As I write these words, Judge Neil Gorsuch moves through another day of Capitol Hill testimony on his nomination to become a U.S. Supreme Court Justice. It’s nearly noontime on Wednesday. But some of Gorsuch’s words from the day before still linger in the air.
He assures us that Roe v. Wade is the established law of the land – yet his history declares him immovably opposed to a woman’s right to choose abortion.
I’ve always felt the argument was poorly framed: no one is in favor of abortion. It’s a choice made out of desperation.
It’s the choice of a woman who has been raped, a teenage girl too young to care for a child, a family too financially strapped to afford another mouth to feed.
I always go back to a time when abortions were outlawed and women risked their lives if they underwent what we used to call a back-alley procedure. It’s a story I’ve told across the years, but it’s worth repeating as we wonder about Judge Gorsuch and the tilting of the Supreme Court.
It’s the 1950s, and I’m about 10 years old when there’s a knock on my front door. It’s my friend Joel. He says, “Kitty just died.”
“That’s not funny,” I said.
“I’m not kidding,” he said, and he pointed to the corner house, two doors down from my family’s, where men were carrying out the remains of the mother of two of my friends, a boy and girl roughly my own age.
Joel and I walked up the block and found our friends sobbing uncontrollably. Their mother was gone. The father was in Washington, where he drove a bus, distant from his family.
It was only later that we were allowed to know what had happened: a botched abortion, and Kitty came home from it and bled to death. She had the abortion because she couldn’t afford another child, not on her small working-class salary, and not with an estranged husband barely able to support himself.
Her children would now be raised by a grandfather, elderly and over-matched and living on a small pension. They were now the poor kids in the neighborhood. The daughter, hungry for security of some kind, married in her teens to a fellow who beat her up until, finally, she ran away.
It was more than half a century ago, but two sights stay with me: men wrestling with Kitty’s body as they took her away; and her children, utterly bereft and sobbing uncontrollably as their mother – and their own innocence – was taken away.
Maybe Neil Gorsuch will ascend to the Supreme Court – and, if he does, maybe he will back up his words that Roe v. Wade is established law that must be respected. But we also know he’s against abortion, and efforts to overturn the law are never-ending.
What we have to remember is this: no one’s in favor of abortion. It’s an act undertaken by the desperate, hoping frantically to hold onto lives that might otherwise spin completely out of control.
And that’s why it has to be upheld.
A former Baltimore Sun columnist and WJZ-TV commentator, Michael Olesker is the author of six books, most recently “Front Stoops in the Fifties: Baltimore Legends Come of Age” (Johns Hopkins University Press).
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