I know almost nothing about her, but I know this: she was a criminal. Twice. Her life intersecting with two or three controversies in American history.

Apparently, she was of Scandinavian descent. I only saw her name once or twice years ago. Cora, perhaps. In the 1890s, she committed her first crime. She married my great-grandfather, a composer, in 1890s Missouri. Roughly 70 years before Loving v. Virginia legalized miscegenation, she married a Black man. I cannot imagine their courage, to marry in such a climate. Literally breaking the law.

They could not remain in the South, however, and when her belly swelled, they fled, boarding a train to Detroit. While the train whistled through Canada, she bore my paternal grandfather, Harry II.

After settling in Detroit, she bore another child, a daughter named Faith. But with her third pregnancy, Cora made a crucial decision, one which I discovered only in recent years, as my normally reticent father opened up, as he closed in on his 100th birthday.

Weary of having “dark” babies, she chose an abortion. I initially recoiled at her bias against dark skin, but this was the early 1900s. I don’t know if she was prompted by pride or fear. Perhaps she preferred light skin, but dark skin also meant social and economic limits. Even 30 or 40 years later, my maternal grandmother failed an “interview” as an elevator operator, because, although her hair was considered “good,” she was deemed too dark to follow floor requests and pull a lever. Although it produced a nervous existence, passing was an understandable option, for those who could. Even now, there is bias. I may squirm, but I refrain from outright condemnation.

WDAY logo
listen live
watch live
Newsletter signup for email alerts

Like some storyline from "Call the Midwife," Cora died in a botched abortion. Tortuous devices, chemicals, and filthy environments often produced unnecessary pain, infection, and death. Here were women desperate, not only due to the scandal of out of wedlock births, but because of rape or poverty, including the terror of a seventh or eighth child, perhaps while married to an abusive husband. Cora’s circumstance was different. A color cause. Yet I wish she had survived.

Obviously, Roe v. Wade did not unleash abortion. Nor was it always political. In the New York Times, columnist Thomas Edsall cites Alan Abramowitz, a political scientist at Emory University, who said, in 1984, ”40 percent of Democratic identifiers were pro-life, while 39 percent were pro-choice. Among Republican identifiers, 33 percent were pro-choice, 45 percent were pro-life and 22 percent were in the middle.”

Recently, one woman told me, “A vote for a Democrat is a vote for abortion,” as if the one issue defines their entire platform. These “friends” dismiss climate change, racial injustice, and poverty. How can we care about the unborn then turn away when they are born? And how do we unleash mercenary vigilantes, as in Texas, to sue Uber drivers or grandmothers who may be involved? Women will still get them, especially those with money.

To some, Cora would just be a criminal. A “baby killer.” Torn, I might not support the reason for her abortion, but I am sorry she died for it.

Interested in a broad range of issues, including social and faith issues, Brickner serves as a regular contributor to the Forum’s opinion page. She is a retired English instructor, having taught in Michigan and Minnesota.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.