These are the remarks of our Executive Director, Parker Dockray, who was honored to be one of the testifiers at the January 29th service, Hope Moving Us Forward: 41 Years of Roe.
When I was first asked to speak here tonight, I was a little nervous. I’m not really a church service kind of girl. I didn’t grow up in a particularly religious or spiritual family – our religion was nature, science, and education. Living in central PA, however, I was surrounded by religion, especially conservative Christianity. Even my public schools were steeped in the assumption that everyone believed in God and Jesus and prayer.
When I was about 9 or 10 years old, I remember going to sleep-away camp with a friend’s church, and being questioned by other kids and even the camp counselor about my “lack of beliefs.” It wasn’t malicious, but rather that they were confused. They couldn’t seem to understand how or why I would be committed to doing good in the world if I didn’t believe in God.
The question was a little strange to me, but it gave me something to think about. I don’t believe in God. But I do believe our life on Earth is precious. I believe that all people should be treated with kindness and respect. And in a world that is unpredictable and mostly beyond our control, I believe that we each have the right to make the best decisions we can for our own lives. And that includes abortion.
Roe v Wade marks the anniversary of legal abortion in the United States. For me the power of Roe has always been about more than abortion, because abortion rights are not just important for the people who have had or will ever have an abortion. It’s important for all of us. Because when safe abortion care is available, it means that staying pregnant can be a choice.
For over a decade, I worked at ACCESS, where I had the privilege of working with many women seeking abortions. One woman lived in a neighboring state and was struggling to get an abortion. Her Medicaid wouldn’t pay for it and she didn’t know how she could come up with the money or find a provider. Eventually we worked out a plan that brought her to Women’s Options Center in San Francisco and ACCESS paid for a bus ticket and a volunteer put her up for the night.
On the day of her appointment, the clinic called and said this woman wanted to talk to me. When I got on the phone, she hesitated, and then told me she had decided to continue the pregnancy. She explained that, now that she was in the clinic and having an abortion was a real possibility, she was able to consider her options and make a decision. She explained that if she had stayed stuck in her home state with no access to abortion, she would have had the baby because she had no choice. Now, she was having the baby because she had decided that’s what she wanted to do.
She also said that she was sorry. She apologized for ‘changing her mind’ and told me she was sorry that we’d all worked so hard and spent money on a bus ticket to get her to the clinic. I said – No! We didn’t help you so that you would have an abortion, we helped you because you should have access to the care you need to make your own decision, and that’s what you did. This is exactly why we do this work. And you have nothing to apologize for.
Her apology is still such a touchstone for me, a reminder of all the ways that we each feel the need to apologize for our decisions, our feelings, and in some cases our very existence. It is also a powerful reminder of how much trouble we sometimes have in letting go of our investment in other people’s decisions. In the world of sexual and reproductive health and justice, this seems to be a constant struggle – learning to let go of our ideas about what other people ‘should’ do.
This is partly due, of course, to our paternalistic, moralistic, racist, sexist ideas of who knows best. And, I think we all just want to see our own choices reflected and validated in the choices of those around us. So when someone makes a decision we don’t understand or that we think is foolish, on some level we feel like it’s calling into question what we believe to be true and right.
But the thing is, there isn’t one true or right choice. What’s right for me may not be right for you. What’s right for me today may not be right for me next year, or 10 years from now. Nothing is black and white – it’s all messy gray area. And despite what we’re told, there aren’t believers and “nonbelievers.” It’s not feminism vs attachment parenting, hospitals vs home birth, or abortion vs adoption. There are many possibilities and realities in each of us.
That’s why it’s so important that we have options, and that those options be supported for everyone, so that each of us can make the decisions that are best for our own lives. For me, that is the promise – however unfulfilled as yet – of Roe, and it is also the reason that I love doing this work with all of you.