Hello From the Other Side
The rally was take-your-sides rage. Until someone reached out and asked about her abortion
On the evening of Day Nine of a silent meditation retreat just outside of Dallas, with another half-day still before us, the powers that be returned our phones, which had been confiscated and locked away upon check-in. I was amused to observe no one listened to the clear instructions not to turn on our devices until we departed. Instead, we discreetly passed among ourselves the two or three chargers a few had thought to bring, waited impatiently for juice to revive our connection to the outside world, and then swiftly shifted our thumbs from mudra to text mode.
Guilty as the rest, from the tiny bed in my monkish cell, I fired off a brief note to my adult son in Brooklyn. Given he is often a tardy responder, I was surprised at how quickly he replied. “Do you know what’s going on in Austin?” he asked. A perpetual worrier since birth, I read alarm between the lines, the nearly one hundred hours of meditation I’d just done failing to mitigate this. I told him I’d been in a dark room for over a week with no access to media. Then I began scanning the news.
This was late June 2013, and I learned that Wendy Davis had just completed a 13-hour filibuster to try to block passage of Senate Bill 5, which would greatly restrict abortion rights in Texas. Now Austin, my hometown, was exploding with protests. The reports dismayed me on all fronts. As a hardcore pro-choicer and the grateful recipient of a safe and legal abortion, I was so fucking sick of the never-ending patriarchal push to control women’s bodies. And, admittedly selfishly, I really was in no mood to storm the capitol just then. My plan, after so much silent contemplation, was a quiet re-entry to civilization. But I knew as I drove the four hours back home that I had to partake.
A plan formulated, one that would allow me to both honor my newfound love of silence and make a bold statement. As my son and I had done throughout his childhood during the Bush years and the wars that administration had started, I got out poster board and a heavy marker. In huge letters, I wrote: ASK ME ABOUT MY ABORTION. I headed to the capitol, which was under siege by screaming members of both sides of the fight — those of us in favor of abortion rights sporting orange clothing, and those opposed in blue — as if this were some high school football rivalry.
I stepped inside the heavily guarded pink granite building and made a beeline for the majestic rotunda, taking a stand on the star that marks its center. I stood, saying not a word, holding high my sign as anti-choicers, at least one of them toting a massive crucifix, circled me chanting their God-fearing, women-hating rants.
I hurt physically. I hurt emotionally. I understood the need to represent. And yet, after decades of protesting, I was tired. The retreat left me wanting to approach the world differently. I had long argued (and still hold) that anger, when harnessed properly, is not the terrible thing some make it out to be. Like the lyrics to the post-punk band PIL’s song “Rise” proclaim, I concur that anger is an energy. Rage can be a catalyst to get shit done, effect change. On the other hand, I now found myself wishing I could do with compassion what I had so often done with fury.
I continued to hold my sign. I looked around me at so many children roped into this mess by their parents, and this pained me further. I saw a child with tape across her mouth — I think this was supposed to signify something about aborted fetuses. On some level, I understood my hypocrisy in wanting to lash out at her parents. Had I not indoctrinated my own child to the beliefs I held as correct? Had I not nearly wept with joy when he, at age 12, made me a FUCK BUSH t-shirt?
I flashed back to my own childhood and easily comprehended my indignation. Before the ink dried on Roe v. Wade, my father — who despite hating children sired nine of us to please the Pope — spent every Sunday, his only day off, protesting abortion. He bought a ridiculous secondhand utility limousine, a sort of double-length station wagon to tote his brood around. Across the back, in huge letters, he had painted ABORTION IS KILLING YOUR OWN CHILD. He wouldn’t tell us what abortion was, just forced us to be part of his rolling performance art piece.
A woman in blue approached me, looked at my sign. I felt my defenses rise. Heeding my sign’s request, she asked me about my abortion. I told her a little about it. In 1997 when I learned I was pregnant it was a wake-up call. I was not yet a year into an impulsive marriage to a bona fide sociopath who abused me physically and psychologically. I knew I needed to escape him. I knew that to carry that pregnancy to term would mean a lifetime of custody battles, of subjecting this potential human to his sick abuse, and that, consequently, the fallout of all of this for the child I already had with another man (a good man, a kind man), as well as the fallout for myself, would leave me murderous or suicidal or both.
I fled the marriage and terminated the pregnancy. Whatever residual guilt from my Catholic upbringing I worried might haunt me did not come to bear. Sometimes I think having an abortion was the single smartest choice of my life. Curiously, it was during an after-procedure checkup that the doctor discovered a massive malignant ovarian tumor growing inside of me as if the universe wanted to further confirm I surely had done the right thing. So, yes, an abortion literally saved my life.
Did I tell her every bit of this? I don’t recall. What I do remember, what I will never forget, is how she listened. Intently. Deeply. Compassionately. And, despite not sharing my beliefs, she also listened without judgment. Afterward, she hugged me, thanked me, and when she God-blessed me I knew it was with the deepest sincerity of her truest convictions and not one of those bless-your-heart arrows of sarcasm so often passive-aggressively flung at perceived enemies. How I wept at her kindness.
Later, as the crowds swelled still more, as my patience wore down and my energy drained, I had another encounter that very nearly sucked me back into my old ways of enraged confrontation. Another member of Team Blue began to speak to me. Because he was a man my irritation was instant. What right did he even have to weigh in? I began to take his bait, prepared to wage a verbal battle, my vow to keep silent slipping from me. But then, the grace of that woman who listened to me earlier filled me. I decided to ask him about his story.
To my surprise, he opened up. He had recently lost his teenage daughter to cancer. In a flash, it came to me. I think he truly believed we on Team Orange were there to advocate child slaughter and that this bewildered him. Why would anyone give up the chance to have a child when the only thing he wanted in this world was to have his own child back?
I could not adequately console him. No parent of a dead child can ever be adequately consoled. Nor did his point of view change my steadfast belief in abortion rights. But the grief that drove him was palpable. My desire to rip him a new one dissolved in an instant.
As I lay on the table immediately prior to my abortion, I began weeping and explaining to the nurse that my estranged husband was abusive. She squeezed my hand and reassured me, let me know I did not need to justify my choice. What comfort that brought me. Still, all those years later at the capitol, another message crystalized. No, we should not be or even feel required to over-explain our choices. But if telling my story helps in any way to keep our rights in place, I will gladly do so anytime.
Spike Gillespie lives at the Tiny T Ranch near Austin, TX and is co-founder of the All Paths Healing Center. She is the author of nine books, most recently The Tao of Bob and a contributor for TheCovey. Her previous articles for Covey include Finding a Good Father at 52.