Sunday, July 31, 2011

Meet Frances: Maybe She's Clean Today

I met Frances years ago, when I was working for a transitional housing ministry for destitute HIV-positive drug addicts in recovery.  Frances shared her story openly as she progressed in her recovery.  Her story opened my eyes about what some girls endure in this life:

Frances' mother was a common street prostitute.  Frances had no idea who her biological father was, just that he was some john.  The man that Frances grew up calling her father was in fact her mother's pimp.  When Frances was 13 or 14 years old, the pimp "father" began abusing Frances sexually (Frances was already used to her mother beating her with an electrical cord.)  Soon Frances was pregnant.  The mother found out about the pregnancy and threw the pimp out of the house in a rare display of maternal concern.

But there was still a pregnancy to be dealt with.  Rather than take Frances to a qualified physician, her mother forced Frances to drink something she had concocted.  The homemade abortifacient did its work.  Soon the teenager's body was expelling the fetus into the toilet.  The mother flushed the toilet unceremoniously, and Frances watched as a tiny hand swirled in the toilet bowl and then disappeared.

The amateur illegal abortion traumatized Frances.  Her need to numb that trauma combined with the on-the-job training she was getting at home propelled Frances into prostitution, drug addiction, and alcoholism.  By the time I met her, Frances was also a two-time felon and HIV-positive.  Frances had never finished school and was working on her G.E.D. in addition to her recovery.  Her mother had died in the streets years before while Frances was in prison.

What Frances craved most was some shred of love in this life.  She became involved with another client and married him -- even though the ministry discouraged clients from becoming involved with anybody in the early phases of their twelve steps to recovery.  The marriage lasted until the day federal law enforcement officers broke down the door to their apartment.  Her husband had been accessing child pornography over the internet while Frances was at work.  He, too, was a two-time felon, so they sent him up for life as a three-time loser.

Frances suffered a relapse and soon was back out on the street.  My former boss was searching the streets to find Frances in order to bring Frances back in and restart her recovery the last I heard (You will meet my former boss Tina in another post.)

YOU tell me how strangling access to legal safe abortions for victims of child rape, incest, and sex trafficking can help a Frances or any other girl in a similar predicament.  Apparently, "true believers" would not permit themselves -- or anybody else --  to rescue the child from heinous abuse by aborting the pregnancy legally and safely and then moving the girl to a safe haven.  Instead religionists must compound the abuse by scoffing at and making a mockery of the child's trauma.

UPDATE:  As of late March 2012, Ohio's illustrious governor, attorney general, majority legislators et al have rediscovered child sex trafficking as an election year issue.  From their legislative performance to date, I must infer that they have no problem with transvaginal ultrasound sonograms to detect the heartbeat of a fetus as long as the probe is being shoved into your daughter, niece, or granddaughter, not theirs.

Addendum:  Compare;;

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Meet My Friend Joe

Joe and I have been friends for over thirty years.  Abortion is the one topic that we agree not to talk about.  Joe is Catholic and vehemently "pro-life".  I am anti-misogyny-tricked-out-as-religion and vehemently pro-choice-by-the-one-most-competent-to-make-the-decision, i.e., the woman.

Some years ago, Joe's daughter became pregnant out of wedlock.  Abortion was out of the question in that house (At least she had the sense not to marry the father and did finish school.)  Like my friend Mary, this girl's child came into the world with cerebral palsy.  This particular child is bright as a button; has good eyesight; but does need a walker or a wheelchair to get around.

The time came to enroll the grandchild in grade school.  For Joe it was a no brainer that he would bust his butt a few more years to pay for another generation of his family to attend a Catholic school on the south side of Columbus, Ohio.  Joe's family had been members of that parish for three generations; this child would be the fourth.

Joe or his daughter, I am not sure which, went to the school to talk to the powers that be about letting the child attend the school on a trial basis.  If it did not work out, the family would make other arrangements for the child.  The administrator running the school said flat out that she was not comfortable with a disabled child attending school there.  The parish priest backed the administrator.

After three generations, Joe and his family now attend another parish.  The child attends a different Catholic school across town.  From the way Joe related the story to me, I can not quite tell whether the administrator was more put off by the child's physical disabilities or the fact that the child was born out of wedlock.

There may be no appeal within the church, but that Catholic school accepts federal funds for education and is therefore subject to certain secular rules of fair play.  Joe's daughter filed a complaint with the federal government.  In her complaint, she asks that the school's personnel be required to complete training to work with disabled pupils in light of the federal tax dollars all of us have paid to that school to date.

Oh, and one more thing.  The mother wants not one penny in damages for herself or her child.  She does want an apology.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Meet My Grandmother

My maternal grandmother, Felicja Zajfert (pronounced ZI-fert), was born in or near Bialystok, Poland.  She had terrible childhood memories of blood running in the streets from the pogroms, and she detested bigots of any sort.

Immigrating to the United States as a very young woman, Grandmother went to work as a seamstress in the sweatshops of Chicago early in the 20th century.  Today factory floors are filled with some mindnumbing cacaophony over the loudspeaker.  Back then Grandmother and two of her coworkers would recite poetry to eachother on their breaks.  When the noise of the machines ebbed, you could hear verses by Pushkin, Mickiewicz, or Goethe being recited by three women who had been lucky to get a grade school education back in the old country.

Grandmother married in Chicago in 1917 or 1918 and had two daughters.  The first was my mother, born in 1919.  After the birth of her second daughter during a very difficult delivery at Cook County Hospital in March 1925, the doctor told my grandmother, "Mrs. Zajfert, if you have another baby, you will leave behind a widower and three orphans.";

Grandfather Jozef Michael Zajfert, born in Slesin, Poland, was a decent enlightened human being and not interested in sending his wife to an early grave.  So, they did what they had to do to maintain their marriage that lasted until his death in 1958.  They never mentioned to their daughters which birth control method they were using, and their daughters did not ask.  It was their parents' private business.

Needless to say, Grandmother heard the usual exhortations from the pulpit to be a good Catholic woman and to fill the world with Catholic children at Sunday Mass.  One day -- in the worst days of the Great Depression -- my mother was leaving the church with Grandmother when a woman in tears ran up to the priest.  The woman was begging the priest for help.  Her husband had abandoned her with eight children.  There was no food in the house.  They were being evicted.  She was desperate.  Could he help her --

The priest rebuked the woman, "Woman, nobody told you to have eight children."

Grandmother, God bless her memory, turned on that priest and crawled up and down that fool in Polish and English:  "What do you mean that nobody told her to have eight children?  I've sat here Sunday after Sunday when YOU were preaching that it's the DUTY of 'good' Catholic women to bring baby after baby into this world!  Now that she can't feed them, YOU want her and the babies to just crawl into some corner and starve!  [...]"

The priest was stunned, unaccustomed as he was to being called to account by a woman -- and an immigrant laywoman with only a grade school education at that.  He gave Grandmother a wide berth after that encounter.

My mother never forgot that encounter.  She related it to me when I was a girl as she was telling me about Erasmus of Rotterdam and "free will".  According to my mother, God gave every human being at least two grey cells to rub together in each cranium, and it is our duty to use them to the best of our ability.  It is one thing to consult educated experts about how to handle a problem.  It is quite another to let others do your thinking for you.  So, always think about things and check the experts' credentials both for technical expertise and the soundness of their judgment before you accept their advice.  Never suspend sound judgment and healthy skepticism to follow anyone or anything blindly.

No woman with two grey cells to rub together in her cranium will submit to any hypocrite that can turn on her like that priest in her hour of need.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Meet My Friend Mary

Mary is a former coworker and a friend.  About ten years ago, a fellow began to woo Mary.  It took him six months to convince her that he really cared about her and to get Mary into bed.  It was the first and last time they had sex, for he dumped Mary like yesterday's trash as soon as he was finished with her.  Unfortunately, that was not the end of it, for Mary was pregnant.

Neither Mary nor her family believe in abortion.  It was a difficult unplanned pregnancy.  Mary spent approximately the last month to six weeks of the pregnancy confined to bed in a hospital in Columbus, Ohio.  She had to keep her legs up and her head down and remain in bed in order not to lose the baby.

The child, a boy, was born with diplegic cerebral palsy.  He has had almost twenty eye operations since birth (Mary has lost count.)  The prognosis whether he will lose his sight completely or retain enough to be labeled legally blind is up in the air.  The doctors have broken his legs and reset them to help him walk almost normally, but he still tiptoes often.  He attends special education classes in public school.

Because the child has "only" diplegic cerebral palsy and is not yet legally blind, he has been denied even partial disability by Social Security.  Like many working people, Mary is not adept at navigating the maze of social service agencies and sees little point in humiliating herself any further with them  So, Mary is the child's sole support; she works a full-time job and runs the house.  The biological father has degenerated into a crackhead, and only the paternal grandparents have shown any interest in the boy from that side of his family.  The maternal grandparents dote on the child.  However, there are relatives in Mary's extended family that still do not speak to her, for she was the first wayward daughter in the family to give birth to a bastard, thus bringing shame on the family name.

Mary has not had a medical check-up since delivering her son.  She can not afford the luxury.  The sectarian hospital and the archdiocese so intent on bringing her son into this world have lifted not one finger to help her since he was born.  They do not even lift her up in prayer as far as I can tell.

At one point, the company where Mary had worked for seventeen years went under, and she was laid off.  The loss of that job meant the loss of what little health insurance coverage she had.  A local merchant sponsored a benefit for her son, and the working stiffs of Parsons Avenue chipped in to raise enough to help her pay down about $17,000 in outstanding medical bills.  Mary does not earn enough on her current job to afford health insurance with or without healthcare reform.

About four years ago, Mary finally met a man worth his salt.  A widower partially disabled from literally backbreaking labor in road construction, in coal mines, and on oil rigs, he has proven to be a good soulmate and a decent stepfather for the mother and her son.  Their summer treat is to take the boy to the drive-in movies, where the screen is big enough that everbody can see the film.

One time I asked Mary what she would do if she discovered that she was pregnant again.

"I'd shoot myself.  Don't get me wrong.  I love my husband, and I love my son.  But I could never go through this again."

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

On Abortion And The 129th Ohio General Assembly


Finally submitting to my doctor's wishes, I let her do a PAP test on me for the first time in 15 years.  The results came back fine.  But if I do not like a qualified professional fumbling around my innards, I sure as hell resent the 129th Ohio General Assembly populated by the medically unqualified presuming to insert themselves between my licensed physician and me.  If I had wanted craven politicians in the consultation or exam room at any time in my reproductive life, I would have invited them.  I did not.  They should stay the hell out -- especially when they represent a political party unable to put a credible alternative to health care reform on the table even though they claim to be so distraught about "Obamacare".

That said, I personally can afford to be apathetic about abortion; the question has become moot for me, biologically speaking.  But where are all the young women whom this move by the 129th Ohio General Assembly will affect?  Why are they not up in arms?  Are they so cowed or complacent or just plain clueless?  Maybe they have no sense of American women's reproductive history.

Maybe I need to get up close and personal with younger readers that have grown up complacent about the breakthrough of Roe versus Wade :


I was nine years old and sitting at the kitchen table, doing my homework one evening, when my parents walked into the kitchen, having one of their "conversations".  My father was speaking in a low voice about a coworker who had given him contact information for somebody who would --

Suddenly my mother blurted out, "I'm not going to some back-alley abortionist, just get that through your head! You were there to make this baby, you can be there to take responsibility for it."

A few months later, on the morning of July 4, 1962, my parents had another conversation in the kitchen.  This time it started about hotdogs.  My father lost it completely and flew into what I later would learn was a homicidal bipolar rage.  Horrified with my feet stuck to the floor and unable to move -- still nine years old, I watched my father kick my pregnant mother around the kitchen.  By early the following morning she had begun to hemorrhage vaginally.  My father woke me from my bed and brought me downstairs.  He told me that I was to stay in my parents' bed until he returned from taking my mother to the emergency room -- just in case my younger sister or brother woke up while both parents were out of the house.

I asked why I couldn't just stay on the sofa.  No, I had to stay in their bed even though my mother's half of it was drenched in blood.  There was blood down the hallway floor and all over the bathroom floor and the toilet.  The one concession that my father did make was that I did not have to clean up the blood; he would mop up the mess when he got home.  My mother said nothing; she was looking rather pale.

So, there I lay until my siblings woke up and our father came home.

Our youngest sister was delivered by caesarean section in a "good Catholic" hospital in West Islip, Long Island, New York, on July 6, 1962.  There the clerics forbade the surgeons to perform a tubal ligation for my mother before sewing her up after the caesarean section -- all the better to foist their sectarian doctrines on a woman who now had four children to rear as well as her newly diagnosed diabetes mellitus.  My father refused to buy my mother the post-surgical girdle needed to help heal her abdominal muscles because he was too cheap.  So, my mother went through the rest of her life with a distended belly because she could not afford the corrective "cosmetic" surgery -- especially after my father deserted the family; married another Catholic woman; and had four more children with his second wife.

For decades I listened to assinine platitudes that I was just being neurotic about my parents' unhappy marriage.  That may be so, but I was also right about my father being crazy.  Independent medical proof finally arrived the day my brother cleaned out our father's medicine chest after he had died and found his V.A. prescription vial full of lithium tablets.  My father never went for a diagnosis, much less treatment, until he retired from the U.S. Army Signal School. Psychiatric diagnosis, no security clearance. No security clearance, no job.  No job, no money.  And that was the one thing my father, having grown up in the Great Depression, simply could not bear.  He just let the rest of us bear the brunt of his undiagnosed, unmedicated bipolar antics for seven-and-one-half decades.


I am so relieved that my father is dead and out of my life.  These days the nightmares recur only when I am going through a really stressful situation.  I am also grateful to be beyond the age when Mother Church can meddle in my reproductive life.  Mother Church was nowhere to be found when I needed rescue and succour as a child, so she can just shut her yap about how I live my life as an adult.  Frankly, it was better for me in the long run that I did not merit her attentions given what we now know about her minions abusing children with impunity around the globe for decades.  Now I must make sure that Mother Church does not sink her claws into me on my deathbed, too!  Compare:


When it comes to cutting a deal with evil incarnate, Planned Parenthood never negotiated, much less signed, the Reichskonkordat of July 20, 1933 .  The individual martyrdom of Edith Stein and Maximilian Kolbe never will, and never could, whitewash the institution's concordat in my book.  Lucie and Raymond Aubrac, the entire family of Corrie ten Boom, and Janusz Korczak deserve our respect and remembrance just as much as Stein and Kolbe.
31.  Bascomb, Neal.  Hunting Eichmann:  How a Band of Survivors and a Young Spy Agency Chased Down the World's Most Notorious Nazi.  New York:  Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt, 2009.  Pages 68 -- 72, 122, 305.


Mother Church's chronic persistent misogyny notwithstanding, many Christian denominations have adopted a range of stands on abortion that reflect a nuanced understanding of the woman's predicament.  Other faiths also evince a spectrum of attitudes and practices that range from enlightened compassion to calculated barbarity when it comes to women, their bodies, and who does what to them when.  How a particular woman is treated in any of these cultures depends largely on her family's socioeconomic status as well as her access to nonsectarian formal education and job training, i.e., economic self-sufficiency.  Apparently, women's true status worldwide has not changed all that much since Margaret Sanger began her work in the slums of New York City back in 1916.  Today every woman with two grey cells to rub together in her cranium must decide whether she will submit to misogyny tricked out as religion.  Prudence and a healthy regard for self-preservation dictate that she exercise her franchise accordingly.


Evidently, medical decisions about abortion, as with all other forms of health care, are best left to confidential consultation between the woman and a competent physician free to discuss and to perform the full palette of treatment options the patient may wish to consider in light of her circumstances, not yours or mine.  Matters of faith are between the patient and her faith, not yours or mine.  The patient must be free to make her decisions without interference from bigots saddling her with their doctrines, saddled as they are with their own manifest hypocrisy and criminality.  IF we are to believe that American women are full citizens with equal rights, then that patient is a human being in her own right, not chattel.  Do you perchance recall the days within living memory when a doctor confronted with having to save the mother or the child when he could not save both would ask the father/husband which one the man wanted the doctor to save?

To argue that it is a woman's civic duty to submit to the pernicious machinations of sanctimonious bigots -- thereby putting her health, her well-being, and even her very life at risk -- is degrading and obscene.  I wish that the degradations my mother suffered at the hands of a Christian husband and a Catholic hospital were so rare that recounting my childhood experiences could shock and awe you.  But what I witnessed was not rare in 1962.  It is not rare in 2012.  Even if the abuse of women in all its permutations were rare, the law must allow the patient access to unfettered qualified medical care to cope with her birth control needs according to HER freedom of conscience in the real world, not in some la-la-land of medically unqualified and morally bankrupt clerics.  Those sectarian healthcare providers intent on subverting truly ethical health care for women would do better to refuse the federal healthcare tax dollars they rake in from all of us. (Heaven forbid! That would require clerics to stop to chasing the money -- and politicians like Mitt Romney, the presidency -- at any price just so long as it's women who pay the price.)

Accordingly, I do not give a tinker's damn what some doctrinaires in Rome or their political lackeys in Columbus, Ohio, presume to think they know about my life, my morals, or my decision to complete or to abort my pregnancy.  The only cleric I pay attention to when it comes to my reproductive life is that Augustinian Gregor Johann Mendel and his seminal work with pea plants.  Knowing that bipolar disorder runs rampant on my father's side of the family, I chose to abstain from motherhood for damned good reasons.  Knowing that Roe versus Wade was there to protect me in case I slipped up -- or was raped -- gave me the sense of security I needed.  How you young women in Ohio today propose to assert your reproductive healthcare rights in light of the bastardized legislation promulgated by the 129th Ohio General Assembly is beyond me.


Take it from the voice of experience, ladies:  Brownshirts, blackshirts, and run-of-the-mill nut cases in jackboots or cowboy boots or wingtipped brogues will kick you around your own kitchen and leave you there to bleed out if you let them.  I witnessed it with my own eyes when I was nine years old.  Of course, some doctrinaires wear stiletto heels or promote themselves as "women of faith" or "true believers".  Note how smugly they proffer themselves on the political stage even as they denigrate you and deny your rights in a country that purports to cherish freedom of conscience on the world stage.  But that only works if you remain silent and let them get away with it.  Be it Mother Church or Papa Staat -- with or without the dog collar -- you need to confront spiritual frauds of any denomination and their political hacks sooner rather than later.


Looking forward to voting the doctrinaires in the 129th Ohio General Assembly and that de facto Governor's Mansion in Delaware County out of office, I hope and pray that you women in Ohio get a clue and belly up to the voting booth in time -- IF you can still fit your bellies into the booth.  Just do not show up barefoot, or they will not let you into the polling station, never mind the Statehouse.  Mark my words:  Either you will vote to regain your access to competent medical care and full health insurance coverage for all your birth control needs, or you will go back to calling "JANE".


It may be politically incorrect these days to use the term "idiot fringe", but the fact remains that idiots are just as dangerous on the political right as they are on the left.  Politics has never been foolproof, and bigots mixing politics with sanctimony are the most dangerous kind of idiot on the American right.  So take care what you vote for lest you get it.

Postscript:  This post updated periodically in honor of Ohio Women's Lobby Day, March 21, 2012.