Signs of the times, both in my neighborhood and life

July 27, 2022 3:33 am

A sign advocating a “no” vote on the upcoming Kansas constitutional amendment about abortion is posted near the road in a Lawrence neighborhood. (Clay Wirestone/Kansas Reflector)

Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation about how public policies affect the day-to-day lives of people throughout our state. Jeffrey Ann Goudie is a Topeka-based freelance writer and book critic.

Before I left for a short May trip to Massachusetts, our historic Topeka neighborhood sported four “Vote Yes” signs for the proposed “Value Them Both” amendment to the Kansas Constitution, on the ballot Aug. 2.

By my return on the final day of May, times had changed. There was an exponential explosion of “Vote No” signs. By my most recent count, 32 yards have signage encouraging a “Vote No,” compared with 11 for “Vote Yes.”

Passing the amendment would open the door to more restrictions, or even an outright ban, on the right to abortion in Kansas, which the state Supreme Court ruled in 2019 is inherent in the Kansas state constitution.

Twenty-six years ago, I became accidentally pregnant at the rather ripe age of 46. I was sitting in my friend Susan’s yard enjoying the warm April sun. But I had a nagging concern.

“Someone my age couldn’t get pregnant, could they?” I asked. I had missed a menstrual period.

“Are you nuts?” said Susan. “Haven’t you heard of change-of-life babies?”

I had not. Instead of a change-of-life baby, I thought I was beginning the more common change of life for a woman my age: menopause.

Susan encouraged me to give myself a home pregnancy test. Later, just after a positive result emerged on my e.p.t. test, a friend called.

“How are you?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” I hesitated. “I just took a test and I’m pregnant.” 

“We can take care of that,” she said. I said I wasn’t sure I wanted to take care of it.

The fact was, whenever I thought about having an abortion, I started crying. When I thought about having a baby, even at that age, I stopped.

A coalition of health professionals joined forces Friday to support passage Aug. 2 of a proposed amendment to the Kansas Constitution that would reject a Kansas Supreme Court decision finding the state's Bill of Rights guaranteed women the right to abortion. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)
A sign supporting passage of an amendment to the Kansas Constitution on Aug. 2 is posted in downtown Topeka. The amendment would reject a Kansas Supreme Court decision finding the state’s Bill of Rights guaranteed women the right to abortion. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

I called my husband, who was out of town. He wasn’t downbeat, just stunned. When he returned home, he said he felt guardedly positive at the prospect of another child, even though we would both be 47 at the end of nine months. But he stressed it was my decision, since I would be the one carrying the pregnancy to term, with its attendant sacrifices and risks.

We made an appointment with our family physician. When another pregnancy test — the so-called “rabbit test” — confirmed I was indeed pregnant, our doctor said that in his experience, couples who could enfold a much younger sibling into their existing family structure did fine.

When we told our then 14-year-old daughter that I was pregnant, she was elated. She said it was the best news she had ever heard. The unbridled enthusiasm of the teenager in the household was welcome, indeed.

Flash forward. My son was in the eighth grade, and the same age as his big sister when I became pregnant with him.

He asked if I had realized the high odds of having a baby with a genetic abnormality at the age of 46. I said I did, and that I had taken an amniocentesis test. The faxed report said: “An apparently normal karyotype (male).” We knew a healthy boy was on the way.

Big on “what-ifs,” he asked what I would have done if the amniocentesis had revealed I was carrying a baby with a chromosomal abnormality.

I said I did not know, that one does not know until one is in those particular shoes.

And that is true. I frankly do not know what I would have done. But, as it should be for any woman, the decision was mine. I made my decision after consulting with my mate and our doctor. I decided after considering my own strengths and weaknesses, and what I felt my family and personal circumstances and support network could accommodate.

At that time, had I chosen differently, I would have been afforded the right to an abortion, a right every woman should be entitled to. I know women who have terminated pregnancies because they were too young to give birth, or not in a committed relationship, or because they simply were not ready for another child so soon. Stripped of politics, sentimentality, and a condescending attitude about knowing what’s best for a woman, it’s her decision, one of many she will make during her reproductive years.

In the case of abortion, the personal may be political, but the personal is also, as it should be, simply personal. That’s my story: one of chance, circumstance, autonomy, and decision.

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Jeffrey Ann Goudie
Jeffrey Ann Goudie

Jeffrey Ann Goudie is a Topeka-based freelance writer and book critic. A former newspaper columnist for the Topeka Capital-Journal and the Topeka Metro News, she has also written political commentary for the Huffington Post. Her book reviews have appeared in the Boston Globe, the Minneapolis Star Tribune and the Kansas City Star, among other places.