At least it wasn’t in a back alley.
They met in the washroom of a department store in downtown Montreal, the procedure unfolding in a bathroom stall after a significant amount of cash changed hands. Kathy, 18 and in the midst of fleeing an abusive relationship, couldn’t afford the hefty additional charge for care the nurse with no name could provide through the night in hell that lay ahead. She reached out to my girlfriend at the time, Sandy, in desperation, and spent the night at the upper duplex we shared with a friend. Completely unprepared but loyal to a fault, Sandy dealt with the aftermath of the earlier meeting while my friend and I cowered in the living room, as far away as we could be from the sounds screaming down the hall from the back bedroom.
Kathy, pale and drawn and still covered in sweat, left the next morning changed forever, much like Sandy, Brian and me, to a lesser degree.
A year later in 1970, I marched shoulder to shoulder with women outraged by the raid by Montreal Police on Dr. Henry Morgentaler’s abortion clinic because I didn’t believe any woman should have to endure what Kathy went through. Although that’s as close as I’ve ever been to having to make that tortured decision since, my feelings haven’t changed.
In 2001 I worked with a bright, gifted journalism student during my first year at the Gazette, a devout, born again Christian from Alberta. The subject of abortion came up and after some passionate back and forth, I asked her point blank if she would have an abortion if she was impregnated by a psychopathic rapist who was diagnosed with AIDS. She responded without hesitation that she would have the child because “It was God’s will.” I respect that, but respectfully disagree with her belief that all abortions should be illegal, like they were back in Morgentaler’s day before the court ruled in his favour in 1976.
A monumental effort is gaining momentum in the United States to overturn a woman’s right to make that decision under any circumstances. Several states have recently banned abortions outright, including for pregnancies resulting from incest or rape. It’s part of a concerted push to overturn the Roe vs. Wade decision by the Supreme Court in 1973 that established abortion rights. The efforts are gaining momentum because Trump appointed two conservative judges that have swayed the bench to the far right. A Catholic senator from the south put it as succinctly as I could ever hope to when she said although she would never have an abortion, she would never question another woman’s right to do so.
Few issues foster such a divide through opposing sides of an argument. Even fewer issues pit women against women, religious beliefs against the law. Regardless of your personal beliefs, what’s going on with our neighbours to the south is closer to home than you think. Where will you stand when our country begins to deal with an influx of desperate women seeking solace in our medical system? And does my opinion or yours really matter at all to any woman who finds herself forced to wrestle with that decision?
Rick Stiebel is a semi-retired local journalist.