Let’s start with a little tale of the way it was before abortion was legal in the United States of America. Then will come my “J’accuse”.
Before 1973, in the state of Illinois, abortion, for any reason other than what was then called ‘therapeutic’ was illegal. In other words, there was no law that allowed a woman to get one other than medical.
I recall watching a scene in a rather dreary Otto Preminger film called The Cardinal back in my Catholic school days, in which the young priest, the hero, insists his beloved, unwed younger sister go ahead with giving birth to her child.
The doctor warns him that if she does this, it will kill her. She begs her older brother, the priest, not to sanction it. She wants to live.
But with a heavy heart, he tells her that he has a higher allegiance.
In her last scene, she is screaming his name as she is wheeled to surgery.
And, as the doctor predicted, she dies. Killed by giving birth.
The priest carries his guilt for the rest of the film’s duration. The sister is dead during the rest of the film’s duration.
That scream was a shattering moment for us schoolgirls. But because of the way we were raised and what we were taught, we were sure that for the priest and for us: this was The Right Thing To Do.
Flash-forward a few years and there I am again, under an elevated train track, at night, like something out of film noir. I’m entering a doctor’s office after hours with a friend who needed an abortion.
Her pregnancy is not life-threatening. She has decided that raising a child in her early twenties will relegate her and the child to a life of poverty; maybe an unwanted marriage. And worse.
Everyone knew the doctors who did abortions. Just as women knew the women who did them in the village back in the day.
That is where you went, underground, in the dark, risking life and limb and everything in between to have the life that you wanted and thought that you deserved. Your freedom.
Because the body of a woman is the origin site of colonisation. The very template of it.
So the doctor is there, and there is a nurse, too.
It is done, but there was the thought lingering as to whether this guy was doing this for altruistic reasons. Or for reasons more sinister? Why would he risk his license; jail, for this? Why is he smiling so much as he pokes and probes?
Like Larry Nassar, the physician for the US Women’s Olympic athletic team, who sexually abused over 100 women and girls in his care, including Simone Biles.
He got over 100 years in prison, but what about the women he has broken, destroyed?
At least you can bring a person like that to law now; you can have the support of people now; even a movement, too.
But back in the day, you were a fallen woman; a slut, somebody even the doctor could take advantage of it because there was no one to protect you.
Not even God. Because you were committing a mortal sin.
If you died on that table, the church taught that you would go straight to hell. If the operation was botched, you had no aftercare; no emergency room; no counselling. You were on your own.
Then in 1973, the Supreme Court ruled that a woman had the right to her own body. They based their decision on the 14th Amendment, one of the three so-called “Reconstruction Amendments” following the Civil War.
The decision de facto outlawed anyone ever taking again control of another human being’s body without their consent.
Of course, Roe v Wade has been challenged and tested since 1973, with some accusing the 1973 court of “judicial activism”, that is, intruding on each state’s right to make the law for its citizens.
Now Texas has taken that right to make law that prohibits abortion after what is deemed the ‘fetal heartbeat’.
On top of that, Texas has effectively deputised any individual in the US to enforce this law, taking the responsibility away from itself and possible further court action.
This law offers a reward, thereby creating vigilantes and bounty hunters against the bodies of women. Like the Taliban, Texas aims to erase a woman’s right to her own life and its interpretation.
Now for my “J’accuse”.
This is directed at the so-called progressive left, who, in 2016, set out to destroy the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton.
Let me be clear here:
Hillary Clinton lost her election herself. I can barely count the number of times I metaphorically hid behind the sofa when she got it really wrong.
And no woman is obliged to vote for a candidate because the candidate is a woman, or African American or whatever. You vote how you like. What you believe and want.
But for the progs to champion a person who did not even belong to the Democratic Party, well, that did not sit well with the Party’s base. Us: African American women.
We did not “know” Bernie Sanders. But we “knew” Hillary Clinton. Like we “know” Joe Biden.
It is largely we who ring the doorbells; organise the carpools; babysit while folks vote; go to the churches to exhort the people to turn out; get the water and the snacks for people in line to vote; attend the rallies; have the bake sales; handle the phone banks.
And face ordinary people in the car park, at the gas stations, at the laundromats and the hairdressers and the stores.
We are always there when the Dems need help. Always.
And we knew what was at stake if Clinton was weakened by Sanders and lost to Donald Trump.
At stake was the Supreme Court, the guarantee of our freedom as African Americans; as women of colour.
At stake, too, was Roe v Wade, because it is us who cannot afford safe, clean, medical abortions. Because we are the poor; the underemployed.
I have to fight the Texas Taliban, fight all those against the right of a woman to be.
I have to fight for that young woman on that doctor’s table long ago.
Who was, who is: Me.