Abortion ruling a time machine that can't possibly work
Dismissing women's right to choose has always been wrong and now, 50 years later, it's utterly incongruous with the world we've come to live in, too
I think I remember 1973.
I would have turned 5 on Sept. 2 that year and by the time I turned 6, I read well enough to have lapped the other first graders at Linwood Elementary. So much so that at 9 each morning, I’d leave Mrs. Gray’s class for Mrs. Jiminez’s, filled with second and third graders.
School began at 8:45 and it was never long before the clock neared 9 and, permission inferred, I’d rise from my desk, leave the room, walk down the hallway all by myself and up the stairs to join the older kids.
One day I pushed it, attempting an 8:55 escape. Mrs. Gray, pretty groovy in my memory, stopped me. Alas, I went back to going upstairs at 8:58, certain to arrive by 9.
I dug being the kid who went upstairs every day and, a year later, I dug reaching third grade a year early … though by the time I became a coverer of sports it had turned to regret, realizing my being a year older at each turn might have made a difference on the baseball diamond, basketball court and golf course.
C’est la vie.
But I think I remember 1973 because I also remember not being able to read at all and, having just looked it up, I know that memory goes back to 1972.
Somebody, maybe my dad, made me aware the large, tall Black man who sometimes picked up his children at Donna’s, the mother’s-day-out I inhabited a few days a week — where I specifically remember watching Sesame Street and Electric Company (and Zoom, too) and not knowing what the letters on the screen spelled — was a professional baseball player, and some time after that I learned that man was the great J.R. Richard, who spent the 1972 season as an Oklahoma City 89er, before being called up to Houston for good, where he well may have enjoyed a hall of fame career if not for a stroke suffered during the 1980 season.*
I remember seeing him, a head taller than the other adults.
* Richard really was shooting star. From 1976 to ’80, he went 84-55 with a 2.79 earned run average, completing 66 games and struck out 1,163 batters over 1,239 innings, leading the National League in Ks in ’78 and ’79.
Still, I cannot remember Jan. 22, 1973, the day Roe v. Wade came down … a fact that surprises me given it was the same day George Foreman took the heavyweight title from Joe Frazier in two quick rounds in Kingstown, Jamaica, giving rise to Howard Cosell’s greatest call — “Down goes Frazier. Down goes Frazier.” — which I’ve heard all my life, but do not remember hearing live.
Tied into all that, I have this old, old memory of understanding Donna did not have her own car and my mother explaining it was not uncommon for a married couple to not have two cars. Indeed, many had only only one.
And that’s where my brain’s been since the decision.
Roe’s nullification is not merely a horrendous, misogynistic, awful and terrible ruling that literally steals women’s dominion over their own bodies, not to mention their very freedom in the alleged freest country on earth, saddling them with a life event they didn’t ask for, nor want, as it threatens to define the rest of their lives, but a time machine, too, backward to an era a majority of Americans were not alive for, hardly remember or came of age afterward.
It got me thinking.
What I’d really love at my fingertips would be an index of Harper’s Indexes — if you know, you know — though I was nonetheless able to document parts of the world I lived in, right before and soon after the court ruled 7-2 in the original Roe case, three of four justices nominated by the not-yet disgraced Richard Nixon — Warren Burger, Harry Blackmun, Lewis Powell — voting with the majority.
I remember how uncommon it was for the mothers of anybody I knew to be working and low and behold I have the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics to back me up.
In 1972, 78.5 percent of men aged 16 and older were in the workforce, yet just 43.3 percent of women.
More specifically, 54.9 percent of single women were in the workforce and only 41.5 percent of married women.
Additionally, says the Census Bureau in its “Statistical Abstract of the United States, 1973,” while about 4,853,000 men were enrolled in college in 1972, the number for women was about 3,460,000, or 71.3 percent of the number of men.
It’s not like hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of thousands of women were on their own, uneducated and destitute. Quite the contrary, they were married.
Also according to the Census Bureau, the median age for an American woman’s first marriage was not quite 29 in 2021, but about 21 in ’72.
Take a look at the graph here.
It was the world the passage of Roe was leaving behind: a world of black and white television, of three network channels and PBS, of women being known as Mrs. John Smith, provided their husband’s name was also John Smith.
Women were defined by men rather than themselves. They were presumed subservient, presumed unable to make their own way, presumed in Oklahoma high schools to be unfit to run up and down the length of the basketball court for another 20 years, when the girls game was finally made full court and quarters were moved from 7 to 8 minutes, as the boys played.
It’s what’s so unthinkable about last week’s decision. It pushes women, and therefore all of us, backward toward a world that no longer exists.
Now, families need two incomes.
Now, women run things and our country is so much better for it.
Now, marriage is a choice rather than an expectation, to say nothing of having children.
Sex is, too, and just about all of us prefer it in our lives than not — hardly a revolutionary thing to say now, but way out there prior to Roe — and even in the most careful hands, it can still lead to unwanted pregnancy … and in breathless hands, often the case between two people determined to have sex with each other, more unwanted pregnancy.
It’s the world we live in.
Where the sex stuff’s concerned, it’s probably the world we’ve always lived in.
It’s a world that demands abortion rights, not only for women’s self determination and freedom, which is sort of everything, but to make American life work as we know it, too.
I envision workarounds.
Several underground railroads, delivering women from the poorly named heartland into states where abortion is legal and then bringing them home. I see tribal lands in states that have outlawed abortion becoming oases of enlightenment because sovereignty’s sovereignty.
Undoubtedly, too, I see the horror stories we left behind when Roe was passed making tragic comebacks.
Ultimately, I see federal law stepping in and taking it out of the courts’ hands, because it’s the latest example of a minority taking away a right favored by the majority, one so personal that voters, eventually, will grab it back.
To summarize, I remember 1972.
I remember a world that no longer exists, that nobody but a few ancient white men, Clarence Thomas, Amy Coney Barrett, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh want back and soon enough — yet not remotely soon enough — those dark forces will be beaten back again.
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