Body

Published on July 14th, 2022 | by Jennifer Baum

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Easy Access

I often wonder what would’ve happened had I not had easy access to an abortion back in 1984, when I was 21 and pregnant. At the time, I was studying film and history at NYU and living in Brooklyn with a roommate. Had I been forced to give birth, I would’ve dropped out of school at least for a while to raise the baby, and I may have married or been tied to a man with whom I had an emotionally unstable relationship.

I was brought up in a climate where women’s rights were at the forefront of my life and the lives of my friends, family, community, and New York City society at large. My fervently pro-choice mother taught me about birth control and encouraged me at sixteen to get a diaphragm. We talked openly about sex and relationships. Shame, sin, or guilt were never part of the discussion. I wasn’t afraid to tell my mother I was pregnant, and I knew without a doubt she’d support my decision to abort. As secular Jews, we believed life began when the baby breathed independently from the mother, not at the time of conception or a detected heartbeat. We never considered abortion to be murder. It was a private healthcare decision to be made by a woman.

Young and insecure at the time of my unwanted pregnancy, I was taking baby steps toward self-reliance. I’d been suffering from anxiety and depression due to my dad’s unexpected death in front of me when I was ten years old. During my first year at Oberlin College, I’d suffered a nervous breakdown and had taken a year off to heal. I’d recently transferred to NYU and was learning to become an independent woman. Had my autonomy over my own body been taken away by being forced to carry my pregnancy to term, I may very well have skidded deep into another depression.

I was lucky to be living in NYC, where I had my choice of clinics. Abortion was legalized in the state in 1970, three years before Roe v Wade. In 1984, when I had my abortion, there were approximately 300 clinics in the state[1] and access was easy. When I went to get an abortion, I didn’t have to worry about pro-life demonstrators menacing me as I walked into the clinic, didn’t fear that the place might be vandalized or bombed or that a certified abortion provider could be murdered. After the procedure was finished, I felt nothing but relief.

If I’d had to give birth to a baby, I would have left school and moved back home with my mother, into our subsidized Manhattan three-bedroom cooperative. Because of our affordable living arrangement made possible through government subsidies for housing, which have decreased significantly since the 1980s, my single working mother would’ve been able to support a new baby and me. The communal nature of the building included a backyard for kids to play in. I would’ve had easy access to a community of friends and neighbors who would’ve babysat so I could complete my education and get a job. Essentially, we would have been all set up.

Still, even under the best of circumstances, my life trajectory would’ve been altered. I would have had to give up my dream of being a documentary filmmaker, traveling the world to make social justice films. I would’ve been a single mother before I’d been ready to take on such a tremendous responsibility. At an extremely vulnerable moment in my own life, I was just regaining confidence. I’m forever grateful I had the choice to terminate my pregnancy and access to safe, legal abortion.

However, as abortion became legal and available, violence against abortion providers escalated. “Between 1973 and 2003, anti-abortion activists carried out over 300 attacks (arsons, bombings, and butyric acid attacks at abortion facilities, and the murder of abortion providers) on abortion clinics in the United States.”[2] New York was not immune. In New York City in 1979, there was an arson attack on a clinic, and in 1985 there was anti-abortion violence at a clinic.[3] In 1998, in Buffalo, a doctor was murdered at home by a “pro-lifer.” As violence increased, abortion facilities closed. In New York City, “the number of abortion clinics in New York declined from 302 in 1982 to 95 in 2014 but increased to 113 in 2017.”[4] At the same time, crisis pregnancy centers have cropped up throughout the country, masquerading as abortion providers, with the real mission of convincing women to give birth.

Today, remarkably, the constitutional right to an abortion has been overturned. Thirteen states have already made abortion illegal.[5] Other states will shortly put severe restrictions on abortion. Abortion remains legal in only 20 states plus the District of Columbia.[6] According to Pro-Truth, a reproductive rights non-profit, there are more crisis pregnancy centers in NYC today than abortion clinics.[7]

In the United States, there’s meager support for babies once they arrive. Child and health care remain exorbitantly expensive and out of reach for many. Folks can’t afford rent or food. Homelessness has reached Depression levels. Women should not be forced to give birth under any circumstances, especially in this dire environment.

Today my son is the same age I was back in the 1980s. He is at college and in a relationship with a lovely young woman. Should she have an unwanted pregnancy, she too should feel assured she’d have the freedom to make her own personal health care decisions. We can’t go backwards.


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abortion_in_New_York#cite_note-:122-39

[2]Jacobson, M., & Royer, H. (2011). Aftershocks: The Impact of Clinic Violence on Abortion Services. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics3(1), 189–223. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25760251

[3] Jacobson, M., & Royer, H. (2011). Aftershocks: The Impact of Clinic Violence on Abortion Services. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics3(1), 189–223. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25760251

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abortion_in_New_York#cite_note-:122-39

[5] https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/06/24/abortion-state-laws-criminalization-roe/

[6] Ibid

[7] https://www.nytimes.com/2022/06/25/nyregion/crisis-pregnancy-centers-abortion-nyc.html

Cover photo by Zac Ong on Unsplash

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About the Author

Jennifer Baum is a filmmaker turned writer. Her writing has been published in New York Daily NewsGuernicaJacobinThe Village Voice, The Phoenix Jewish News, Canadian Jewish Outlook, The Jewish Observer Los Angeles, MUTHA, Hip Mama, and NewFound, which nominated her essay, A Different Set of Rules, for a Pushcart award. Her full-length memoir, Just City, is based upon her Pushcart-nominated essay. Baum teaches composition at Mesa Community College and occasionally works as a freelance editor, most recently for a series of reports for the World Bank on poverty in Ghana.

She graduated from NYU’s Gallatin Division, majoring in film and history, and won “Best Short Documentary” at NYU film school for Mothers in Labor, about single teenage mothers being trained in manual labor jobs. She also holds an MFA in Filmmaking from University of British Columbia. Her short films have screened in Havana, Seattle, Tokyo, San Francisco, Vancouver, New York, Toronto, and Ottawa.



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