Sunday, January 16, 2005

Abortion: Why it matters still

Karla (not her real name) speaks softly as she explains the abortion she had two years ago, when she was 17.

"I couldn't not have one," she says slowly. "Adoption wasn't even a possibility. And, I mean, at some point, they can look you up and ask you to explain why."

What Karla would have had to explain was that she and the grown child had a lot in common, namely a father. Karla was sexually abused from the ages of 14 to 16 by her biological father.
Her mother knew. But for the "good of the family," she wasn't any help to Karla.

"The good of the family seemed to just mean so that no one knew what he was doing to me. My mother was supporting it, she was looking the other way."

Karla's father/abuser had been in sales and often traveled as part of his job. In 1999, he lost his job due to alcoholism.

"Suddenly, he was around all the time. And maybe he was drunk the first time he forced himself on me, I don't really remember because I try not to. He'd been drinking, because I do remember his breath. But if he was drunk or not, I can't really say. I try not to dwell on it unless I'm with my therapist because otherwise it just destroys me and I'm left in this state where I just want to curl up in a ball or I'll go in the closet and shut the door and spend the rest of the day in there."

After the first rape, Karla's father/attacker apologized and begged her not to tell anyone. He said he was depressed over losing his job and angry at the world. He'd had to sell their nice house and move to a suburb where things were cheaper while he 'looked for work." ("He was drunk by ten most mornings, he wasn't out looking for a job," Karla says.) In his mind that excused what had happened.

"It was probably a month to six weeks later, my mother had gone out of town with her church group. I don't know, they were speaking about the importance of family in some way. After it had happened, I made a point not to say anything. I felt sorry for him, probably. But I also felt like maybe it was my fault which I've learned is a fairly common reaction. I don't remember being worried that she was going to be gone that weekend. I may have believed him when he promised it would never happen again."

But it did. And the same apologies/justifications flowed from his mouth. And the third time was three weeks later.

"At some point, early on, I told her. And she called me a liar. I was crying and I said, 'I'm not lying. I need your help. Why won't you believe me?' She ran and got him. Drug him into the room. There's no way she couldn't see the guilty look on his face. He wouldn't even look at me or at her. But she said, 'Your daughter is lying about you. You two need to straighten this out.'
She grabbed her keys and left. Left me with the guy I had just told her was raping me. As soon as she was gone . . . He . . . he lost the guilty look. He just snapped and started screaming at me and slapping me and telling me I was ruining his life. My lip was bleeding and one of my eyes was swollen. I fell to the floor and he started kicking me and saying things like 'a prick tease like you had this coming!' While I was lying on the floor . . ."

For almost two years this went on. After a few months, her mother walked in on it.

"She screamed and yelled but mainly at me. The next day she said, 'I don't want to talk about it.' Instead, she'd greet me with things like 'You look trampy today' or 'You're not wearing any make up, don't you want to look pretty?' After a few months of that, she seemed to feel we now had some shared bond and started confessing that he'd cheated for years but at least now she knew where he was. All this time, I'd hoped that she would find out and put a stop to it. But when she found out, after she got done blaming me, she just decided it was no big deal."

In a new area, with no family other than her parents, Karla didn't feel she had any options. She also kept hoping her mother would start defending her. But that never happened.

"I think maybe it was losing the house and feeling that in moving, she was at risk of losing her friends. She always brought that up when I'd say, 'I can't go on like this.' 'Joanne will never understand!' she'd scream at me. That was a woman who was really big at her church."

Realizing her own mother had no intention of ever stopping the repeated rapes, Karla found herself trapped in the situation and the silence.

"You want to tell someone. But when your own mother first calls you a liar and then acts like it's no big deal but warns you'll bring shame to everyone including yourself, I don't know. I just . . .
I don't know."

Eight months after the rapes began, her father/attacker finally got a job.

"It was a big come down for him. He'd been one of the big shots in sales and now he was a night watchman. Things were actually a little better for me because, planning my day just right, I could leave for school before he got home and then, if I was really lucky, he'd sleep until thirty minutes before he had to leave for work. I think it was the adjustment to working nights but for three months I was able to avoid him except on Sundays when my mother was gone to the church. I remember begging to go with her a few times but she'd just say it would embarrass her."

A month away from turning 17, Karla discovered she was pregnant.

"I didn't know how, but I knew I was having an abortion. I knew I wasn't going to have his child. I was in the bathroom, looking at the test stick, and I knew I wasn't going to have his baby. I waited until my mother got home and got her out into the backyard and told her. All she could say was 'I never knew my parents!' because she was raised in orphanage. I said, 'No, you don't get it, I'm not having this baby. And you're crazy if you think I'd ever want this baby to know its father!' Then she started screaming this religious crap at me and I was thinking, 'Oh now, you want to get religion?'"

Karla thought about turning to a classmate she'd become friends with "but ____ isn't a suburb, no matter what they call it. It's a run down, depressed town. My friend might have offered emotional support but she and her parents wouldn't have had the money to help."

When she was 8, her father and his only sibling, a sister, had gotten into a huge fight.

"I remember we were going to go to an Easter egg hunt and I was wearing this white dress and white shoes and had a white ribbon in my hair and my aunt was taking pictures one moment and then in some screaming match with him."

That was the last time she saw her aunt.

"I started searching on the net at school trying to find her and for two weeks I was e-mailing anyone with her name and praying that she hadn't gotten married because if she had . . . Her name is a common name so I probably e-mailed close to fifty women. Finally I get an e-mail back from one woman saying that yes, she's my aunt. I just typed back, 'I have to talk to you.' I knew I couldn't talk to her at home and I knew I'd be blubbering and crying when I did talk to her. But the only thing I could think of was that there was a pay phone at the Subway. People were walking in and out the entire time I was on the phone and I'm sure that they either thought someone had died or I was some sort of nutcase."

Her aunt wasn't surprised. Karla's father/rapist had also raped his younger sister years before.

"She flew out the next day, pulled me out of school and took care of everything. Then she took me back with her and we didn't even speak to them until after. He made this big stink about how he was going to charge her with kidnapping and she told him to go to hell. Which is what my mother told me in the letter she wrote me shortly after. That I was going to hell for having an abortion. Apparently she'll be walking through the gates of heaven alongside him, but I'll be in hell. Yeah. I heard from a few classmates that I was a drug addict who was sent to live with my aunt because they couldn't continue living with my drug use. I was disruptive to their happy home. It wasn't enough that he raped me over and over and she allowed it to happen, they had to spread lies about me as well?"

In college, she's been able to open to a few friends ("but I don't say, the rapist was my father").
Some of them ask her if she ever regrets her decision.

"I don't regret it. I don't regret it. I don't regret it at all. I don't understand people who think they can't take away anyone's option. I lived in a state with a parental notification law. I don't believe in those. My rapist was my father. My mother allowed it to happen. I'm supposed to go before a judge and plead my case? My aunt never married, she has the same last name as me. For the abortion, she was my mother as far as anyone knew. I don't, I don't, I don't think any woman needs to have to plead her case in a situation like mine or in any case where she feels she needs to have an abortion. It's not anyone else's damn business. It's only in the last year that I can even use the word 'incest' with my therapist. For the longest time it was too much to even say 'I was raped by my father.' No woman should have to explain. Whether they were raped or not. But to think that a kid's going to be able to set up an appointment with a judge and go in and dredge up all of this crap, it's just, I don't know, it's just so unreal to me. I question the morality of people who pass these kind of laws."

Karla has a story, every woman that chooses to have an abortion does. As "moderates" in the Democratic Party launch yet another attack on women's rights, people need to remember that reproductive rights are a battle we already fought and won. These men (and it's usually men) in the Democratic Party who want to "back off" from this issue have never faced a decision like Karla or any woman had to make. It's a privacy issue and whether a woman has been raped or not, she doesn't owe it to anyone to explain her decision to a judge, a Congressman or anyone.
It's her body, it's her choice and she should be allow to make it.

Instead of caving yet again, "moderates" should try to find enough of a spine to endorse a position that more than half of America supports. We're not sure whether they find it personally distasteful or if it's just another case of some poll showed them they might be able to persuade a few religious freaks to vote for them. It doesn't matter. The battle for reproductive rights was a long one and we won. And if moderates think they're going to take that right away or move away from supporting it, we can draw the battle lines all over again.

Reproductive rights are not "on the table." The party needs to realize that and find it's spine.

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