February 7, 2012 (LiveAction.org) - It is my third week on the job. I am 24 years old. I think this place is pretty cool because it’s in downtown Dallas and they don’t care that I have my nose pierced. The offices are upstairs in a historic building with hardwood floors. I have my own giant office and a huge, ornate antique desk.
My boss is in her early 30s and just finished grad school at Columbia. She is the rich daughter of the rich owner of the business. I get the feeling she hired me because she thinks I am young and rad and she herself wishes to remain young and rad.
She asks me to go with her to run an important weekly errand. I feel important. I feel that her car is important. It is a BMW. It is very clean inside, with no sign of her two-year-old daughter but a sippy cup in the console. The upholstery is spotless. It smells like achievement.
She is talking to me about working with the mentally ill while earning a psychology degree. She uses the phrase “mentally ill” a lot. She tells me about a woman who stabbed her infant son with a fork, a prostitute who bit another prostitute’s finger off, and a janitor who was hiding body parts in a fridge. They were all “mentally ill.” She feels sorry for them and says that people don’t get it.
“People don’t get it,” she says.
She tells me that most homeless people are mentally ill, most murderers are mentally ill, most perpetrators of domestic violence are mentally ill, and most drug abusers are mentally ill and trying to self-medicate.
I sit there and nod as she drives through downtown, watching the homeless people walk by, the multifarious crackheads who harass me for change every day as I journey from the bus stop to my office and back again. Mentally ill, I think.
She is explaining to me how people don’t understand that prison isn’t the answer, being “tough on crime” isn’t the answer. She tells me we need more social programs, more treatment for these people, more public understanding of mental illness, better shelters, more rehab programs and halfway houses.
“People don’t get it,” she says.
She takes a left at an intersection. “I’m gonna go a back way,” she says. “I always do this.”
A few minutes later she slows the car dramatically and pushes the button that lowers her window. She sticks her arm out. I duck my head and look out. Across the street from us is a squat, tan brick building. In front of it on the sidewalk are about five people. A few of them are holding signs. One of the signs has a close-up of a smiling infant. There are two middle-aged women with scarves on their bowed heads praying a rosary.
That’s when I realize where we are. I guess I knew there were abortion clinics. I just never thought about it. And I suppose I knew people sometimes protested. But again, I had never thought about it.
My boss’s hand is stuck out the window of her BMW. She crawls past the clinic with her middle finger up. No one notices her so she comes almost to a stop. The person behind her honks his horn. The protesters look in our direction. They see her middle finger. They seem neither shocked nor offended. They just look at us. My boss grins at them and then at me with a gleam in her eye.
She yells, “Go home!” at the same moment the person behind us honks again. Her voice is drowned out. She is a little embarrassed and steps on the gas too hard and fast. The BMW lurches forward and she clears her throat and rolls up the window.
It’s only years later that I see the desperate awkward grasping pettiness of her actions. At that moment, though, I am enthralled. This woman is standing up for the oppressed. She is a crusader for human rights against the barbarians who would throw the mentally ill in jail for murder when it isn’t their fault. She stands up to the intolerant zealots who harrass women and assail them with judgmental nonsense when they seek to exercise their right to choose what to do with their own bodies.
I have never given abortion much thought until this day. It will be years before I have even the faintest idea of what it really is, what it does, or what it means.
In the coming years, I will only think about abortion when someone questions whether or not it should be legal. Then I will loudly and angrily argue for abortion “rights.” About three years later, I will have a conversation in which I finally, for the first time ever, learn some facts about abortion, and I will leave that conversation pro-life, and remain so.
Driving past the abortion clinic, watching my boss flip the bird to a group of praying strangers, I only have the foggiest notion of what “pro-choice” means. Like “mentally ill,” it has an ephemeral quality to it, a sense of non-meaning, as though it’s not so much a phrase as a magic blanket that can stretch to cover anything we wish. But I like the sound of it. It sounds inclusive, warm, reasonable.
I think the words in my head and decide I like them. I like the club I belong to now. I will worry about the details later. Or maybe I won’t.
Sitting there in my boss’s Bimmer, I feel a sense of pride and belonging. I am a smart, liberated, enlightened young woman. I am a feminist and a believer in human rights. I am one of the sane ones, the caring ones, the indispensable right-thinking ones.
I am pro-choice.
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Reprinted with permission from Live Action’s blog.