I’ll always remember the day my mum revealed to me she had an abortion. Not because it was a terribly sad and harrowing moment, but because of the dignity she had when she told me. She said it had been a true blessing to be able to have one when, in the 70s, it was incredibly taboo. Today, it still is taboo, however much more accessible for women who want to make a choice about their bodies and lives.
One other such woman who was not ashamed to reveal just how crucial that choice was to her life is feminist activist and author Gloria Steinem. This week, her new book My Life On The Road was released, and while it’s about her international travels, it’s also about how she was able to have the life she did.
At 81 years old, she has done a lot of living, but some of it may not have been possible had Dr John Sharpe helped her live out her dreams. On the dedication page for the book, Steinem thanks the doctor who assisted her at 22 in having an illegal abortion.
Steinem writes that Sharpe requested only two things from her: that she not reveal his name, and that she would go forth and do what she wanted to do with her life.
The young woman was off to India in 1957 and had just broken off an engagement. “I’ve done the best I could with my life. This book is for you”.
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Gloria spoke more about the dedication in a recent Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross and said, “I was desperate. I really was desperate. I just knew that if I went home and married, which I would’ve had to do, it would be to the wrong person; it would be to a life that wasn’t mine, that wasn’t mine at all”.
An outspoken activist on a range of issues, Gloria has always stood firm in her view of abortion. In 1969 she wrote about an abortion speak-out for New York Magazine, and later said she didn’t “begin my life as an active feminist” until that day.
She told The Guardian in 2011, “[Abortion] is supposed to make us a bad person. But I must say, I never felt that. I used to sit and try and figure out how old the child would be, trying to make myself feel guilty. But I never could! I think the person who said: ‘Honey, if men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament’ was right. Speaking for myself, I knew it was the first time I had taken responsibility for my own life. I wasn’t going to let things happen to me. I was going to direct my life, and therefore it felt positive. But still, I didn’t tell anyone. Because I knew that out there it wasn’t [positive]”.
Like my mother, Gloria was in control of her destiny and didn’t want to brought down for it. While Gloria did not go on to have children, my mum did and told me she doesn’t think about what could have been at all.
It makes one wonder, how many other women out there are grateful for that second chance?
Tell us today, where do you stand on abortion? Is it still a taboo for you?