(This post was written prior to the recent Susan G. Komen/Planned Parenthood debacle. I have since made a sizable contribution to Planned Parenthood, grateful for the reminder, by fellow blogger and Stirrup Queen, Melissa Ford, that it is important to support services instead of a quasi-philanthropic effort.)
A couple of weeks ago as my daughter and I were on a mundane errand, we drove past a large group of mostly young people streaming out of the metro and walking together towards the downtown area nearby. I couldn’t tell at first what was uniting them, except that they all seemed to be wearing orange scarves. And then I saw one of their placards.
“I’m pro-life and I’m proud.”
This was one of those car moments you read about in parenting manuals – when you are driving with your eyes on the road and you need to open a provocative yet important and potentially embarrassing topic with your child. Being behind the wheel so they don’t have to look you in the eye is the best possible place to start these conversations, I have now learned.
My 12-year-old daughter asked who these people were and why were they carrying signs?
I generally try very hard, when talking about big issues in the world, to offer a relatively neutral position so that my children can hear what are presumably the facts and try to make up their own minds about the topic at hand.
(The exception being the very basic birds and bees of politics – Democrats v. Republicans. My children know that they are simply never, ever allowed to become Republicans. They can become religious, they can come out, they can basically make any decision they want about how they choose to live their lives. But they cannot become Republican. No amount of funny Michael J. Fox as Alex Keaton will change my mind about this.)
Anyway, my daughter was probably preparing herself for another one of mom’s pablum-like homilies.
Not this time.
I have spent my life fighting for and supporting reproductive rights in this country. There is no other issue that means as much to me as a woman’s right to choose what she can and cannot do with her own body. I have been an avowed feminist since I was 15 years old, and I have been both on the front lines (as a professional fundraiser and a rally and march participant, as well as a clinic defender) and behind the scenes (as a donor) of the choice movement for decades.
So I took a deep breath, and asked her if she knew what abortion was.
She did not.
This being my child most resistant to my talking about anything personal, I hesitated for a second. Then I dug in.
I explained what an abortion is. I explained why it was important that women and girls have the right to make their own decisions about this very private and personal matter. I explained that 39 years ago, the Supreme Court of this nation agreed, and that we’ve been fighting to keep that decision (Roe v. Wade) in place ever since. I explained that the “pro-lifers” believe that a fetus is a human being from conception, and that, as someone who is pro-choice, I do not. I explained that the pro-lifers would prefer that a woman who gets pregnant by accident, or who gets pregnant and can’t properly care for her future child, or who gets pregnant and it is a danger to her health to be pregnant, should be forced to keep the pregnancy and have the baby, even at the expense of the woman’s life and health.
I made it abundantly clear where I stood on this issue, and how I feel about those who oppose me and a woman’s right to choose.
I don’t think I’ve ever expressed my political opinions so forcefully and vehemently with one of my children. But I could not help myself – this is so fundamental to who I am, there was just no question that my daughter needed to understand this most basic part of me and my value system.
My teenage son and I have had some conversation over the years about choice; but I must admit it was different having this conversation with my daughter. Much as I want my sons to grow up to become loving, respectful partners, when push comes to shove, it is not their bodies on the line.
I want my daughter to grow up and live in a country that legally supports her right and ability to control her reproductive destiny. And I will continue to fight so that my daughter and my daughter’s daughters and my son’s partners and daughters have that right.
My daughter sat quietly and thoughtfully in the back seat. I asked her if she understood all that I had talked about. She said that she had, but clearly didn’t have any need to engage in more conversation. I let it lie. I know that she has heard me, and she understands. She will understand more as she gets older. But the foundation is now laid.
The time is now. The issue is clear. We must stand up for that which we believe and make sure that we never go back to the back alleys again. And I fully expect to have my daughter at my side in this struggle.
Photo by World Can't Wait via Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/worldcantwait/6000135109/lightbox/