Those of us in the LGBT community are assumed to be card-carrying liberals and enthusiastic supporters of everyone’s rights to whatever form of personal fulfillment is under discussion — and generally speaking, we are. Certainly our support of female equality and a woman’s right to be mistress of her own body is fundamental. Fortunately, very few of us in the gay male wing of our world have even had to personally confront the issue of abortion, but I have.
I have had to think long and hard about abortion, and on a very personal level. My mother was 42 years old when she became pregnant with me in 1945 and the doctors advised the pregnancy would be life threatening. They recommended an abortion. Obviously, she said no. As it turned out, the birth was easy. It was probably the teen years that were problematic, but that’s another story. I think she revisited the abortion question when I was about 16, but the doctors told her it was too late. Anyway, here I am, all these wonderful years later.
My mother was a difficult woman whom I actually didn’t like very much, but whom I always tried my best to treat with duty and respect. I knew that she took a terrible chance to bring me into life — one taken against the best professional advice. It was a decision that required profound courage, and profound love.
As a result of that decision, I have so far had 72 years of a wonderful life. I’ve had grand adventures, affected the lives of other people, written books and stories, helped found this very magazine, taught legions of young students, been involved in the long fight for LGBT liberation — I could go on and on. And none of that would have happened if my mother had said yes back in 1945—if she had been a little less courageous — a bit more malleable — rather more (dare I sat it?) selfish.
To anyone who knew my mother, it might seem strange that she made that decision. She was hardly what one would call an empathic person. She saw the world and other people largely in terms of how it, and they, affected her comfort and convenience. She had a keen sense of what she thought other people owed her. And yet, she never taxed me with obligation based on her pivotal decision. In all the years she was alive, she only mentioned it once. Perhaps I never really understood her, but it doesn’t matter now.
What matters is the life she permitted me to have. My gratitude for that cannot be expressed in words. It is perfectly true that my mother was able to make that decision free of many of the problems that confront a young woman today who may be considering abortion. Mother had no financial issues, did not have to work for a living, had a supportive husband and family, and a comfortable home. The costs of raising another child, both financial and personal, were not an issue. All of that allowed her to narrow the matter down to one essential question; was she willing to risk her life? Medical care having now advanced well beyond what it was in 1945, far fewer women today risk their lives in pregnancy — though all the other problems may well be even more severe for many.
The least I could do considering the chance she once took for me
Mother’s decision was not without benefit to her as well. Had she proceeded with the abortion, there would have been no one to see to her needs in her declining years. There would be no one to ensure she had groceries, kept her doctor appointments and at last, in the extremity of old age, to hold her hand as she lay dying in a nursing home. She would have died frightened and alone. Her last words to me were “you’re a good son.” Well, I hope so, it’s the least I could do considering the chance she once took for me.
All of these possible problems or the lack thereof notwithstanding, the basic fact remains unchanged; with each abortion there is a person who will not have what I have had — a wonderful life, a chance to try to make this a better world. The love that person would have given will not happen. The book, the song, the poem will not be written. The building will not be built. The life or lives they would touch — perhaps even save — will not be affected.
To my certain knowledge, there are at least two other people alive in this world today; who would be dead had not their paths crossed mine at a crucial moment. This too is a direct consequence of my mother’s fateful decision in 1945. Who can know where those lives will lead, and what effect they will have?
I do not believe a government or a church or an activist organization is entitled to make this intensely personal decision
I do not believe a government or a church or an activist organization is entitled to make this intensely personal decision. Only a courageous woman can make that yes or no choice for herself. But she must make it in the full knowledge that she is not choosing for herself alone. My mother was choosing for me as well, and for everyone whose lives I in turn have affected. The responsibility is awesome, but there it is — a reality that no jargon or dogma can obscure. Frankly, I am glad I will never have to make such a choice, but that my mother did, is the central and foundational fact of my life.
Strident objections will doubtless be raised to this essay. Should a profoundly disabled fetus be aborted? Would true kindness rest in sparing it pain and suffering? Should a child be born into poverty and abuse by a drug addicted mother? Such objections and many more are legitimate questions to which I have no answers.
I can only offer my own experience as I have done in this composition. If anyone facing the abortion question finds it at all meaningful, then I have helped. There is nothing else I can do. I can’t do less! I have to speak the truth of what it has meant to me and my life.
Toby Grace is Out In Jersey magazine’s Editor Emeritus.