Women who have abortions are seldom referred to as mothers. But author and educator Judith Arcana believes that this denial has led to the dehumanization of women deciding not to have babies. For many, abortion remains a secret they can never share.
"We need to speak of our abortions, not in an atmosphere of guilt and shame as a result of spiritual terrorism of contemporary antiabortionists, but in open recognition of our regret or loss or joy or relief--even of mourning--and in acceptance of the responsibility of our choice," writes Arcana in her essay "Abortion Is a Motherhood Issue," included in the recently published anthology Mother Journeys: Feminists Write About Mothering (Spinsters Ink).
The 52-year-old Arcana worked with the underground abortion counseling service of the Chicago Women's Liberation Union (more commonly known as "Jane") from 1970 until 1973, when Roe v. Wade was decided. "Because abortion was illegal, we lived in an emotionally unusual atmosphere," she says. "But there was nowhere near the level of danger that practitioners face today. We were an open secret. Cops sent their daughters to us. They knew where mafia abortions were done and where doctors did them. We were the crazy feminists who weren't in it for the money."
She later taught women's studies for six years at Columbia College and in 1978 penned a book based on her class discussions, Our Mother's Daughters. In 1983 she wrote another book about motherhood, this time inspired by the raising of her son, called Every Mother's Son.
Arcana says she's amazed that abortion still carries a stigma. "I can't bear the idea of people being raised where they're not wanted, where there's no healthy, loving environment. I can't stand it. Sometimes a woman has to decide to kill her baby. That's what abortion is. We have to deal with that or we're abandoning these women."
Judith Arcana will be joined by Martha Roth, editor of Mother Journeys, for a reading and discussion this Tuesday at 7:30 at Women & Children First Bookstore, 5233 N. Clark; it's free. Call 769-9299 for info.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo/Marc PoKempner.