Books By Patti Liszkay
Available On Amazon
and the sequel, "Hail Mary" https://www.amzn.com/1684334888
Available on Amazon.
THE DAY I SWITCHED SIDES
I don't remember the exact date, but it was sometime in January of 1977. At that time the Roe v. Wade decision was four years old and the subject of abortion was not yet the polarizing, hyper-charged, media-saturated political and religious behemoth it would morph into as it gained steam over the ensuing decades.
Back then there were some mostly Catholic pro-life organizations whose cause was preventing women from accessing now-legal abortions, but in general people didn't talk about, shout about, fight about, obsess about or vote about abortion like they do these days.
But people did have their opinions and beliefs, as did I, and in January of 1977 when I was twenty-five years old, on those occasions when I thought about abortion at all - which was not, in any case, frequently - I stood firmly in the pro-life camp. Pro-life vs. pro-choice was in my mind a well-defined, black-and-white dichotomy, a matter of good vs. evil, right vs. wrong, unquestionable vs. unthinkable.
And yet I knew women who'd had abortions. There was a girl I knew at my Catholic college who was raped by her boyfriend. There was a soldier stationed at the army post where I worked after college who shared with me that his wife had had two abortions from pregnancies with him before they were married.
But these stories really seemed to me more like abstractions than real events that affected real people's lives, even though I'd heard the stories from real people. I never sought out the details. I didn't want to know the details. I couldn't wrap my head around the reality of anyone getting an abortion. Because abortion was wrong. Nothing to discuss. No circumstances to consider.
But then a mind-set - mine - that was twenty-five years in the making came undone in one moment on that one day in January of 1977.
At that time I was volunteering five days a week, eight hours a day in the psychiatric unit of a downtown Philadelphia hospital.
I was volunteering because I had recently returned home to Philadelphia after several years of working on the U.S. Army post in Aschaffenburg, Germany. I had been an instructor at the post craft shop, where soldiers could come during their off-duty hours to do leather work and other arts and crafts.
After a month or so of working on the unit I was offered the official paid position of art therapist, but I turned it down as I wouldn't have felt right taking a job I'd soon be leaving, possibly snatching the position away from some job-hunting real art therapist.
Still, even though I was only a volunteer, I was treated by the nurses, doctors, therapists and aides on the floor as a fellow staff member. I was invited to sit in on patient group therapy sessions. I came alone with staff members who accompanied patients who were permitted to leave the ward for outings. I organized an art show on the floor open to any patients who wished to exhibit their work.
And then one day I was invited to sit in on grand rounds. Grand rounds at this hospital was a sort of teaching/treatment session in which a patient and their doctor would discuss the patient's medical problem before an audience of medical students, doctors, therapists and, on that day in January, me.
The patient on the stage before us was a woman from our psych ward. She was around twenty-three or four years old. Close to my age. She shared her story with her psychiatrist and the audience around her.
The woman was divorced, but she'd been married to an abusive man who beat her and their two young children. She cried as she told about trying to protect her children from their father.
When she found herself pregnant again she became desolate. She felt unable to care for and protect the baby and was terrified of what would happen to it. So she got an abortion.
But she suffered terrible guilt over killing her baby. The baby came to her in dreams and sometimes she could hear it crying. Her story pierced my heart. And at the moment it pierced my heart it changed my heart, as well.
I left that room with many new thoughts and questions germinating in my brain: That life could be hard and painful and complicated and could not always be painted in black and white or right and wrong; That who was in a position to judge what a woman who turned to abortion might be going through? That how could I say what I might do were I wearing that woman's shoes? That what guarantee was there that I might not one day find myself in straits desperate as hers? That how desperate must a woman be to abort her child? That a woman who went through abortion needed comfort and consolation and understanding and sympathy and empathy. And that, for the sake of women like the woman whose story I had just heard, abortion should never again be criminalized.
And so on that day I switched sides, though I've since stopped thinking of the two sides as either "pro-life" or "pro-choice." After all, whatever one's persuasion on the subject of abortion, everyone is pro-life. Everyone is in favor of babies being born and subsequently continuing the human race.
And women who seek abortions don't do so because they believe they have a choice. They do so because they're doing what they have to do for their own survival or for the survival of the children they already have. Or both.