‘Let’s start talking’: Why we’re sharing the story of one family’s conversations about a mom’s long-ago abortion

·4 min read

I'm Kristen DelGuzzi, USA TODAY's Opinion Editor, and this is The Backstory, insights into our biggest stories of the week. I'm writing this column this week for Editor-in-Chief Nicole Carroll to explain why we published a piece about an abortion decision her mother made nearly 50 years ago. If you'd like to get The Backstory in your inbox every week, sign up here.

We never talked about it.

I had no idea what he was going to say.

They all had opinions that were different.

How many times have you uttered those words as you shied away from difficult or sensitive conversations with loved ones, friends, colleagues, even opponents, worried about where the discussion might take you?

Talking about delicate topics can be emotional, intimidating and even confrontational. Not talking at all can be worse: Silence breeds fear, mistrust and division.

That's why we're publishing an exceptional column by USA TODAY Editor-in-Chief Nicole Carroll about her mom's legal abortion in 1975 – not to advocate or persuade but to share a deeply personal look at why one woman chose to terminate her pregnancy, the consequences that decision had for her and her children, and the conversations the family is finally having about that choice.

Hear USA TODAY Editor-in-Chief Nicole Carroll discuss what it was like to have these tough conversations with her family in the player below.

Our hope is that this column, based on a recently discovered manuscript Carroll's mother, Judy, wrote about her experience, will help foster meaningful and nuanced dialogue in a country deeply divided and where talking points on both sides of the issue are well established and often loudly shouted.

"We're doing this to help America have a conversation," Carroll said.

Why is this a story worth telling?

It's a first-person account of a single mom who had an abortion – and nearly died – just two years after abortion became legal across the United States.

Carroll's mom was about the same age as Jane Roe, the plaintiff in Roe v. Wade, and both lived in Texas. Now, like then, Texas is at the center of the abortion debate.

It's a tragic and harrowing story, told through the eyes of a daughter who retraces her mother's journey and explores her own history.

Why publish this now?

With the decision looming in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a decision that could overturn Roe v. Wade, America is already talking about abortion and abortion rights. Our hope is that this account of one woman's decision and her family's reaction – then and now – will help people have more personal conversations. Ask questions of one another, maybe speculate about what they might have done, see another perspective.

"When I was trying to decide are we going to do this or not, it was really about, will this help?" Carroll said. "Could this help? Could this help us talk about abortion in respectful ways, in really empathetic ways? And I thought, yeah, maybe it will. That's my hope."

How was this column done?

In May, Carroll traveled to Amarillo, Texas, with her brother, sister-in-law and the manuscript to tell a story nearly 50 years in the making.

While the family knew about the abortion, Carroll writes, they had never discussed it. So when Carroll found the manuscript in her mom's belongings this spring – a story her mother had always hoped to publish – Carroll wondered if she should finish the story.

Then a draft of an opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade leaked from the Supreme Court and set off a fiery debate over the future of abortion in America. That's when Carroll realized that telling the story, centered in the state where Roe was based and featuring family members with a variety of beliefs about abortion, could show the complexities of a polarizing issue and create entry points for a conversation in America.

"I want to talk about it because I want other people to talk about it," Carroll said. "Screaming at each other isn't working. Talking may not solve things, but it certainly can only make it better. So let's start talking."

Does this column take a side?

It's a difficult column to read, aside from the abortion. There are serious issues of mental illness, abuse, rape, suicide and poverty.

But themes of family, faith and perseverance also are woven throughout.

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Key players in the column – an uncle, a brother, a sister-in-law, daughters, a mother speaking posthumously – share their widely divergent thoughts on abortion, but the column itself does not take a position.

Instead, it shares one family's struggles, triumphs and intimate conversations across the decades, along with key historical facts and developments throughout the journey.

Carroll's mom wrote her manuscript 39 years ago, with a goal of publishing it. She wanted to help demystify abortion, to explain the myriad reasons "nobody really knows" that go into a decision to end a pregnancy.

"She wanted to share her story," Carroll said. "So I'm also publishing it to give her, her voice that she didn't have back then."

Kristen DelGuzzi is Opinion Editor at USA TODAY. Follow her on Twitter: @kristendel

You can read diverse opinions from our Board of Contributors and other writers on the Opinion front page, on Twitter @usatodayopinion and in our daily Opinion newsletter. To respond to a column, submit a comment to letters@usatoday.com.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Abortion decision: A family's story while we wait for Supreme Court