Once upon a time in a land far away, I was a teenage girl who got pregnant. I was deeply head-over-heels in crazy love, still living at home with my parents in a small redneck town in Northwestern Ontario. I was young and naïve. But not so naïve to know this fact: I could either be someone’s wife or I could be someone’s mother. I chose motherhood. Truth is, being someone’s wife really wasn’t on the table. So the real fact was this: I could either be someone’s mother or not.
If I had chosen not to be someone’s mother I had two choices: get an abortion or give my baby up for adoption.
In 1969 the Criminal Law Amendment Act legalized abortion in Canada as long as a committee of doctors certified that continuing the pregnancy would likely endanger the woman’s life or health. In 1988, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in R. v. Morgentaler that the existing law was unconstitutional, and struck down the 1969 law. Without legal delays, most abortions are done at an early stage. (From Wikipedia, Abortion in Canada.)
But this was Northwestern Ontario in the early seventies. Getting an abortion back then wasn’t easy, especially if you were healthy, but it could be done. Women have always found a way. We were willing to take life-threatening risks, if need be. My Baby Daddy was highly motivated, researched the options, and learned that I could get one in Toronto. I was a small-town girl and the mere thought was beyond terrifying. Although Toronto was only a thousand miles away, it might as well have been on Mars. That’s how extra-solar and foreign it was to me.
Distance aside, I knew in my heart of hearts I wasn’t going to Toronto. Or Mars. I wasn’t having an abortion. Nor was I giving my baby up for adoption. Neither of those things was going to happen, despite the petrified anxious disappointed angry look in my Baby Daddy’s eyes, when I told him my decision.
We parted ways shortly thereafter.
And on February 29, 1972 I gave birth to my son. My beautiful, beautiful boy. In many ways, I also gave birth to the woman I am today. I have no regrets about my decision. Even in my darkest hours and most difficult times, I have never ever doubted that I made the right choice. And therein lies the rub. This was my decision. My doing. My determination. My choice. It was about my life, my body, and my child. No one else’s business.
Ultimately I chose what was right for me. It was what I could live with.
But there were women in my life, when faced with the same circumstances, chose otherwise. Because, just like me, it was their life and their body. Not mine. Not yours. Not the medical professionals. Not the government. Not the lawmakers. Not the church. Not men.
I understand fully, deep into the womb of my soul, the difficulty of this very personal decision. I know with every fiber of my being what it feels like to be judged. I will never forget the hurtful stinging words of the practical nurse on the morning after I gave birth. I corrected her when she referred to me as “Mrs.” She sneered with contempt and replied self-righteously, “that’s what we call girls like you.”
Girls like me.
I will go to my grave fighting for the rights of girls just like me. I will always defend and stand up for their right to choose.