Memories of My Bad Ass Grandma and The US Reproductive Rights Debate

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Emotional scenes in movies have often driven me to tears. This is not easy for me to admit. I still remember 12 year old me hiding behind a door and crying at my dads funeral. My mums death hit me like a ton of bricks because it came sooner than I expected. I surprised myself on that, as a physician I should have known but did not see it coming though the signs were there. I guess like all humans I have a great skill at failing to see and appreciate things that hurt.

As I write these words I am crying once again for a loved one I have not cried enough for, my grandma. This may be because she was taken from us long before she actually died. Even before I entered medical school I could recognize the rage of that disease as it stole her away from us one memory at a time.

Today on a flight up 39,000 ft returning home from a business trip, a movie took me back more than 30 years to a woman who lived her life on her own terms. This unique lady taught me what it means to be strong enough to say f**k you to anyone including her. Yes, I once told her to go f**k herself not using the exact words but the same idea and got a real good whipping. Oh, boy what a wonder the things we carry with us.

What My Grandmother Taught Me About Self-Determination

Today as I watch a movie about a supportive grandmother moving heaven and earth to get money for an abortion for her grand daughter I could not help but remember Mercy Ama Mills. It is really a bummer that I should be thrust back into my teens and early adulthood as the US contemplates issues related to the recent Supreme Court decision.

So today I am pouring out my heart to the whole world because of her. A woman who would not shy away from taking her grand daughter to have an abortion even in a country where abortions were not spoken of in polite society. The movie “Grandma” just reminded me so much of her. Another woman, albeit a fictional character, yet in this lady I saw Maame as we all called her. This character played by Lilly Tomlin was white but the spirit that drove Maame which can be seen in many women transcends race. That spirit is the source of a fierce kind of love that very few women give themselves the permission to exercise and nurture.

We just called her Maame “Mother” because that was what she was. She had only one biological child but her children were all over the place. There were the unwilling ones like my moms brothers and the sweet ones like her rival’s daughter who she raised as her own. Growing up we had a lot of cousins some of whom we had no blood ties with but up to this day they are still cousins because that was how Maame made it.

To those cheering a Supreme Court that has totally gone off the rails, just know that my grandmother taught me that our private lives and associated decisions are ours and ours alone. Maame did not go to any law school, but she probably understood life and self determination better than some Ivy League educated supreme court judges. Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett have forgotten some basic principles of life. If they knew or paid attention to these principles they would know that our Constitution did not give women the right to choose.

Photo from a New York Times Review of the 2015 Movie Grandma

What Did The Dobb’s Decision Achieve ?

Those who know, are aware that women have always had the right to choose and exercised it wisely from as far back as humanity can remember. Our Constitution only codified that right, so Justice Alito or Clarence Thomas and any of their supporters did not take away that right. The Dobbs decision only achieved one thing; the decision successfully made abortions more dangerous and more expensive for some women. They have managed to use the power vested in them to put the health of all our women including those that support anti-abortion activities at risk.

There are many women who may not know or understand what I am saying but as a sit here and cry tears for my grandmother who died more than a quarter century ago one day they will know what I speak of today. Sometimes, we need to actually walk in the shoes of the unfortunate to know how it feels. As happened to me with my grandmother’s passing there are many women who will not know the true extent of what they lost with this ruling until the day it hits them in the face.

Healthcare and the decisions that lie therein are always very complex. Those who fail to understand the nature and complexity within health decision making do us a disservice and may seek to legislate these decisions. There are many doctors including me who believe the less our government and courts interfere with health decisions the better things are for all of us.

Hopefully, the day will come when more of us would understand the value of the freedoms which allows us to make our private decisions on the course we wish to carve for our lives.

By Dr. Leonard Sowah an internal medicine physician in Baltimore, Maryland


A physician providing primary medical care to patients across the lifespan