Yesterday Kayla Vaughan, Mary Ann Tipton and I attended the emergency rally to keep the last abortion care provider in Missouri open. We stood in the shadow of the arch and in the shadow of grim things going on for reproductive justice.
I had sex in high school, before it was legal to get birth control unless you were married. My mother said to me, “Young lady, if you get pregnant, you will be on the next plane to New York.” At the time I had no idea what she meant; how would seeing a play help? Fortunately my physics teacher, in whose classroom many of us ate lunch, responded quickly when he heard I was going through a pregnancy scare. The next day he kept me after class, handed me a brown paper sac filled with foam and condoms, and said, “Use these!” I remain eternally grateful to him and the risk he took in helping me.
I became a sexuality educator and counselor and worked for nearly three decades at the Hope Clinic for Women, just across the river in Granite City, IL. My career allowed me to speak to thousands of high school and college students about sexuality and hold hundreds of women’s hands during their brief abortion procedures. In counseling women and couples, I have declined to co-sign consent forms for those who said they thought they would burn in hell for ending a pregnancy. Who would want anyone to live their life believing that? In working with religious couples who terminated a much wanted pregnancy for medical reasons, I have joined hands with them and prayed (yes prayed, it can’t hurt) that God would take better care of their little one in heaven than they could on earth. Clinic staff often called on me to talk to angry mothers who brought their daughters to the clinic but whose daughters did not want abortions. Sometimes that ended in me receiving baby pictures and sometimes it was graduation pictures, but always it protected the mother daughter relationship.
Having avoided pregnancy in high school and college, the need for abortion did not come up again in my personal life until Matthew and I found out during our first pregnancy that the fetus I was carrying had severe abnormalities. Working in abortion care, I was pretty well connected. Hope Clinic provides care to 24 weeks and I was beyond that limit. I called Dr. George Tiller in Wichita, who was a friend of mine, but he replied his clinic had been firebombed two weeks earlier and he was not able to help me. My private Ob/Gyn at Barnes said she could not do a procedure that advanced. After she endured a month in the Neonatal intensive care unit, we removed life support from our very sick daughter. No parent should ever be faced with this. And still the protesters who yelled at me on my way into work every day shouted, “Babies are murdered up until the day before delivery!”
I do this work because I cannot not do it. Ask my family and they will tell you stories of me providing education on airplanes, in checkout lines, and in Verizon stores. My main retirement project is being on the board of the Gateway Women’s Access Fund, which in the three years we have existed as a 501(c)(3) has (with many donations from Ethical Society Members) helped pay for over 1,400 Missourians’ abortion care. The fund, by the way, will shortly be changing its name to Missouri Abortion Fund.
Yesterday, Kayla marched with a banner she made and carried in marches prior to Roe v Wade. Mary Ann marched with the same pin she wore to the 1992 Women’s March in DC. I marched like I always do, happy to recognize others in the crowd and grateful for all the new faces I don’t recognize.
We may have gotten a Temporary Restraining Order today to keep the St. Louis clinic open, but this fight we thought was compromised by Roe v Wade is just beginning.
Allison M Hile, MA