By Christa Parravani, 2020
The U.S. Supreme Court decision on Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization is expected any day now, and has the potential to overturn the right to obtain an abortion set out in the landmark 1973 decision Roe v Wade. That makes this book especially timely.
In the new afterword, Parravani references the speed with which she wrote her memoir of a wanted abortion, which she did in the wake of the Trump presidency. Trump promised, and delivered, a conservative-majority Supreme Court with the express purpose of denying the right to abortion. It seems that promise is about to become a reality.
But Parravani’s experience happened years ago, when abortion was ostensibly legal and available in the United States. As she explains, living in West Virginia made obtaining an abortion more complicated than she had expected. Because Roe v Wade and subsequent decisions on abortion allow states to set restrictions on access to an abortion, and because the anti-abortion movement flagrantly subverts the law, it is virtually impossible to get an abortion in many states in the country. And Parravani found herself in just such a predicament.
She goes to pains to explain the reasons she wanted an abortion when she discovered she was pregnant with her third child. But she also goes to pains to describe the love she felt for him from the very beginning. Her story is an important one in showing the stakes women face in making this decision. However I contend that, in a perfect world, women wouldn’t need to explain their choices or feel compelled to justify their decisions.
Indeed other facts have justified these decisions already. Such as the fact that women are more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth than by having an abortion. Or that women who seek abortions have personal reasons that are usually borne out if they are denied that abortion (see The Turnaway Study). Or that the United States offers almost no social safety net for women who do have children, making them more likely to end up in poverty, or to remain in poverty with a child.
Parravani’s story is heart-wrenching in its complexity and honesty: “I’ll tell you what I believe. Nobody goes to a clinic or a doctor and joyfully ends a pregnancy. Nobody wants an abortion. They do it because they’re broke, or alone, or need to care for the children they already have, or because they can’t raise a baby; there’s no room, no support, no will – they’ll be bound to the wrong partner, or place, or job.”
She goes on discuss an abortion she had in college: “It has always felt forbidden to think of the child I might have raised, to mourn them as I have. All of this time I’ve been silent. I worried if I said a thing about my after-feelings, I’d prove the clinic protesters right…But I remember less about my abortion at twenty than I remember about the protester. I’ll never stop expecting there to be a man waiting to hurt me.”
She explains serious financial problems, a troubled marriage, a bi-coastal living arrangement and the existence of two young children as her reasons for needing an abortion. She is white, educated, married, employed. Imagine the turmoil for a woman from a marginalized group? Parravani says: “The idea of a selfless, career-abandoning motherhood as a choice supposes there is a choice to be had.” Three stars.