• Patricia Grayhall

Is the Supreme Court About to Return Women to Second-Class Citizens?

I listened in horror to the radical right-wing US Supreme Court justices draft ruling to overturn fifty years of Supreme Court precedent and return women to second class citizens without control over their own bodies and access to essential health care.

My own illegal, dangerous, Mexican abortion in 1969, before Roe vs. Wade, is a painful reminder of what is at stake for women today.

As I finished up my first year of college with straight A’s and the burning ambition to become a scientist or a doctor, I discovered I was pregnant six weeks later after only one episode of unprotected sex. The man responsible claimed it wasn’t his after he asked a doctor buddy to assert his sperm count was too low. He would have made a terrible partner and father anyway.

Having his baby and raising it myself was completely out of the question. My parents struggled financially and were not able to help me. Bearing a child for nine months then giving it up was too heartbreaking to consider. I had plans for my life and they did not include a baby at age 19. I couldn’t go to a regular doctor or family planning clinic. Safe and legal abortion was not available.

Though I felt my life was at risk, the authorities would not think so. I I remembered the stories I’d heard about botched back-alley abortions by people without medical training—women bleeding to death or dying of raging infections—and a hard knot formed in my stomach.

Through a chain of women contacts, I learned of a medical doctor in Nogales Mexico willing to provide an abortion. When Mom and I arrived that Saturday night at the designated location in Nogales, Mexico, a driver picked us up and drove for half an hour through many twisting back streets and alleys with no street signs. The houses were small and close together with flat tin roofs, and old tires or derelict cars in the front. Groups of young men spilled into the dusty road, sometimes whistling, and shouting at us in Spanish, as we maneuvered our way past them.

We had no idea where we were in the city. My hand that held Mom’s was sweaty with our combined fear. My heart was pounding, my mouth was dry, and I could only imagine the terror that Mom was feeling as she sat silently by my side, gripping my hand. In her purse was the four hundred US dollars in small bills.

I describe this experience in detail in my upcoming book, Making the Rounds: Defying Norms in Love and Medicine. Having the abortion allowed me to continue with my education and medical training and become a doctor. I’d otherwise been a college drop-out with a baby I’d have to raise alone while working at a dead-end job.

Another woman might have made the decision to keep her child and raise it without the societal supports that still are lacking. She should feel free to make that choice, just as women today who chose abortion should be free to make theirs. I rejoiced when women were given the right to choose whether to bear a child in 1973.

I never had a child. Even with a stable relationship (with a woman) and a good income, my career took precedence. I don’t regret the decision I made over fifty years ago.

I can hardly believe that nearly fifty years later, women are on the verge of becoming second class citizens in many states once again. I shudder to think of the many women who will resort to desperate means to have an abortion if they are not able to travel to another state where women still have reproductive freedom.

I lived for many years without equal human rights as a woman and as a lesbian. I am indescribably saddened by the likelihood that the 72% majority of the country that are pro-choice will be ignored in our broken political system and by a Supreme Court that has lost its legitimacy. We appear to be sliding back to a dark time.