OTI Online
Volume 2, 1983

Abortion is the Front Line

by Merle Hoffman


There I was at the Plaza Hotel - grey gabardine suit attach case -business meeting. Around me muted conversations one waiter joking with another everything reflected in the beveled 18th Century mirror I called the office. A 16yearold who was scheduled for an abortion had just naturally aborted in the examining room

Images of the whole scene: a labor in fear - a small body surprised in process of delivery no need for stirrups the doctor's exam the abortion ritual

All of it hit me vividly.

ZAP at 17 weeks formed, but too young to live ... too young to be at CHOICES... but then again ... so is her mother.

Now the abortion issue comes home to me and CHOICES... hard. It's not just "blood and tissue" anymore. The results of choice are not diffused and amorphous, but observable and definable. Time for reevaluation and deeper commitment

I don't have far to go ... 1.5 million abortions per year in the United States ... 33% performed on teenagers. Teenagers terrified, alone, eyes wide with innocence and fear. I have stood beside them, my hand wet with sweat held tightly, my rings in the pocket of my lab coat, murmuring words, trying to give wordless comfort, protection, as they lie so vulnerably with their legs in the ritualistic spread position of the gynecological table.

It comes to me that abortion is ultimately a "choice of victims." In a sense, it is a no win situation.

Is any woman "pro abortion"? I have never met one. no, never pro-abortion Pro Choice.

A decision to abort is an individual decision on the part of the woman and her family, of which she is an integral part. It is an individual decision and one which cannot, should not, and must not be made by the State. Abortion is an ethical, moral decision that each of the more than 150,000 women I have seen at CHOICES over the last 13 years has made with varying degrees of pain and self awareness.

The question of developing a consistent attitude toward the ethics of life is one that women share more profoundly than men. Through the nature of their biology, they are creators of life; through their Constitutional right they are able to determine their needs and the needs of their families, whether they should, in fact, bring new life into the world? Life who decides? Quality versus quantity.

Second trimester abortions. June 15, 1983... the Supreme Court in bold strokes reaffirmed the 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision legalizing abortion, permitting second trimester abortions to be performed in licensed, out-of-hospital facilities. My mind goes to a recent TV debate I did. "Here it comes gain," I thought, "the pause then the attack." That time it came from a woman a nurse a leader of the Right To Life movement in New York: "Once you allow abortion, once you say a life is worthless in the womb, what is to stop you from killing once it is born? It is a short step from abortion to live baby killing."

Choices ... a choice of victims . coming to CHOICES ... barely more then babies themselves

babies having babies

Most second trimester abortions are teenagers... innocent ... won't believe they are pregnant till it's too to deny it... too afraid to ask for help ... may be it will go away. maybe if I wish hard enough

There is no easy way; not for them, not for me. But I know where my commitment lies-and no firebombs, rocks through windows, or cries of "murder," will keep me from that commitment ... to women-to little girls

Yes, Life ... who decides? At what cost?

Other victims... other little girls. a severely deformed baby girl lies in a hospital close by with very little chance for a life of anything but pain. Meanwhile, her parents are being politically, psychologically and financially assaulted.

The parents of little Baby Jane Doe did not make their choice easily. Baby Doe was a wanted child for the young Catholic Long Island couple. Born severely multiply handicapped, the only correctable deformity is her spina bifida. With surgery she might live to 20. Because of her deformities, she would be unaware of life around her, with, according to the physician in charge of the case, "only a limited ability to experience comfort, and primarily an ability to experience pain:"

"To perform this surgery," he said, "would increase the total pain that the child would experience:" After consulting with a number of physicians, their families and clergy, the couple, in great pain themselves, decided to oppose surgery for their daughter.

Then the Right To Lifers stepped in and appointed a guardian for the child. When they were defeated by the courts, they refused to let go. On their heels came the Reagan administration; special interest groups began to take sides. The Right To Lifers found this an ideal case for their "Slippery Slope" argument that the legalization of abortion leads directly to euthanasia and the murder of live infants.

The profound nature of the moral choice that these parents must make should not be controlled by government intervention. The sacredness of life is not only defined by the mere existence of life but by the quality of that life to those individuals who must live it. It may be true that the ultimate act of love for these loving parents, their ultimate expression of parental protection, can only be shown in letting their daughter die rather than suffer needlessly. It is, certainly, a decision that they alone not the press, not the state, not the hospital, not the physicians have to live with and think about alone in bed at night.

Hard questions, all of them. especially for women, and for me. Such a pity that rather than directing powerful political energies toward positively changing a society that is involved in the torture and murder of children in El Salvador, Grenada, Nicaragua and Beirut, that the energies are directed to further victimize those who have, in pain and sorrow, made difficult moral choices... parents... children.

Back in the operating room. for this young teenager it is over. for now. Her feet are removed from the stirrups... her small hand still clutches mine. And I feel rage... rage against the male who impregnated this child was it her father, brother, uncle? Some young male, perhaps, without thought or care for the consequences of his act? This child woman has been duly "punished" for her act, for her innocence. There will be no censure for him.

She is taken to the recovery room. There are stuffed animals bears ... cats. These children should be sleeping with stuffed animals. not boys/men... safe in a warm bed. I take an animal and put it beside her...she instinctively hugs it close... in a natural gesture of protection.

And I feel rage... against a society where women and men who fight and struggle for a world where they can share freedom and autonomy are called murderers when they make difficult moral choices necessary for their own survival ... a society that condones governments where women and children are murdered in mass numbers every day, yet denies the right of choice, privacy and dignity to the parents of a deformed and suffering child. A government which would deny women the right to their own reproductive freedom.

Choice - victims little girls - parents - fetuses - abortion life. Words to most people. For me, everyday realities . . . no easy answers here. Only the O.R. table the hands in mine the intensity and demands of this commitment and the knowledge of how important it all is. ..

My work the women the rage the unasked, unanswered and unanswerable questions... and somehow I know I'm where I belong.


Merle Hoffman is publisher/editor-in-chief of On The Issues magazine and founder/president of both Choices Women's Medical Center, Inc., and Choices Mental Health Center.


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