The Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade did not surprise me. I lost my innocence during the Vietnam War when the tree-lined sanctuary of my college campus in Colorado Springs was repeatedly breached by soldiers rotating through the purgatory of Fort Carson.
Soldiers like the uniformed grunt with an M-16, testing every locked door on my dorm wing. Whatever atrocity he had in mind left with him via the fire exit.
Our peer counselor ambushed as she slept beside her boyfriend in his backyard. She confirmed the rumors about her rape by averting her eyes and changing the subject.
A first-year student abducted as she walked home on a snowy December night and driven to the mountains. She survived the gunshots to silence her screams, and the rape, but not the 36 hours it took to find her.
Who would be next? Would we live long enough to graduate?
My parents drove from Kansas City for the ceremony. I was the first college graduate on both sides of the family.
I rented the first home of my own, a cottage 15 minutes from Fort Carson. That December, a soldier broke in through a defective window. I didn’t wake up until his knee rocked the mattress. With a knife pressed to my throat, I obeyed every command, sobbing with relief when he left.
I didn’t connect the December 1971 murder of the abducted co-ed to my December 1974 rape, until December 1989, when I found myself in a therapist’s office. I was pregnant and the father was not my estranged husband. I had fallen for the charm offense of a psychopath, a relationship I regretted soon after turning over the car keys and letting him take the wheel. My therapist called that trip to near-oblivion a six-week date rape.
There were three Pearl Harbors stored up in my memory.
“It’s your decision,” my therapist said. I had already made up my mind.
“I’m going with you,” Sheila, a school secretary, insisted after overhearing the phone call to schedule the appointment. She didn’t want me to walk the gauntlet of gruesome placards by myself, as she did at 16 when she drove herself to a Planned Parenthood clinic.
With Sheila at my side, I could thread the gauntlet, unmolested by protestors, eyes on the front door. Her kindness would shield me just as the sheet I had pulled over my head 15 years before had shielded me from the guffawing orderlies who watched as the doctor conducted the mandatory rape exam. His verdict put an end to the investigation: “She’s not a virgin.”
At an impressionable age I learned how misplaced our faith in authority can be. So when the Supreme Court dismissed nearly 50 years of precedent in overturning Roe, I was dismayed but not surprised.
In their group photo on the Supreme Court website, the smiling justices seem unencumbered by the weight of their black robes. With their lifetime appointments and round-the-clock federal police protection, they enjoy a security unimaginable to most Americans, especially women.
Thirty-two years ago, I spent a week in the hospital before walking the gauntlet. It would take years of therapy to reclaim my life. If I couldn’t take care of myself, how could I care for an infant saddled with paternal and maternal family histories of addiction and mental illness?
Roe gave me a second chance. Ending my pregnancy constituted the first shaky step in a multi-year recovery. Instead of applying for welfare and food stamps, I got a full-time job with benefits; eight years later I moved to Utah for a job at a university. By age 60 I finished my master’s degree. Losing my job during the Great Recession wasn’t a catastrophe. I had enough savings to move back to Colorado and semi-retire.
Unlike Utah, women in Colorado still retain the right to make their own decisions. After the next presidential election, the war against a right we took for granted may claim even more casualties.
Jane Parnell lives in Fairplay.
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