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Linda Greider

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The Lessons of The Scarlet Letter Today

Posted: 04/ 2/2012 9:59 am

Long life and lots of experience have taught me that nobody ever changes their mind about abortion. But to put a face, or at least a name, on the subject, here's a story:

Fifty-three years ago when I was 16 I sat in the family doctor's office in Wheaton, Illinois, while my father, who was wearing a suit and tie and his Kiwanis button, told the doctor that "we think Linda might be pregnant." Brief examination demonstrating that was indeed the case, the doctor asked me what I wanted to do. I wanted to die, but that didn't seem like a reasonable answer, so I said I wanted to get married. It never occurred to me there was another option.

The doctor, who had seen my mother through a few miscarriages and had delivered my younger sister, proposed abortion, said he knew a surgeon who had injured his hands and was now performing them in a nearby, and seedier, suburb of Chicago. The doctor had recently sent his wife's best friend there.

So I had an abortion. My father cashed in some bonds to pay for it. He never forgave me, of course, and my mother just cried. When a few years later I told her the man who has now been my husband for 50 years had brought up marriage, she said, "Oh, Linda, does he know?" Used, damned, shamed, everything but the red letter A on my chest. Everybody has their own idea of punishment; mine is the image of my father in the doctor's office while my mother cried at home.

Whether or not I go to hell for this deed is yet to be determined, but when I hear arch, facile condemnations tossed off about events like this I get mad. Pronouncements about my -- and all the other girls' -- low self-esteem and inability to say no are insulting, sexist and in the end irrelevant. I know several women, in this nice neighborhood, who have had abortions. Reasons: they were too old, they were not healthy, the fetus was malformed, missing organs, would live briefly and painfully. None was lacking in self-esteem or, heaven knows, the ability to say no. Where is the sin here?

At the time of my abortion I was a lonely sinner. Much later I learned that several of my classmates had the same experience. That we all faced it alone, that we were so ashamed, so shamed, is all but shattering.

I think the question of whether insurance pays for birth control is really a front for the roiling fears and wishes and regrets we all have about sex and life and death.

Insurance pays for many things I don't approve of and yet I'm not at the barricades. I think dexa scans are an agent of the devil, for example, constructed out of whole cloth by the rapacious troops of the medical-industrial complex. But go ahead and have them, and let insurance pay for them and let GE reap another fortune. And who says the gimpy knee that needs replacing isn't the knee-owner's fault? Too much aerobics (low self-esteem), too many ice cream bars (inability to say no), bad genetics, bad behavior, bad karma, cataclysmic failure of the cartilage.

I am so glad that my granddaughters will never have to feel the low-clouds-and-thunder disapprobation that I experienced. They will be good to themselves, honest citizens, kind humans, and if they want to be, good mothers like their own mothers.

In the meantime I think we all should be rereading The Scarlet Letter. It's a story that has much to say about women and men and the shifty ideas of sin.