity in clean and medically appropriate conditions.
The women in my family, however, could recall the times, before 1989, when abortion was illegal. They had horror stories to share, some their own, others stories of friends and family. The consensus was clear. When access is denied, women will risk their lives to get abortions. Women will die. There will be unwanted children too, lots and lots of unwanted children, and that too is a horrific scenario.
At some point I internalized the stories that were not mine. I grew up to believe what the women in my family have taught me: that abortion access is fundamental, that women should get to make choices about their own bodies.
Here’s what I didn’t know. In a surreal turn of events I’m sitting here in TX in the year 2022 reading the Facebook statuses of Romanian women in Romania, the country where I grew up believing abortion access is fundamental, but also that it cannot be taken away, would not be taken away in our lifetimes because we’re lucky to live in these enlightened times. Like the women in my family, some of the Romanian women on Facebook know things I don’t about life before 1989. Some do because they are older, others because they did the research. And what I learned today, as these women posted reactions to the news from the U.S., was that the anti-abortion laws of the communist regime I’m too young to remember were much more lax than what some U.S. states are now able to enforce with the blessing of our highest court. In communist Romania women could access abortions if they were raped, victims of incest, if their lives were at risk, if they had 4 children already, or were over the age of 45. Still, even with these exceptions, women died getting illegal abortions and women were stuck having babies they didn’t want. The repercussions were so devastating that decades after the abortion restrictions went away and every woman was free to choose, the specter of the horrors still haunts all of us. Even those like me who were lucky enough to grow up in a budding democracy, a place where people were rewriting the rules of the game. I’ve always, in fact, associated reproductive freedom with freedom in general, with democratic values, with a civilized society. I was glad I got to come of age in such a society and later when I moved to the U.S. I definitely was happy that this, too, was a society committed to those values, a society with a longer tradition of protecting them. I’m not one of those people who idealize the U.S., I’ve never been one of those people. Instead I’m someone who loves it deeply while seeing its flaws, someone eager to do the work to correct them. I loved learning about the Bill of Rights and later teaching my students about it. I loved teaching Roe v. Wade. I loved teaching Lawrence v. Texas. I love how the right to privacy is not specifically articulated but how it is a natural conclusion, encapsulating the very spirit of the Bill of Rights. And I’m so mad that the Supreme Court, the court meant to defend not stifle our freedoms, is attacking the right to privacy. Of course, I know that the court has, in the past made mistakes, made egregious decisions, then later corrected itself. Roe was not a mistake. But yesterday’s decision is. And I’m so sad and angry that many women and children will suffer before this mistake is finally corrected.