In 1973 the Supreme Court of the United States of America in its Roe vs. Wade decision ruled that the Constitution protected the right of a pregnant woman to choose an abortion.
49 years later, the “same” Supreme Court overturned that decision, thus taking away every individual woman’s choice and handing it over to each individual state. It is likely that half the American states will ban abortion.
Allow me to present two cases. What? Two? Only two? Yes, two. In my life I’ve probably done close to a million interviews. Large, international or national samples. But I like the “sample of one” theory. The “sample of one theory” states (I just made it up) that a sample of one individual is representative of many other individuals. How many? We don’t know. But a few. Quite a few.
Case number 1. Her name was Inge. Not her real name of course. She was German. Not her real nationality either. She studied in the same French Lycée abroad where I finished high school. Over there in Africa. She was a couple of years back but she dated a good friend of mine in Senior High. Let’s call him Robert. Robert and I graduated from High School in 1970 and went our separate ways to College in France. Inge convinced her parents to send her to study in France. The times they were a-changing: he parents agreed. Inge and Robert kept on dating.
Around April 1971, Robert called me. He said Inge had got pregnant but he’d found a good clandestine clinic near my house in Paris, and would I go with him to visit Inge? I thought “Okay… Not sure Inge would be totally at ease, but friends are friends.”
Abortion was totally illegal in France then, but my friend had money, or rather his parents had, so they picked a posh clandestine abortion clinic in a posh neighbourhood. Yes, I lived in a posh neighbourhood. What can I say?
I still remember the clinic, the street. The clinic is still around. I walk by from time to time when I’m in Paris. Robert gave his name in reception; we were ushered into a luxury single room. Inge was fast asleep… She looked totally at peace. She’d made it. Safe. They later married and had three kids.
Inge was lucky. There was money around to give her the best attention based on her choice. At that time, it was calculated that thousands died in France every year due to clandestine abortion.
In 1975, Simone Veil, Ministry of Health under the Presidency of Valéry Giscard d’Estaing promoted – and passed – a law that made abortion legal in France. Veil was a concentration camp survivor where she’d been sent to with her family just for being Jewish. A fine and respected woman. Yet, I still remember the debates in the French Congress. The endless insults thrown at her by Congressmen. Not many women in Congress then. But the law passed. Abortion became legal in France.
Case number 2. Thirty something years later, beginning of the 21st century, one of my top research executives got married, we were invited to her wedding. Let’s call her Valentina. She had a kid. Took a long leave of absence (together we invented home office for her). We went to the baptism. She came back to work full time. Then had another kid. Another baptism. Leave. Back to the office. Then she got pregnant again.
In Mexico city at that time, abortion was illegal. It was only legalized a few years later in 2007, and only in the city. Incidentally, in many countries in Latin America, a miscarriage is still considered a criminal offence. And the “culprit” can do jail time.
Valentina decided she couldn’t have a third child. But abortion was illegal. Her gynecologist decided to do a clandestine abortion in her medical office. And things went bad. Valentina started bleeding massively. The doctor had no oxygen nor defibrillator. Valentina died before the ambulance arrived. She left two little kids and a bereaved husband. She was 35.
Those are true stories. Just changed the names. Sample of two? Thousands and thousands of women have gone through this. And will again and again.
Now, in 2022, half a century after Roe vs. Wade, six non-elected black robes decided that it was in their power to revoke women’s liberty of choice.
Photo by Jim Lo Scalzo.