My whole life, I listened to my grandmother
talk about her younger sister who died at the age of 21 of kidney failure. Her
sister's death had left an enormous hole in my grandmother's life, but it was
not until a few years before her death that my grandmother spoke to me about the
secret that she had kept for more than 50 years. Her sister died of kidney failure
caused by an abortion that my grandmother had helped induce.
was in love with a young man who had just been drafted into the Army and was soon
to be shipped to France during WW II. In the few days they had left together,
my great-aunt conceived a child. Unmarried and with no guarantee that her boyfriend
would return to marry her, my great-aunt felt she could not have the baby. Because
her sister asked, my grandmother, using a piece of rubber tubing, the blunt end
of a knitting needle, and a tragically rudimentary understanding of female anatomy,
attempted to abort her sister.
The abortion itself was successful, my grandmother
told me, as the fetus was expelled, but the consequence was fatal. Infection set
in and the family doctor was unwilling to help my great-aunt once he discovered
the reason she was ill. My grandmother sat by her sister's bed for five days until
her sister finally died from the massive infection. The only assistance the local
doctor was willing to offer was this: afterwards he listed cause of death as "kidney
failure" so no one else would know what she had done.
I tell this for
the same reason that my grandmother told me this: she wanted me to understand
the horrible knowledge of what NO access to safe, legal abortion does to women.
After hearing this story, when my grandmother died, I felt I had lost not only
her but her beautiful, spirited, and funny sister who was the star of so many
of the stories I had grown up hearing. Even though my grandmother had lived a
full life, I feel I was cheated of my great-aunt, and for all the wrong reasons.Sara
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