By Tiffany Hankins, NARAL Pro-Choice Washington’s Canvass Director
When I’m door-knocking for abortion rights many people tell me stories. Sometimes it seems that these stories have not been spoken to friends and family, let alone a stranger. It is a privilege and an honor to hear directly from individuals why the right to terminate a pregnancy is important to them. This is a story someone told me recently.
As often happens, I heard the dog barking through the door a long time before someone actually answered. I was actually just turning to leave, thinking no one was home, when the door opened and an older man holding his dog answered. I told him that I’m out in support of reproductive rights for NARAL Pro-Choice Washington and then watched very carefully for his reaction. The good thing about canvassing for such a controversial issue is that it is usually easy to tell almost instantly how someone feels about my mission.
This man and the dog in his arms were very hard to read at first. He slowly began to tell me that he is very much a supporter of the work that we do and that he and his wife volunteered as clinic escorts at the local Planned Parenthood. His wife passed away more than a year ago. He took her clinic escort badge off the table that served as her memorial to show me her picture.
He actually thought when he answered the door that I was a friend who was coming over to help him with some things. One of the things was taking a look at his attic room to see if they could turn it into a guest room for women traveling to his city from another state where access to abortion is far more restrictive. He invited me in and we sat on the couch while I told him why we are raising funds.
He donated to our advocacy work and then said to me, “I want to tell you why I believe in this.”
He told me that he lived in El Paso, TX in 1961 working as a medical technician. At the time, many women were traveling to Juarez to obtain cheap, but available abortions. Of course, they were not of a safe medical quality and in his line of work he treated such cases. He says a woman he treated said to him, “I need you to know why I did this.”
His adorable little dog started to settle down on my leg as he paused and thought about this life altering moment.
He said to me that he hadn’t really thought about the why of abortion at all before then. She told him that she had three children already. The woman’s husband told her that if she got pregnant again he would turn her out on the street. She said she felt she had no other choice. And then when she had recovered she went back to her husband.
The man looked more grieved than when he was talking about his late wife. “It was different back then,” he said. We talk about the need to keep pushing back against abortion restrictions and then transition into how wonderful his little dog is. Before his wife passed away, the dog had been a great friend to her. Her doggy-sweetness really was astounding.
I left his house when the friend arrived and we said simple parting words encouraging one another. His story was a short story, but it speaks to the long story that is the struggle for women’s bodily and financial autonomy. It has been a long road and we are not done yet. We must remember and recount these stories so we don’t have to repeat this history.