The argument for abortion, if made honestly, requires many words: It must evoke the recent past, the dire consequences to women of making a very simple medical procedure illegal. The argument against it doesn’t take even a single word. The argument against it is a picture.
And here is one truth: No matter what the law says, women will continue to get abortions. How do I know? Because in the relatively recent past, women would allow strangers to brutalize them, to poke knitting needles and wire hangers into their wombs, to thread catheters through their cervices and fill them with Lysol, or scalding-hot water, or lye. Women have been willing to risk death to get an abortion. When we made abortion legal, we decided we weren’t going to let that happen anymore. We were not going to let one more woman arrive at a hospital with her organs rotting inside of her. We accepted that we might lose that growing baby, but we were not also going to lose that woman.
I thought about many women while I was writing this essay. The two girls my mother had watched die, all the women who endured Lysol abortions. But I also thought about a man: the husband of that 32-year-old woman who died in Arkansas, so long ago. It was an act of courage—a rare one—for him to bring her in himself, and to stay with her. Both of them had conspired in a criminal activity. How can we calculate that man’s misery? Imagine him sitting in the hospital waiting room, an obscene pantomime of the times he had likely sat in a very different kind of waiting room, as his children were being born. Imagine the disdain with which he would have been regarded by many of the nurses and doctors. It would have been impossible, during those wretched hours, to try to explain to them that his wife had said she just couldn’t face it again, and that he had tried to help her. At some point he would have been told that she was gone and also that there would have to be an autopsy. And then, when nothing else was left to do, no other form to sign and no other question to answer, imagine him getting in the car and making the terrible drive back to his house so that he could tell his children that their mother was never coming home again.