Those Were the Days

The scene is still there in memory from 1959. I can play it, pause it, rewind it, replay it. Everything except erase it.

The store keeper's teenage daughter was at their home next door. The country store was downstairs and the family lived upstairs above it. She was out in the back yard beside a dirt pile the size of a small truck. She with a heavy digging maddock and swinging furiously, desperately at this pile. A rather pretty girl who had "gotten herself" pregnant with a high school boy. Neither of them had wanted this, nor had his parents or hers, nor had their churches, or this small farming community. Nor had I, their young college student part-time pastor.

I have wondered what may have given this girl the idea of that digging. Maybe an experienced girl friend, maybe a magazine article, maybe even a whispered suggestion by her own mother. Whatever it was, she went at it as if it were her last hope in life.

I did not understand at first. It took my wife explaining. We watched from our window her desperation. Trying to dig her way out of the mess she was in. By herself, because the boy was in no such dilemma. After all, the baby might not even be his. No way to prove it, on way or another.  And he is mad with her because he says she is trying to put the blame on him. Just leave him out of it. His is finished with her.

Abortions were illegal in those days, but miscarriages were not. Abortions were illegal, but they were selectively available, everyone knew. If you were wealthy and could afford to travel far away, you could purchase a reasonably safe abortion. You could say you were going to visit some relatives for awhile, or travel, or work overseas for a few months. But if you were poor, and the dirt pile didn't work, your choice was to put yourself in the hands of an illegal abortioner and risk the consequences. Half of all maternal deaths resulted from illegal abortions in the first half of the 20th century. Approximately 1 million women used illegal abortions each year in the 1950's and 60's, even though the procedures were unsafe and life-threatening. 

About 60% of today's women live in developed countries where safe abortions are available. According to the World Health Organization, the death toll from unsafe abortions in the rest of the world is about 70,000 annually. That is 23 times the number killed in the 9/11 attacks, and that is every year.

It is easy for the older men who make laws to sit around and decide what choices the store keeper's daughter should have or not have. They are not in the clutches of her dilemma and they do not have to live with her choices. They can say what her obligations are and then walk away from them like the high school boy has done. They can even sound moral and sanctimonious about it.

My heart went out to that poor country girl, and still does.

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