My grandmother died from an illegal abortion. Her fate may be reality for Michiganders.
OPINION—Like the majority of Americans who support abortion access, I’ve been horrified to see so many Republican-controlled state legislatures race to ban the procedure since the Dobbs decision overhauled federal legal protections for abortions. From Arizona reinstating a Civil War era law banning all abortions, to right here in Michigan where GOP leaders fight to bring back the state’s 1931 abortion ban, the flood of abortion restriction seems to overtake more and more states.
For me these abortion restrictions hit close to home. While I live in Michigan now, my family has deep roots in Arizona. The law that’s once again on the books again in Arizona is the the same abortion ban that led to my grandmother’s untimely death in 1923.
My grandmother’s name was Anna Laura Kempton. She was a hardworking subsistence farmer and mother to three children. When she bled on her bed from a botched abortion, she became one of thousands of women to lose their lives to the criminalized procedure. If current efforts to eliminate and criminalize abortion—even to prosecute those who seek the procedure—are successful, the world today wouldn’t look much different from world that abruptly and violently claimed my grandmother’s life.
My family’s ties to Arizona date back to the 1850s, sixty years before the state joined the union. My grandparents farmed cotton to sell, and grew anything they could eat. But my grandparents were dead broke, and often skipped their own meals to ensure their three young children had enough to eat.
In 1920s America, there was no social safety net to ensure that children had enough to eat or help struggling families. Abortion was not publicly discussed, and no doctor would perform the procedure. Instead, it was criminalized.
Today, little has changed, as nearly one in four American families report food insecurity. States with abortion bans already rank high in some of the worst economic outcomes for families. Yet, supporters of abortion bans rarely care to support and fund programs that would help the children they force into this world.
So when Anna Laura found herself unexpectedly pregnant, she and my grandfather made the difficult decision to terminate the pregnancy. There was simply no way they could afford to support another mouth to feed.
They discreetly found “someone that knew what to do” to perform the illegal procedure. Jan. 10, 1923, was a rainy night. My grandfather fetched the man, who arrived at their one-room home. Anna Laura laid out across her bed. Once he started, something went terribly wrong. Surrounded by her husband and three children, Anna Laura began hemorrhaging.
My mother was young, but remembers her own mother screaming and seeing her blood everywhere. My grandfather was silent as his three little girls sobbed. Anna Laura slowly bled out and ultimately passed at 4 a.m. the next morning. She was 24 years old.
Her death tore my family apart. My grandfather couldn’t support the kids without her, and so the kids were placed with different families. Although they were reunited several years later, the family would never return to normal.
I tell my grandmother’s story because what was once our tragic history is now reality for millions of Americans. Arizona’s reinstated 1864 abortion ban reflects a time before women or people of color could vote. And despite that, that ban is now law in 2022, nearly 100 years since it took my grandmother’s life.
Thirteen states have banned most abortions since the Dobbs decision this past June, and I am seeing the fight play out here in Michigan. Michiganders have the chance to prevent the tragedies that follow abortion bans. The Reproductive Freedom for All ballot measure [also known as Proposal 3] may be Michigan’s one shot to enshrine abortion rights into our state’s Constitution before extremists in U.S. Congress make the choice for all Americans.
One century separates my grandmother’s death and this present-day assault on reproductive rights in both states that I call home. MAGA Republicans are gearing up to recreate the conditions that led to my grandmother’s death, no matter who gets harmed in the process. We must raise our voices and fight against these abortion bans. We cannot accept the conditions that lead to Anna Laura’s death to become our reality once again.
Danilo Gurovich works as a Strategic Technology Architect in Marine City, Michigan.
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