by Angela Kehler
GREENSBORO – It was late spring in 2019. Waiting for our order to arrive at Positive Pie in Montpelier, I kept one ear to the conversation of the young women seated at the table with me and one eye on the increasingly steady rain that had started to fall. I had a strong instinct that I should ask for the pizza to go, but after watching those middle-school girls sit through four hours of debate in the House, I wanted to give them a proper amount of time at a real table to process the experience.
An hour later, as the sensors on my Honda Pilot beeped relentlessly due to the ice build-up on the front of the car, and the road between Hardwick and Greensboro glistened in my headlights as my tires glided across it gripping nothing at all, I would come to regret that decision. But this isn’t about driving in ice storms, it is about the fact that, as absolutely terrifying as it was to be responsible for a car full of kids in those conditions, I am still happy to have done it.
We had spent the hours after school that day, at the request of my daughter and her friends, in the Vermont State House watching the final debate before the vote to adopt Proposition 5, which would codify the right to reproductive freedom into Vermont law. I’m not a little ashamed to admit that I hadn’t even been following the debate very closely, but apparently my teenage daughter and her friends had, and why not, seeing as how they would be the generation to be most impacted by it? With the antichoice movement asserting their influence on their political candidates on the national stage and slowly chipping away at reproductive freedom, the urgency of need to ensure those rights in our state was more obvious than ever. And those inspiring young women recognized that fact.
Fast forward to last month, when, despite all lingering hope that maybe they wouldn’t go through with it, the Supreme Court voted to overturn Roe vs. Wade and with it mine and my daughter’s right to control our own bodies. I knew there were battles still left to fight in our journey toward equality, but I didn’t think it would be this one.
That morning, I sat in front of my computer and cried, completely unprepared for the intensity of grief clenching down on my diaphragm. I texted my mother-in-law, I can’t breathe, and after establishing that I was speaking metaphorically, she wondered what I wanted to do. I knew that there would be a protest in Montpelier. “But is that what you want to do?” she asked. No, not really. I wanted to mourn, to grieve with other people who were grieving, to mark the occasion, to be seen, be heard, and be counted in our opposition.
Together my mother-in-law and I reached out to friends and acquaintances to meet us on the green in Greensboro for what I now recognize was a vigil more than a protest. More people than I expected showed up. I was encouraged to see Representative Katherine Sims was among them. I hadn’t known she would be there or that she even knew it was happening, but seeing a lawmaker present, to cry with us, to share with us and to vow to move us forward, made me feel just a little less hopeless in that moment.
Not even a week later, I was landed smack-dab in the middle of that whirlwind once again when my birth control failed. That morning, after my husband left for work, I paced the floor in my bedroom, a tight, nauseous knot in the pit of my stomach, running scenarios and calculations. At 44, I should be less likely to become pregnant, and it was one time, certainly the odds were in favor of everything turning out okay. But then again, all it takes is one time. I couldn’t stomach the chance of being wrong and needing to call my doctor about an abortion, I wasn’t willing to put myself through that. Uh-oh, I think I need Plan B, I mumbled to myself.
I was quite certain that Plan B was available without a prescription, but I Googled it just in case. Then I called our local pharmacy to find out if they had any in stock. I was keenly aware of the discomfort and shame that tingled through to the tips of my fingers at the thought of talking to anyone about needing emergency contraception, whether sparked by the remnants of my strict religious upbringing and taboos around sex in general, or by my own embarrassment that at my age I was in the position to need it, I couldn’t tell, but the feeling was palpable and when I discovered that our local pharmacy was temporarily closed, I allowed that feeling of shame to morph into avoidance and convinced myself that I was probably fine and wasn’t going to worry about it.
By the time evening arrived I had whiplashed back to panic. I would call first thing the next morning (by then it would be just over 24 hours, well within the 72-hour window for effectiveness), even if I had to call every pharmacy within a 30-mile radius. I noted a slight feeling of irritation that somehow the stress, and the disruption, and the long drive if needed, were all on me and not my husband, but that feeling subsided when he validated that reality. Luckily, in my marriage and in our state, the choice is also entirely up to me.
The next morning, the first pharmacy I called, only a 40-minute drive from me, was fully stocked and the cheery pharmacist assured me that all I needed to do was come down and pick it up. I don’t know what I’d been expecting, but that was it. She didn’t ask why I needed it, she didn’t ask anything at all, and it occurred to me that it’s because it was no one’s business but mine and I live in a place that accepts that fact.
I swallowed the single, tiny pill and relief washed over me from the top of my head to my feet. Both of my previous pregnancies were planned and very much wanted. A pregnancy now would not have been for many reasons, not the least of which, was the very simple reason that I don’t want another child. That should be reason enough. Additionally, at my age it would be considered a geriatric pregnancy which carries with it all sorts of risks.
The medication I’m on for Rheumatoid Arthritis is unsafe for pregnant women and would have to be halted, and that suspension of treatment could trigger a flare that may never subside, not to mention the damage a demanding pregnancy would inflict on my already ailing body. None of which should matter, there should be no justification necessary for a choice that I make for myself. However, it is terrifyingly obvious that the minority who fought and succeeded in overturning Roe, will not stop there.
Within the national debate over the right to choose I’ve noted a focus on extreme cases from both sides, whether it be rape and incest, or the small percentage of abortions that take place after twenty-one weeks. It is important to remember that the reality of it is often significantly less detrimental—i.e., a middle aged, married, stay-at-home mom who finds herself in a situation she doesn’t want to be in—and no matter the scenario, it is a fundamental human right to be able to decide, period, whether that decision is to be made by me or by my now 15 year old daughter and her peers.
I hope that, ballots in hand this fall, we can all remember, that something as small as a circle filled in with black ink, will reverberate powerfully through future generations, whether the issue is reproductive rights, or preserving our planet by addressing climate change with the urgency it deserves. Our power lies in our willingness, basically, to give a damn.