I love telling stories. And I've encountered people who enjoy hearing the stories, and who tell me, "You should write a book."
In a way, I have. Twice.
Under Mark Crutcher's direction, when I was at Life Dynamics, I completely reworked his old Life Activist Seminar workbook, added a lot of new material, and the result was Mark's project from my fingers, LTE 250. It was a compilation of sample letters to the editor, each 250 words in length or less, which the life activist could use as a model for composing his or her own letter.
The second effort was my contribution to Lime 5, released by Life Dynamics under Mark's name.
But both of those exercises were while I was in somebody's employ as a research writer. Neither of them was really wholly my own work.
But I'm wondering if the time for that has come.
In particular, Abby Johnson's release of Unplanned has made me wonder if it's time to spell out my own journey as chronicler of the dead.
And for me, it really is and always has been a journey into a macabre world nobody else seems to enter into except fleetingly. I'm left here, minder of the morgue. I know I belong here, among these mostly forgotten women and girls. I know I'm to bear witness to them. The question is, how or why?
The entrance was a library. More specifically, the microfilm reader in the post library at the Gablingen Kaserne at Field Station Augsburg.
I'd started researching abortion on my own after a disappointing introduction to the post's pro-life group. Perhaps I gave up on them too quickly, but I just didn't seem to have anything in common with them. They wanted to get together, watch The Silent Scream, and tsk-tsk over how wicked those baby killers were. I was perturbed that we were missing a likely chance for community outreach amid rumors that female soldiers were being raped by NCOs in the barracks. Shouldn't we gain some credibility, I asked, by being concerned about the well-being of vulnerable women?
The eyes turned away from me. I went off on my own, determined to learn everything I could, so that when I got back to the US, I could do something effective. I read all the books on the topic that the post library had to offer, then turned to NewsBank and all the newspaper articles I could find.
It was in those reels of microfilm that I encountered my first two safe and legal abortion victims: Ellen Williams and Gloria Aponte.
It would be hard to imagine more telling examples of the slovenliness of American abortion practice. Ellen, a 38-year-old public school administrator, died of peritonitis after clinic staff sent her home with nothing but a bottle of oral antibiotics to treat a perforated intestine. Gloria, only 20 years old, died at the hands of a quack who allowed his receptionist to administer general anesthesia.
What I learned in the years since my initial discovery has only underscored the problem. Though Ellen was a married and respectable middle-class woman, she was Black, and thus her death was easy for a white-obsessed culture to ignore. Gloria's seedy abortionist, Hanan Rotem, was a member of the highly respectable National Abortion Federation, supposed bastion of safety and professionalism.
My Cemetery of Choice has grown into the hundreds since that initial day when I printed out clippings about Gloria and Ellen. I've learned a lot. But not a lot has changed. Prolifers are still fixated on the fetus. Prochoicers still shrug off deaths like Ellen's and Gloria's with an indifference that never ceases to stagger me. Yet I, not known for my tenacity or stick-to-it-iveness, still plug away, over a quarter of a century after my eyes spotted two sad stories on the microfilm screen. I, who drop virtually any project within a few years, if not a few months or even weeks, still labor away. I still keep my eyes peeled for abortion's carnage among the women it's purported to save. I still tell the stories.
And maybe telling the story of telling the stories will help me to figure out why.