The Emerald Files

Musings from a semester abroad as a 30-something

The dizzying back-and-forth of abortion law

a close up shot of a newton s cradle

After the U.S. Supreme Court decided that abortion was no longer protected by the federal constitution, I couldn’t help but feel like we were all hanging on to a pendulum for dear life.

I started covering abortion law in 2014, as a public radio reporter in Nashville. At that time, abortion was not only legal in Tennessee (as it was — past tense — in every state), it also enjoyed additional protections under our state constitution. It was, you could say, more legal in Tennessee than in other states. Now, a near-total ban is going into effect later this month.

Halfway through this eight-year turnaround, I visited Ireland for the first time. It was early 2018, and abortion was still constitutionally prohibited. But a few months after my visit, the country legalized it for the first time. It’s now easier to get an abortion in Ireland than in Tennessee.

I find it both dizzying and fascinating to be living through these times of change. And by zooming out a bit, geographically and chronologically, the arc of the pendulum is even easier to see. Or maybe the better word is pendula, plural: Each place carves its own path back and forth, and sometimes it knocks into the other along the way.

As I prepare for my Fulbright in Ireland where I’ll be studying the media coverage of the abortion debate, I’ve been learning more about the contours of those swings. I’m sharing those with you so you can follow along with me in my research, which starts in a few weeks. And yes, this post is long, but the abortion debate is even longer, y’all. I’ve condensed it down as much as possible. You’re welcome.

Disclaimer: I am not a fancy legal scholar! I’m merely dipping my toe into the murky waters of abortion law history. If you see something factually inaccurate, please respond in the comments. Thanks!

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Fields of green

Smiling at the rolling green hills somewhere between Counties Cork and Kerry, April 2018.

In 2018, my then-boyfriend and I decided to go to Ireland. We’d been dating only a few months when we started planning it, and booking an international trip seemed like a gesture of massive commitment. Three years later, we would make an actual gesture of massive commitment and get married.

The reason we chose Ireland as our destination was, to my recollection, because I had learned to play a smattering of Irish tunes on my fiddle. We shared an intense aesthetic attraction to the sound: a mix of joy and sorrow, tunes you could dance to and cry to. My mother has shared with me that she used to be similarly enamored with Irish music and chalks that up to its similarities to Eastern European Jewish music, which is our actual cultural heritage. Perhaps that’s why Irish fiddle tunes resonate so deeply in my soul. Perhaps it’s because it was the soundtrack to my falling in love. Or perhaps it’s because, as a spiritually inclined friend once informed me, I used to be an Irish nun in a past life.

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