You have to be at least 60 years old to have a memory of what it was like growing up in a time when abortions were illegal. Because at 60 today, you were barely a teenager when abortion became legal in 1973.
I was 16 and 17 in the late 1950s when I first heard the mostly whispered gossip about girls who had had illegal abortions.
I did not know the circumstances of their pregnancies. Maybe the girls just wanted to please or show their love for their boyfriend. But I do know that those who were the subject of the gossip were mostly teenagers and not at all prepared to be mothers.
When I was dating my ex-wife in the early 1960s, I learned that two of her cousins had abortions — before they had normal deliveries.
And there was another young woman who caught my eye. We traveled with the same groups to the same dances – first to the YWCA, then to the YMCA, and finally to a dance hall pub in the east end of town.
She hooked up with one of the guys I knew. And then I learned that she had had two abortions. The first one apparently went well. But after the second, she learned that she could not have children.
He said he didn’t care and they got married. But a year or two later, I learned that he had changed his mind and that they were going to divorce.
This situation raises the question of whether this marriage would have lasted if she had had access to a legal abortion that did not destroy her ability to have children.
Back then, we called them “clandestine abortions” and “hanger abortions” — because they were illegal in Pennsylvania in the 1950s and 1960s.
We’ve heard that the girls are usually in and out within just a few hours. They were advised to rest for a few days, having received no treatment available in a clinic or hospital.
Of course, the rhetoric was “silent” at the time, as it wasn’t until 1970 that Hawaii became the first state to legalize abortion – three years before the 1973 Roe v Wade decision.
Do we really want to go back to that time?
Are we faced with the all-important question: why do we have so many unwanted pregnancies?
Do we continue to repeat the mistakes of the past – despite our ever growing knowledge of reproduction?
And do we realize how much of a role poverty plays in unwanted pregnancies?
These are the questions that lead me to what I consider to be the source of the problems in our society and our educational system.
We provide years of formal training for our young adults to pursue various trades and professions. But many of us were raised without the benefit of a single professionally prepared course on sex education and parenting. Most of us weren’t prepared to be good parents.
Even today, various religious fundamentalists tend to make open discussion about sex a taboo. They say sex education doesn’t belong in schools, it belongs in the home. Only, that didn’t happen in most homes when I was young.
And I wonder how much, or how much, the situation has changed since my youth.
My dad was a farm boy, so I guess his sex education came a bit naturally after taking care of the farm animals. I doubt my grandfather ever had a discussion with him “about birds and bees”, as it was called at the time.
For many of us who grew up in the suburbs and cities, we received our sex education on the streets – via slang “bad talk” and pornographic publications smuggled from some of our homes. And the boys were looking for sexual conquests.
Haven’t we understood now that a street education breeds failures?
Of course, we continue to have a certain percentage of incest and rape situations. These cases are, by far, a minority in the causes of unwanted pregnancies. Internal problems for the fetus and the expectant mother are also in the mix of causes.
But I believe the greater number are simply the result of poor choices made by the couples involved, which I attribute to a lack of proper education both at home and in our schools.
And in too many cases, the burden falls on the mother-to-be, as her male lover “walk or run away from taking responsibility.” Why are we allowing this situation to continue?
When will our American society mature for more open discussions, education, and attitudes about sex?
When this happens, I believe the number of our unwanted pregnancies will decrease.
Meanwhile, these poor choices, as well as incest, rape, and uterus issues, necessitate the availability of professional and clinical abortions, in addition to the diagnostic, prenatal, and postnatal services that have been provided by Planned Parenthood. .
Darrell Berkheimer, who lives in Grass Valley, is a frequent contributor to The Union. He has nine books available on Amazon. His two “Essays” books include nearly 120 columns published by The Union, as well as a variety of travel essays and photos. Contact him at [email protected].