I Thought Planned Parenthood Protected Family Values
by Rosaria Butterfield
I was 11 years old when Roe v. Wade (1973) gave women a constitutional right to abortion. My parents told me a story to help me understand this momentous event.
Here was the content: a member of my family, whom I loved, once used her own knitting needles to abort a baby she knew she couldn’t afford to feed.
Here was the meaning: we were practical, hard-working Italians, and nothing was going to hinder us from achieving the American Dream for each and every family member.
This was a story of heroism. The woman was a matriarch who knew how to take control of her own womb, a loving mother who knew poverty and starvation were far worse than death before birth. This was also a story of a nation. Our country was advancing in its high regard for women, leaving the barbaric days of back-alley abortions and welcoming one where medical care came to the aid of heroic women like my beloved relative.
Grip of Old Family Values
This was one of the first times I remember history folding into future and holding me solidly in the grip of family values: we were a progressive family, and even our unschooled ancestors showed the grit and goodness of the progressive ideas we knew were best.
My family member was not a feminist. Although long dead, she would not want to be remembered this way. She was a poor woman abused by her husband and trapped by a life with too many children to feed. I was taught that the right to choose came to the aid of all women, but especially poor ones.
For most of my childhood and early adulthood, the name “Planned Parenthood” conjured feelings of safety and security. The institution represented for me and my family of origin a bedrock of civilization: a woman’s right to liberation from the oppression of bearing a child. As I understood it, because of Roe v. Wade a single mistake wouldn’t result in a lifetime of punishment for women. For as long as I can remember, my parents would designate Planned Parenthood as their end-of-the-year monetary donation.
We believed only third world countries would abandon women without medical solution to terminating pregnancy. Not only did abortion rights secure each person’s free right to consensual sex without impunity—a fundamental right of personhood, we believed—but it made the world a better place for children. Indeed, the sheer fact that the world was overpopulated and that “unwanted” children were subject to poverty and abuse proved abortion was good for both the environment and the family. It also seemed to us that the wrong people kept having babies—and lots of them—while educated people like our family knew to have only one child or two.
Long before I became a self-conscious feminist supporting the worldview of Planned Parenthood, I believed abortion was more than just some “necessary evil.” I believed abortion was a compelling good…
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