Fighting at Fifty: Abortion in America

By Sarah E. Murphy

I was born in 1972, one year before Roe v. Wade, when abortion in America was illegal.

I never imagined I’d spend sleepless nights at age fifty worrying about my nieces’ reproductive freedom. But then again, I never imagined I’d need an abortion.

When I celebrated my milestone birthday last March, I was filled with gratitude for what I now view as a gift given to me at age twenty-three.

My abortion allowed me a second chance, the opportunity to live the life of my choosing. Without it, I don’t know where I’d be, but I do know I wouldn’t be writing this today.

I’ve spent several days over the past year attending rallies on the Village Green in my hometown of Falmouth, Massachusetts in support of reproductive freedom, beginning on January 22, the 49th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. I joined the small, hardy group that was undeterred by the “invigorating” New England weather.

As I found a spot behind the fence, I found myself among kindred spirits. Some were there for personal reasons, others to support those of us who have been hiding in the shadows of shame.

Some in attendance broke the law decades ago by seeking abortions, while others are considered criminals for assisting friends and loved ones.

I was one of the few, perhaps only women representing the Roe Era.

When I lost control over what was happening to my body, I had the safe, legal option to choose the outcome. I’ve never taken that for granted.

It felt as if I had been invited to a celebration for an old friend, who was there for me at my lowest, and I could finally join the party.

Since telling my “dirty secret” two years ago, right before the 2020 Presidential election, I’ve been freed of that overwhelming shame I harbored due to the patriarchy, misogyny, hypocrisy, and gas lighting of the Roman Catholic Church.

It was my third time standing out in Falmouth for abortion rights, but my first in that very prominent spot in our town, making it feel even more significant.

We wore green, in solidarity with the Marea Verde, the Green Wave representing the activists and organizations fighting to expand and decriminalize abortion access in Latin America.

Penny Duby of the Upper Cape Women’s Coalition, one of the organizers of the event, presented us with green ribbons for makeshift armbands. She also gave me a pin, which I proudly fastened prominently on my green winter coat: Someone You Love Has Had An Abortion.

Penny Duby of the Upper Cape Women’s Coalition

The event was bittersweet, like celebrating someone in hospice care, for those of us paying attention to this issue knew the overturning of Roe was most likely imminent.

One of the first people I spotted was State Representative Susan Moran (D-Falmouth). She wasn’t there for a photo opportunity, but rather, because she believes reproductive justice is a human right, not a political issue to be weaponized.

I first met Su over a decade ago, when I did publicity for West Falmouth Library, where she volunteered her time as a board member. I saw firsthand her commitment to her community. I consider myself lucky to call her a friend, and I’m equally lucky to be a constituent, as she vows to continue fighting for reproductive rights.

I introduced myself to the woman next to me, Jill Heine, an international human rights lawyer from Cotuit. She believes abortion is fundamental to women’s health care.

“I’ve worked in countries all over the world, and I never thought I’d be fighting for this in the United States,” she said.

I noticed a woman carrying a neon green sign that read, “I Love Someone Who Has Had An Abortion.” After she gave me permission to take her photo, she offered the context.

Jen F. had traveled from another town on Cape Cod because she felt compelled to be there.

“I carry this sign for myself. I had one,” she said. “I was raped by someone I knew.”

I hugged her, offering my respect for her bravery and candor. People like Jen aren’t statistics, they’re human beings – your friends, family, and co-workers. They shouldn’t be the ones fighting today.

In early May, after the Supreme Court leak, a group gathered again, including Congressman Bill Keating, who has fought for reproductive rights throughout his career, to protect and expand abortion access in Massachusetts.

America will never be free or brave without this fundamental human right, and a nation of forced birth can never call itself civilized.

As plans were being made for a May 14 Bans Off Our Bodies Rally, Penny Duby asked me to publicly share my story. I hesitated at first, but I knew I needed to step outside my comfort zone. I spent so many years in silence that I refuse to be ever be shamed into submission again.

For twenty-five years, I assumed I’d take my secret to the grave. Little did I know, one day I’d end up yelling it into a microphone on my town green. I was overcome by the amount of support I received, including that from my sister, Courtney, who was front and center, filming my speech. Undoubtedly, she and the rest of my family would have been there for me when I was 23 and terrified, but I was too ashamed to ask for their help.

I finally got the opportunity that day to meet Jennifer Longval, a nurse and abortion care provider at Boston’s Beth Israel Hospital. She contacted me when I first shared my story on Facebook two years ago and a self-proclaimed church-goer lectured me for doing so.

Jennifer is like the woman who was there for me at Planned Parenthood in Providence in 1995, before and after my procedure. Her kindness is one of the only things I remember from that late April morning. She comforted me when I fell asleep, explaining everything to me, and she was there when I woke up, feeling ashamed and disgusted with myself, but so grateful for her presence.

Jennifer is a source of non-judgemental comfort and wisdom to women and people in all stages of family planning. She understands that the decision if or when to become a parent is a personal choice. She’s also there for those who face traumatic and excruciatingly painful decisions when the life of the mother and/or the baby are at risk. They too are not statistics in a political game. These are real-life scenarios, not water cooler sound bites to hurl around social media like proverbial stones.

Donna Buckley, candidate for Barnstable County Sherriff, pledged her support to fight for reproductive freedom, underscoring the importance of voting in every race, from school board to President.

The hatred and ignorance that has taken over our country is emboldened at every level, including a Blue state like ours. As Tip O’Neill said, “All politics is local,” and complacency is what got us here in the first place.

A few days later, I took another step, when I agreed to share my story on WCAI, the local NPR (National Public Radio) station. I reiterated what I’m now able to say without hesitation: I’m grateful every day that I had an abortion.

When the Dobbs decision came down about a month later, I was contacted by WCAI and the Cape Cod Times for my perspective, and although I wasn’t surprised by the news, it was still impossible to believe, and I was too furious to articulate a worthwhile response. What could I possibly add to the conversation? I’m not the face or the voice of abortion; I’m just one more person who is much more than a statistic.

We gathered, once again, on June 25, the day after Dobbs, an otherwise flawless summer afternoon.

Many of the same faces and the same signs, and also many men.

We were also joined by the ones we’re fighting for.

The event also garnered support from clergy members, both male and female, representing various churches on Cape Cod, not including Catholic.

Rob Galibois, the Democratic candidate for Cape and Islands District Attorney, pledged his support, not only to protect abortion rights but also the rights of healthcare providers.

And on July 4, when my husband, Chris, and I didn’t feel like celebrating our nation’s birth, we recognized the holiday in a different way.

Organized by Finley Lennon and Gracie Howes, the event was held in support of the Green Wave.

It was also hosted as a reminder that reproductive rights belong to all people who can get pregnant, not just women.

I recently returned from Italy, just in time to gather once more on the Village Green. As I sat in Lisbon airport, non-religiously praying my flight delay would be brief and I wouldn’t miss the event, I couldn’t help but feel resentful to be rushing home jet-lagged to this archaic fight.

After two and a half weeks feeling empowered to be a solo female traveler, I was reminded that in my own country, women have always been oppressed by men. My nieces may be able to travel the world but will they be able to exercise their reproductive rights?

The next day, I found myself back on Main Street, USA.

The same people, fighting not for ourselves but for our future.  

It had been my first visit to Rome in three years.  The last time I wandered around the capitol of Catholicism, I was still hiding from my past. Although I had just shared my long-buried secret with a dear friend, it would be another year before I finally shed that unnecessary burden by publicly stating those four words: I had an abortion.

Deep down, I still felt like a dirty sinner, the ultimate disappointment.

Today, I’m no longer ashamed. Instead I’m proud of the life and career I’ve built, and the people I’ve hopefully helped along the way. None of it would be possible without reproductive freedom. I’ll never stop fighting for everyone to have that same right.

To quote “This Is The Sea,” one of my favorite songs by The Waterboys, from the album of the name name, “Once you were tethered. Now you are free.”

Abortion is Health Care. It’s about people, not politics, including the ones you love. Vote Blue.

St. Peter’s Square, 2022

To Know Greg Motta: Reflections on a Friendship

By Sarah E. Murphy

It was September of 1990, my freshman year at Bridgewater State College. 

I was 18, and he had just turned 21. Although he was a junior, he was a year older than his BSC classmates, having graduated from New Bedford High School in ’87. He was also a commuter, who drove a hunter green MG, adding to his Jake Ryan/Sixteen Candles mystique.

I was introduced to Greg Motta, and many other people who would become my closest college friends, through my high school friend, Todd Humphrey, during lunch at the back tables in Tillinghast Hall. 

He was boyishly handsome without the slightest bit of arrogance. Our crowd had various nicknames, and he was dubbed “Groovy Greg,” for obvious reasons – he was effortlessly cool and unpretentious, with his own preppy/deadhead/surfer vibe. Fittingly, he also loved The Brady Bunch, one of many things we bonded over, and he was notably impressed whenever I’d stump him with trivia about my favorite, lesser-known episodes.

When I found out his birthday was August 7, my parents’ anniversary, I thought it was a sign we were meant to be together.

Greg was my first college crush, but an unrequited love. We were destined for something better than a fleeting romance.

Tilly became one of our places, where we’d sit for hours over endless cups of coffee. Or the Campus Center steps, or the Commuter Caf, or Carver’s Pond, or the corner of dorm room Scorpion Bowl parties. 

He was an Art major, I was an English major, and we had deep conversations about all things most important to us – family, music, creative expression. We didn’t do small talk. He listened intently and laughed loudly, his brown eyes twinkling, loving any anecdote about my upbringing, telling me all about his his parents, Anne and Frank, his two brothers, Chris and Andy, and his sister, also named Sarah. I had never even heard of Westport before I met Greg, and it seemed like such a faraway place. He loved his hometown the way I loved Falmouth.

Although I was only forty-five minutes from home, it was the first time I was away from my family, that pivotal chapter in life when we begin to identify as individuals and finally make our own acquaintance. I got to know myself while introducing myself to Greg, and during those talks, he made me feel smart and special, always identifying me as a writer, even when I didn’t feel like one. 

Greg was there for me in January of 1991, when my friend Jenny Chance was killed while riding her bike near her college campus in Vermont. She died doing something she loved. No warning. Three decades later, it still doesn’t seem real. Greg was the same age as Jenny at the time, and he wasn’t afraid of my tears and grief. He comforted me during a time of unfathomable pain. 

Two weeks ago, Greg died of a heart attack, after taking a run along Horseneck Beach, where he grew up, doing what he loved. Today, he should be turning 53. Instead, there is a staggering void in the world that can never be filled. 

The last time our college friends got together in August of 2014, Greg invited me to visit Westport the following month when the beaches would be less crowded in September. Then life happened. My father got sick and died the following year.

I never got a chance to visit Westport until last week, for Greg’s funeral. I finally met some of his family I had heard so much about in my youth – his brother, Chris and his dad – and his beloved fiancee, Icy, his partner in life and love for the past eight years. They all offered the most gracious and sincere condolences to me, a stranger, while in the midst of their own own unfathomable grief. I tried to keep my composure, but I can’t get used to speaking about Greg in the past tense.

When Mr. Motta told me he wanted to tell me a story about Greg, I could see some of where my friend had inherited his gregarious nature. His eyes lit up as he recalled a day at Little League tryouts when Greg was about ten. He had already made the team, but another boy, who wasn’t as athletic, was standing on the field alone. Greg went over and put his arm around him in a friendly gesture, making him feel welcome, accepted, comfortable, safe. “That’s just how Greg was. He got that from his mother,” he said.

If you were lucky enough to know Greg Motta, you know exactly how that little boy felt. 

Happy Heavenly Birthday: My Father’s Legacy

By Sarah E. Murphy

June 27, 2022.

A cool and rainy grey day. Celtic vibes on Cape Cod. My dad’s favorite. 

The kind he’d spend writing in his upstairs office, the bedroom Courtney and I once shared when we were small, after moving full-time from Newton to our magical Falmouth summer home. The window overlooking the cherry tree we planted for Seton’s birthday when he turned 8.

It’s now a guest room for our expanding family, a neatly made bed with a stack of clean towels and a basket of toiletries for the outdoor shower. The shelf that once displayed awards, articles, and photographs of his life as a novelist, travel writer, theater director, high school teacher, and college professor, is now bare. The desk has been replaced with a bureau.

Today James F. Murphy Jr. would be 90 years old.

My father spent his last birthday in a nursing home bed, the beginning of the Endless Summer of 2015. He spent his last day on this earth three months later, also on the 27th, in a hospital bed in the Great Room of our Grand Ave home. 

The last time he celebrated at home, when everything was normal, with Paul’s Pizza in the kitchen, and  Mom’s Desert Rose China and cake and Brigham’s Ice Cream in the dining room, was 2014. One of my favorite photos of my dad and me is from that night. I’m wearing one of my Fleetwood Mac T-shirts and a deceptive smile hiding the fact I knew such times were fleeting. 

In addition to being a parent, my father was one of my closest friends. He always encouraged me to be an individual. To dress in my own unique style, to dye my hair whatever color I came across in Liggett’s as a teenager, to speak my mind and express my feelings, in poetry or in person, from voicing unrequited love to standing up to injustice. He was a mentor and a muse, a colleague and a kindred spirit. He opened up the world to me in countless ways, through literature and travel. 

I woke up today with the intention to feel nothing but gratitude for his life, and for the gift of being his daughter. But some days the climate in our country, which has become progressively darker over the past six years, rife with unabashed misogyny, is making it even harder to navigate life without him. I’m a daddy’s girl without a daddy, and I now feel like a fugitive in my own country. 

As I grieve the loss of Roe, I grieve not only the loss of my father, but in a broader sense, the loss of a man who empowered and respected women. Not just his beloved wife and four daughters, or the women to whom he had a personal connection, but his students, his colleagues, and anyone lucky enough to know him. My dad wasn’t threatened by women, he was inspired by them.

But despite all that, I never had the luxury of sharing my most painful and shameful secret with him. Because of my Catholic upbringing, a religion my family eventually questioned, and ultimately rejected, I was so programmed that I naively thought his love for me was conditional, as the Church always preached when it came to God and Jesus. I thought he wouldn’t love me the same, if at all, if he knew the “real” me, for I was the ultimate sinner. 

I’m now older and wiser, having recently celebrated a milestone birthday as well. The 23-year-old girl, who didn’t know where to turn when the home pregnancy test revealed what she already knew, is now 50. I now know that my father, who risked his life in the Korean War, would be outraged about the unconstitutional overturning of Roe, and the disgusting, ignorant attacks on women, and anyone, who has sought, or may someday need, an abortion. 

The void of his absence can sometimes be staggering. Today was one of those days. But I finally realize my father wouldn’t be ashamed of my journey, he’d be proud. In signature fashion, he’d be the loudest voice cheering me on. So as the rain pours down tonight, and the wind blows through my window, I try to tune out a white, female, conservative TV commentator defending rape and incest over reproductive freedom. 

Like a shell to my ear, if I close my eyes and listen closely, I can almost hear him telling me to never back down.

Happy Birthday, Daddy. I love you and miss you forever.