Monday, May 17, 2010

The Muddy Waters of Abortion

Rosie dropped the A-word today in The Toronto Star as Prime Minister Stephen Harper has stirred up the waters again. Brave soul. I thought I'd join her by telling a story.

Once upon a time, a long time ago, when Canada still had an abortion law, I volunteered at a Toronto hospital as a candy striper and was placed in the admissions office to help fill in paperwork during busy admitting times. Patients came in and sat down in a waiting area across from my desk. I believe (memory a bit vague on details) I had to match up the files on my desk with the people in front of me. The paperwork in those files included the usual info, but the surgical procedures they were being admitted for were not obvious to me since the hospital used codes instead of the full terms. Still, I could often tell what the codes stood for as it was writ on the bodies and faces of the patients. But there was one code that eluded me. Every day, young -- at my tender age, anyone over 20 looked old -- healthy girls and women came in, fashionably dressed in skimpy 1970s summer wear and jewellery, and all their files contained this same mysterious code. Some of them were getting this mystery procedure done for the first time, some for the second time, some for their fifth or sixth. Sometimes they came with men, sometimes with older women, but it seems
to me that most came alone. I studied them covertly, I puzzled over this code, but my intense curiosity remained unfed.

I was good at getting people to tell me things. I'd discovered this talent back when I was 10 years old, so that's probably how I finally appeased my curiosity. When my supervisor wasn't around and during a rare lull, I'd somehow start conversations with these girls or young women. The ones coming in for their fifth mystery surgery intimidated me, but the ones coming in for the first time seemed approachable enough. It was probably one of them, one who needed to talk, who finally gave me enough information or told me outright.

Abortion.

At that point, I hadn't heard of Morgentaler; I had no idea abortion was illegal; and I hadn't talked about it much with anyone -- not a subject parents really want to talk to their tweens and young teens about. Learning what that code stood for made the subject intriguing, made me want to learn more, talk more about abortion. Eventually down the road, I formed an opinion and had ideas about it. But back then, it was all confusing except for one thing: those coming in for their third, fourth, fifth, sixth abortion were clearly using it as birth control. And the hospital didn't care. In a time when abortion was illegal.

Nothing is ever as clear as the media, and abortion "evangelicals", make it out to be.

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