- Associated Press - Sunday, January 22, 2017

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - It was 1972.

It was the year the first email program was invented, the year the last man walked on the moon.

It was the year before Roe v. Wade, the year before the Supreme Court legalized abortion.

It was the year Maggie McCabe turned 16 years old, the year she found out she was pregnant.

“I was terrified to tell my parents,” the now 60-year-old Charleston woman shared. “I knew where babies came from… but I never thought about it happening to me.”

She and her boyfriend lived carefree lives back then - one filled with partying, drugs and sex.

Abortion was up to the states back then. In West Virginia, it was illegal.

But for McCabe, it was the only option she considered.

She was just shy of 10 weeks into the pregnancy, in the fall of her junior year of high school.

“I was not going to have a child at age 16 in 1972.”

Neither her boyfriend’s parents nor her own were particularly pleased with her decision, but they respected it.

She was fortunate to have parents who could afford the travel, hotel expense and cost of the procedure in Washington, D.C., where the area’s first abortion clinic had just opened.

“If my parents could not have afforded to take me somewhere, I probably would have had a back street abortion,” she shared.

While McCabe was having the dilation and curettage (D&C) procedure at the clinic, her mother, Jane Mason McCabe, was meeting with administrators at Planned Parenthood nearby. She asked them, “How much money does it take to start a clinic? What do I need to do?”

Jane was interested in developing a clinic in Charleston to provide reproductive health care, including abortions, to low-income, uninsured women of all ages in West Virginia.

“That was the idea behind the Women’s Health Center of West Virginia,” McCabe said.

After gaining support from St. John’s church and several area business leaders, the center opened in 1976. Jane was one of its founding members, and the president of the board when she died in a car crash a few short months later.

“I try to carry on her legacy by sharing my story,” McCabe shared. “The outcome of my abortion is the Women’s Health Center.”

Her abortion also allowed her to finish her high school education. It allowed her to marry her boyfriend at a time of their choosing. It allowed her to attend college. It allowed her to have a child when the time was right for her and her husband.

“I’m now a grandmother of three. The oldest two of my grandchildren were born out of wedlock. If either of those women had decided to have an abortion instead of giving me grandchildren, I would have respected and honored that. My son told them he would respect whatever decision they made.”

McCabe taught her son the same values her mother taught her - women should be honored and respected for who they are and the decisions they make.

The 40th anniversary of Jane’s death was in December. McCabe reflected on the access to reproductive care in 1972 and how some of those issues are coming to light again in 2017.

“It is appalling. My mother, if she were alive, would be out there fighting with the rest of us. I wish people would understand the importance of women’s health care.”

In honor of her mother and in support of women’s rights, McCabe will join the Women’s March in Charleston, a local version of the Women’s March on Washington.

She looks forward to gathering with like-minded individuals to show their support of a woman’s right to choose and the importance of affordable health care.

“I hope that, including myself, everyone acts in a kind, civil and dignified manner.”

She knows many other West Virginians do not share her views on abortion, but she believes life begins at birth and that every woman has the right to make decisions about her own body.

She asks everyone to understand the importance of the right to choose - “You can be pro-choice, believing in a women’s right to choose, and not pro-abortion. A lot people who are pro-choice would prefer birth, but firmly believe in a woman’s right to choice.

“We do not need federal laws telling women what to do with their body. It is our body, period.”

McCabe is a firm believer in the benefits of preventive care. As a Guttmacher Institute study has recently shown, abortion rates in the U.S. are at an all time low, a statistic many officials believe was reached because of increased access to health care and birth control through the Affordable Care Act.

Access to health care services has helped McCabe in other ways throughout her life - in 1984, after the birth of her son, she was diagnosed with Stage III cervical cancer, a diagnosis she wouldn’t have received without coverage for annual exams.

“I could have died if I’d not had care.”

She hopes the Women’s Marches taking place in D.C. and all throughout the U.S. will send a message to Congress and to President-elect Donald Trump: “You can’t just wipe out everything for 20 million or more people in terms of affordable health care. It’s not right.”

McCabe has been fighting for women’s rights for nearly 45 years. She plans to continue the fight Saturday. She knows her mother, if she were still alive, would have been by her side.

“I don’t mind sharing my story. My mother would have wanted me to share my story in these times. What are they going to do to me? People are mean, but they’re going to be mean anyway. I don’t mind telling my story, and I will tell it to the moon and back if I need to.”

Margaret Chapman Pomponio, executive director at WV Free, a reproductive health rights and justice organization, said Maggie’s story is particularly compelling right now.

“Hearing Maggie’s story in this new political age is compelling and concerning,” Pomponio said. “I hope that politicians will heed the lessons of the past, and keep women safe and respect their decision making.”

She said while most West Virginians voted for Trump, she believes there is a disconnect in his values and the values of West Virginians.

“He can say outrageous things damaging and hurtful to women, but most West Virginians don’t embrace those ideals. I do think these negative characterizations of women can trickle down and permeate the psyches of our young people,” she said.

“We must be vigilant in doing all we can to uplift and empower women and young people with positive role models and actions that show we care about the dignity and autonomy of women and girls.”

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