I Talked To My Mom About Abortion
0 / 0 / April 15 2019


On January 22nd of 1973, a 25-year-old named Norma McCorvey was informed by the Supreme Court of the United States that her right to an abortion was protected under the Fourteenth Amendment. Norma was better known by the legal pseudonym Jane Roe, and her case, Roe v. Wade, would go on to become one of the most significant and controversial cases in Supreme Court history.

In 1973, my mom was 15 years old and living with her parents and seven older siblings in a small town in Rhode Island. She attended high school and played flute in the marching band. Forty-six years later, she and I sat down to talk about abortion.


Was abortion a topic that was ever discussed in your house?

Mom: It wasn’t discussed but I think, being raised in a very Catholic household, there was unspoken opposition to it. On the other hand, my parents were very socially conservative but liberal in the idea that the government should provide support for people who need it. I think as far as faith-based beliefs go, they probably came down on the anti-abortion/anti-Roe v. Wade side, but we didn’t have conversations around the dinner table about it.


What did you have conversations around the dinner table about?

It was a lot of noise and talking. My father would sometimes tell jokes. That was always fun. I do have a memory of something from junior high school — I must’ve been in ninth grade. This is going to kind of surprise you given my firm support of it now, but in English class and we had to do some kind of report, a persuasive essay or something about a current topic. I chose abortion and I was against it. I had all of these pictures that I’d found in a magazine and cut out and passed around the classroom and I talked about how immoral it was.


What made you decide to take that stance?

Like I said it wasn’t something that was discussed in our house openly, but my parents got publications like Catholic Digest and Columbia Magazine — which was a Catholic men’s magazine. So at that time it was all about Roe v. Wade.

We’d go to church every Sunday, and I’m sure it was mentioned in church, so that was it. That was the opinion. I was swimming in that pond. Everybody around me believed that [abortion was wrong]. There was a high percentage of Catholics in Woonsocket at the time. Maybe the demographic has changed, but everybody I knew was Catholic. I guess without even thinking about it, I must’ve assumed everybody felt this way. I wasn’t giving it much critical thought.


Do you have any memories of hearing about Roe v. Wade on the news?

It wasn’t something I was paying attention to — I mean obviously I was just a kid – but I do have a vague memory of it. And I don’t remember feeling any particular way about Roe v. Wade, specifically.


I learned what abortion was at age ten, and I remember being confused because I didn’t know if it was good or bad. The world is so black and white when you’re a kid, so at the time I was thinking,“Do they kill the babies? Is that what that is?” But pretty soon I realized that that wasn’t the case. Learning about fetal development was helpful for me and over the years I gained more perspective. But even to this day you rarely actually hear the word “abortion” on TV or in movies. You always hear “I took care of it” or something like that. It’s not unlike the way people talk about death. Rarely do you hear people say “so and so died” it’s always “so and so passed away” or “so and so passed on” and it’s a similar scenario with abortion. It’s never “so and so had an abortion” it’s “so and so took care of it”, “so and so got rid of it.” 

Yeah, there are lots of euphemisms for it — “terminated the pregnancy.”


I wonder if the use of euphemisms like that was part of what led us to have misconstrued beliefs when we were younger.

Euphemisms and misnomers like “pro-life.”


The use of the term “pro-life” really frustrates me because if one side is [referred to as] pro-life, that implies that the other side is anti-life. I think the use of this euphemism only makes the chasm between the two sides bigger.

And I don’t think the “pro-life” movement is any more pro-life than those of us who believe in the right to choose, in someone’s right to have agency over their own body. But I agree, it’s a way of setting those who are pro-life or anti-choice apart and give them a feeling or belief that they’re morally superior.


When you listen to pro-life/anti-choice politicians — people like Senator McConnell, Justice Kavanaugh, people like Trump — speak about abortion, are there things you wish they could understand?

I think their opposition is mostly disingenuous. I think most of them — because most of them are men — take that [anti-choice] stance because it puts them in a stronger position politically. It speaks to a block of voters who they think will help them continue to hold onto their power. What do I wish they understood? What it really feels like to be in that position. To be in a position where, for whatever reason, you are pregnant and not by choice — what that really feels like.


Have you seen public opinions of abortion change over the years? Or the way abortion is being represented in the media?

I think so. Over the years, I think a majority of adults have grown up not having to question whether or not someone who needed to make that choice could make it. Recently there’s been much more support for [someone’s right to access an abortion]. As your generation — the post-Baby Boom generations reach adulthood, there are more of those kinds of human rights. I think it’s becoming more and more [incorporated into] the fabric of our culture, and I think that’s what really scares the white Evangelical Christian conservatives — loss of [their] grip on our culture.


Has someone close to you ever gotten an abortion? A friend, a family member?

Actually, yes. When I was in high school a friend of mine did.


Was this friend also in high school?

Yes, she was a grade behind me. It was obviously not a planned pregnancy and she, like me, grew up in a very Catholic household.

I remember her telling me after the fact that she had gotten an abortion. The father wasn’t somebody she was in a relationship with, it was just another kid that we went to high school with. Luckily, she was able to make that choice, so I guess it was after 1973.


And was there access in your area?

It could’ve been that she had to go to Massachusetts… I don’t know any of the details. I don’t think her parents knew.


How did you feel when she told you? Do you remember what you said?

I remember expressing support and care for her. I remember feeling how hard it must’ve been for her to go through [with it] and just feeling good that she was able to take care of it — “take care of it”, huh — and [thinking] now her life is back to normal. Of course it wasn’t, but I didn’t know that.


It seems like you made a pretty big leap [then] from ninth grade when you did that report. 

I hadn’t thought about it but yeah… that’s a big change in a few years, isn’t it?


Do you think it’s because it became personal when it happened to a friend of yours?

Yeah, I probably didn’t give it much thought at all in between the ninth grade report I did and when a friend had to go through that. You’re right. I think knowing someone who had to make that decision made it real, and I was able to be sympathetic.


I know from some of our previous conversations that your school’s sex ed program was, to put it gently, lacking. Was there any talk of what to do in the case of an unwanted pregnancy?

No. That wasn’t part of the curriculum at all. There definitely were girls in my high school who were pregnant. There were quite a few pregnant students, maybe because access to birth control wasn’t as easy to get as it is now?


Correct me if I’m wrong, but I suppose it wasn’t all that unusual to have children around that age, because I remember once looking through your yearbook and all the seniors would write a little bit about what their plans were for after graduation, and a lot of them said they were getting married.

That’s true. I couldn’t tell you a percentage, but there was a bigger number of students who weren’t planning to go to college than were. So without that four year transition, the leap into adulthood right after high school was very real. It was still a bit of a scandal for girls, but not for boys. Can I ask you a question?


Of course.

You asked me earlier about the change that I’ve seen over the years. I’m wondering what your perspective is on attitudes toward the right to choose. Do you feel hopeful that it’s gonna continue on that path? Or are you fearful that there’ll be some backsliding?


I am fearful, largely because of the Supreme Court. I don’t think they’re going to overturn Roe v. Wade, but I do think they’re going to gut [funding towards upholding] it. The fact that they recently blocked the Louisiana abortion law [threatening to restrict] access, gives me hope — but it also makes me more nervous. It makes me feel as though they’re stalling. There’s a ticking clock now that Kavanaugh is a justice. I feel detached from it to a certain extent, because I’m not at a high risk for unwanted pregnancy, but I have a sister who could end up pregnant and not want to be pregnant, and I want her to be able to make the choice for herself. I want to know she’ll be safe.

I agree with you but I also have — this is going to sound kinda cheesy — but I really have a lot of hope for your generation. You are all, as a group, much more accepting and progressive and open than we were —  are. And you care a whole lot more and you believe.

This is getting beyond the scope of our conversation here, but you believe that climate change is real and you believe that trans people should be treated like anyone else and you believe that LGBTQ+ people should have the same right to love and be loved as hetero, cis people. I have hope that the world is going to be a more open and accepting place than it is now as you all age into leading. It’s happening already. I’m excited to have you guys fix the crappy mess that my generation has made of it all.


I think you’re the first Baby Boomer to ever admit that Baby Boomers fucked up the world for millennials, because I believe they did.

I don’t think I’m the only one who believes that.


You’re the first one I’ve ever heard admit it though, so thanks for that.

You’re welcome. And I apologize.



First two photos by Madeline Jo Pease and the third by Sofia Amburgey.