Women’s Deja Vu

by | May 3, 2022 | 0 comments

Editor’s Note: This piece is excepted from a speech Ellen Sweets made for Women’s Day in Austin, Texas. Her words are more timely now than when she composed  it.

I’ve steered clear of discussions about abortion because I find the topic so frustrating — mainly because I completely fail to understand how a woman’s decision to have or not have a child is hers and hers alone. Nobody else’s.

We’re never going to be rid of women who need abortions and / or doctors who will perform them.

Let me tell you a story. Come back in time with me. Join me on one of my periodic visits to St. Louis. We’re in my 86-year old mother’s kitchen. I’m drying dishes and somehow we got off on how I wished I’d had a sister, and she’s telling me why she couldn’t have managed four children.

Then my mother started on why she has always given to certain nonprofits like the NAACP and Planned Parenthood.

“Really?” I asked. “Why?”

“Because,” she replied, continuing  that it was so she could have a safe abortion.

I almost dropped the glass I was drying.

She and my father had only been married a few months in the 1930s and they agreed it was too soon to start a family. A surgeon friend — who became my godfather — took care of it, as they used to say.

While we’re in St Louis, let’s ride bicycles over to Emily Brown’s. It’s the 1950s. Emily was the youngest of three sisters.

Mrs. Brown opens the door and walks away, barely speaking. We walk through the house into the back yard where we sit and visit, unaware that Opal, the middle sister, is in her bedroom bleeding to death from a botched abortion.

Fast forward a decade or two. In 1970 I walked to the office of a well-known abortion provider but chickened out. I carried my daughter to term. She was a surprise child, given the fact that years before an accomplished surgeon told me my endometriosis was so severe I could never have children. Turned out he wasn’t as goddamned accomplished at fortune telling.

But never mind. My daughter became a dancer, a chef, and a Columbia University honors graduate, and is now a data analyst in geophysics. So that’s pretty much it.

Thank y’all for walking with me. Our St. Louis journey is over: So, let’s come back to Austin.

I’m accompanying a darling young woman to her procedure. She was a student with goals and aspirations. She wanted children; just not then. I sat and waited for her. When it was over, she was a little pale around the gills but otherwise ok. She is now happily married with two gorgeous children and a wonderful husband.

What is the thread that ties these women together, from the 1930s to the 1950s, 1970s and the 21st century?
Abortion access.

One was fortunate to have well-to-do friends; one was unfortunate enough, to not know a competent surgeon. The third had access to a safe, medical procedure, and is a wonderful mom.

The battle to achieve safe abortions isn’t about to be over just because narrow-minded politicians and judges want to tell us what to do with our bodies.


We will win the war against women. We will do it in Opal’s memory; we will do it in celebration of a courageous student and in tribute to a gutsy woman, my mother, one tough broad who died at 97.

We will win this war because we are fucking unstoppable.


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<a href="https://writersatlarge.com/riff/author/ellen-sweets/" target="_self">Ellen Sweets</a>

Ellen Sweets

Ellen Sweets is a journalist and author. Her 50-year career as a reporter began at The St. Louis American, her father’s black weekly. She has since written for The St. Louis Post-Dispatch; The Dallas Morning News; The Denver Post; and Neiman-Marcus. Her book, Stirring It Up With Molly Ivins was published by the University of Texas Press in 2011. She lives in Austin, Texas.


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