I had a friend who was born on January 22, 1973. She told me that all her life, people joked about how lucky she was to have made it in under the gun like that, else she might have been aborted. Whatever end of the political spectrum they fell upon, somehow anyone who knew her birthdate felt compelled to comment on its being the date abortion was made legal throughout the United States.
My friend was always very easygoing about these comments, although she told me privately that she found them astounding. Why anyone would think it was all right to joke about her being possibly unwanted was bizarre. She handled it with a remarkable aplomb, however, and always made a point of emphasizing that she was wanted, planned for, prepared for, and welcomed. That this made all the difference in the world. That her entering the world, this already loved child, on a day when it was at last legal for women to end unwanted pregnancies, was something in which she and her parents took great pride. Because all children should be born this way – loved and wanted. Because to have a family and a home are blessings that, if guaranteed at the very first breath, will help create a good life from the outset.
In 2004, she and I attended a special screening of 'Vera Drake', where Mike Leigh talked quite bluntly about issues surrounding legal abortion in the UK and conceded that there was certainly a movement to abolish it, but it was nothing like the "barbaric medieval fundamentalism" seen in the US. We couldn't help laughing – it's just not often that you hear people being that marvelously blunt – but as someone who's studied medieval history, it's definitely not a time I'd like to see re-created for the modern era.
And yet medieval thought is very much the order of the day. Many Republican politicians are proud of their anti-science, anti-intellectual stances, which is effectively anti-Enlightenment. To say nothing of profoundly dangerous. In proclaiming their insistence that, the minute they have the power, they are going to plunge us all back into a pre-Enlightenment world, they are touting the sort of early-Modern mindset that led to witch-burning being the major entertainment of the day.
Putting aside that without the scientific advancements borne of the Enlightenment, Newt Gingrich would likely have died twenty years ago (we think about all the ramifications of that progress and then politely move on), it is a continuing peculiarity of conservative politicians to aim further and further backwards. Doesn't that go against all tenets of Western civilization? We're supposed to take the lessons of history and use them as guidance to propel us forward, seeking to improve upon our past, not wallow in it. If you must wallow, I can recommend a number of reenactment societies.
What the extreme conservatives need to understand as they rail against abortion and birth control (and before they start railing against women's education and right to go out in public by themselves), is that a free society is never going to measure up to one group's aesthetic ideals. Freedom is not by its nature tidy and orderly. In artistic terms, it's a bit more like abstract expressionism. It looks easy, but that doesn't mean it is.
Above all, a free society means that there will be aspects some people don't like. The fear of change looms large, and even though birth control and abortion have been legally available for decades, the change they represent in so far as women enjoying real freedom to direct their lives and their health is still alarming to a contingent that would prefer to see women controlled. The control of women, relegated strictly to a defined and intransient sphere, represents a perceived continuity. An incorrect perception, because women have insisted upon equal rights for centuries, but frightened and desperate people cling to whatever they can. That's sad for them, but it's vital that their fear not be allowed to dictate societal practice and state and national laws. A quick scan of history indicates that doing so has never worked out very well.
I've lost touch with my friend in the last few years, but I hope she hasn't had to deal with anyone joking about how lucky she is to be here today. If she does, I know she'll answer as she did before, saying, "Yes, I am lucky that I was wanted before I was conceived and welcomed with ecstasy when I was born. With abortion being made legal and birth control accessible, the hope was that every child would start off that way. I'm still fighting for that, cause I can tell you from experience that it's a pretty great way to grow up."