I had this nurse named Muriel. The kind of face people would describe as handsome. Smooth skin with a trace of blush. Smoky brown eyes. When she laughed, you could see almost all of her teeth. Salt and pepper hair with soft curls that fell around her shoulders. She got the IV line going, ready to switch to a line of insulin or glucose, depending on my blood sugar level.
Rolling down the hallway on a gurney, I grabbed her hand. She clutched my fingers and didn’t let go until we got to the elevator. See you soon, she said. We’ll have some hot food waiting for you.
It was 1985, I was 24. I had the legal right to terminate the pregnancy. Roe v. Wade was passed in 1973, a year after Amy Coney Barrett was born. Now she sits in judgment on the Supreme Court, weighing cases involving reproductive rights and the lives of all women. Her track record doesn’t look good for people who support choice, and access to legal and easily accessible doctors and facilities.
The moral question for me wasn’t whether this was life. Raised Catholic, in my core I knew I was carrying life. The moral question was, did I want to be a single mother and could I, at 24, take care of a baby?
At the time, there wasn’t anyone in my immediate New York circle of white professional women who hadn’t had an abortion. The sisterhood was extraordinary, supportive. It was an older female reporter friend, a mother of two adult daughters, who put me up in her house, which was near the hospital. It was a close single girlfriend from Manhattan who took the train and would go with me.
Our feelings about a woman’s right to choose — not pro-abortion as the language has mutated — were well-defined. We supported the work of Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights. We were the people who marched in Washington, D.C., some 30 years ago when Roe became vulnerable.
I remember the rally where I marched alongside Jesuit priests fighting to preserve what Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg told senators questioning her during her Supreme Court nomination hearings: A woman’s right to choose is “central to a woman’s life, to her dignity. It’s a decision that she must make for herself.”
Roe did this for me. The United States Supreme Court justices did this for me when they handed down that landmark decision.
Barrett, a fellow Catholic, was barely born, much less experiencing the cultural atmosphere of the country in the aftermath of Roe. And today, though it remains a complex issue, the majority of Americans support a woman’s right to legal access to abortion.
The morning of my procedure, my nausea worsened as we approached the operating room. There was a warm cotton blanket on the table and the loose socks for my feet slid up to my knees. The anesthesia tasted like garlic. The giant clock read 11:30.
These arrangements had been made by my endocrinologist who, ironically, also was an infertility specialist. Previously, on a routine visit about my insulin-dependent diabetes, he asked me a few times what was going on.
Finally, I said I had thought I was pregnant, but a urine test was negative. He said, “I want you to have a blood test.”
Thirty-five years later, I do not remember if he had arranged the lab work or confirmed the results. There was never a doubt what my choice would be. Still, knowing this did not in any way dilute this kind of painstaking decision.
My endocrinologist spoke with his colleague, a good doctor who would perform the procedure.
I remember none of the details about making the appointment or what I might have said on the phone. That day when I first met him, before he came into the examining room, one of his staff came in and started talking about prenatal care.
I think I said, “That’s not why I am here.”
When the gynecologist entered, a short stocky man with thinning hair, he apologized profusely for her intrusion. Then he began explaining the surgical process of what would happen in the morning, at the hospital.
He was kind, respectful as he inserted three match-sized sticks of sterilized and dried Japanese seaweed to start dilation in preparation for the morning procedure.
“Was that another one?” I asked.
“Yes. I’m sorry. Did it hurt?” he asked.
“No, not really.”
“You’re doing great. Just one more. You’re doing fine,” he said, explaining that I might feel a little bloating or abdominal pressure, which was normal.
I had very good employer health care that paid for most of the services. I was treated with humanity, empathy, respect. My endocrinologist did this for me. My gynecologist. Muriel. The hospital. My insurance. My friends. My constitutional right.
When I was back to work and ran into the woman from Human Resources at the elevators, she looked me in the eye and said softly, “Are you doing okay?”
I understood in that moment that she must have seen the Explanation of Benefits. This was some 10 years before the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 was enacted. When I nodded yes, her smile was gentle, kind, without judgment.
These were my graces — the people, my physical and emotional treatment, and the law — which undoubtedly helped me to heal.
The morning of the Senate vote to confirm Barrett, I made a last-ditch effort to reach Republicans who might just stand up for health care, for reproductive rights, for the decency to listen to people who wanted to wait until after the election to make a court appointment. I called Senators Ben Sasse, Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins, Shelley Moore Capito, and Mitt Romney. But for Collins, the others rolled over.
I fear for the future of women of child-bearing age and their right to control their own bodies. I was one of the lucky ones. It was the right decision then. And even though I never married or brought children into the world, it is the right decision now.
Mary Ann D’Urso’s column appears regularly in the Globe.