COVER

A CHANGE OF HEART

DODD’S REGRETS CAUSE FAMILY TURMOIL

ANN WALMSLEY July 31 1989
COVER

A CHANGE OF HEART

DODD’S REGRETS CAUSE FAMILY TURMOIL

ANN WALMSLEY July 31 1989

Her change of heart caught people on both sides of the abortion debate by surprise. Earlier this month, Barbara Dodd, a 22-year-old deaf woman and occasional exotic dancer from Toronto, fought an injunction brought by her former boyfriend, Gregory Murphy, to prevent her from having an abortion. Supported by the prochoice movement, she pursued her appeal with determination, eventually winning her case in the Supreme Court of Ontario on July 11. Her abortion at the Morgentaler Clinic in Toronto followed within hours. Then, a week later, came a stunning turnaround. On July 18, Dodd appeared before the media alongside Murphy, 23 and also hearing-impaired, to declare that she had acted under pressure from her family and prochoice activists and now regretted having ended her pregnancy. She insisted, despite two earlier abortions in addition to the latest procedure, that she now opposed abortion.

Stripper: The conversion was as perplexing as it was unexpected. While it is common for women to experience both depression and a measure of regret after an abortion, Dodd was clearly no stranger to the procedure. Some members of her family claimed that the young woman had been manipulated by her dark, intense boyfriend. But speaking for herself, Dodd said it was his enduring love, and a new view of a woman's role in choosing to end a pregnancy, that changed her mind. Interviewed in a downtown coffee shop three blocks from Filmore’s Hotel, where she worked from April to June as a stripper under the stage name of Jade, Dodd told Maclean’s: “I do not think that women should accept abortion. Especially, a woman should not decide without the father.”

Almost equally puzzling was the couple’s decision to invite further attention after a week in the full glare of the media coverage that accompanied the court proceedings. Dodd’s elder sister, Elizabeth, suggested that Murphy was using Dodd to regain credibility after a humbling experience in court: he was accused of hiding the fact that another man, 29-year-old Carmine (Christen) Mucciacito, whom Dodd was also seeing, could just as well have been the father of her child. And Dodd’s public change of heart was clearly a welcome development for Campaign Life Coalition, a Toronto-based anti-abortion organization, which counselled Murphy following Dodd’s abortion, fielded calls from the media for the couple last week and organized numerous press interviews. For his part, Campaign Life president James Hughes insisted that Dodd had approached his organization first. But, he said, “there might be some positive fallout for us.”

There may be a simpler reason for Dodd’s willing return to the public eye. Said her eldest sister, Ruth: “She likes to be the centre of attention.” Certainly, as an exotic dancer in the Filmore’s beverage room, Dodd had no qualms about stripping down to a G-string and dancing at tables. And, last week, she clearly seemed to be enjoying the coverage, appearing for the first time before reporters wearing makeup—which she had not used for her appearances in court—and posing willingly for the cameras.

Rare: Dodd herself traced her revised views on abortion to her realization that Murphy cared enough about her to go to court to save their child. “He loves me,” said Dodd. “He wants to marry me now. That is a rare man.” That realization, however, apparently did not dawn on Dodd during the week of legal manoeuvring. Her first inkling of uncertainty, she told Maclean’s, came two days after the abortion, on July 13, when she first had an opportunity to spend some time alone. “I thought about what was happening and I regretted what people had done to me. They put everything in my head.”

According to the couple, it was Dodd who initiated the reconciliation. At 8 a.m. on Saturday, July 15, she travelled to Whitby, Ont., where Murphy lives with his family. He agreed to meet her in a nearby park, and they spent the day together, sipping soft drinks and talking. On Tuesday, Dodd approached Campaign Life for assistance in holding the press conference.

Although Dodd denies that Murphy influenced her to switch sides on the abortion issue, she willingly describes herself as his student. “He knows a lot of words and he teaches me about business, politicians and the world,” she said. In an affidavit presented to the appeal court, she attempted to portray a darker side to their five-month relationship. Stated Dodd in the document: “I come from a family of modest means and often felt intimidated by Greg’s statements, that he was much more powerful than I am because of his background.”

Murphy echoed those opinions when he told Maclean’s last week that he and Dodd came from “different classes.” The son of a stockbroker, Murphy spent I-1/2 years at a college for the deaf in Washington, D.C., studying English and psychology, and is a private tutor for the deaf. But Dodd comes from a working-class home. Her parents, also hearing-impaired, separated when she and her three sisters were all under 10, and her father, George Dodd, a sheet-metal worker with a fondness for motorcycles, took custody of the children.

Neither family appears to have approved of Dodd’s relationship with Murphy. For their part, Dodd’s family went to the extraordinary length last week of calling a press conference in a Toronto park to accuse Murphy of manipulating Barbara. Said Elizabeth Dodd: “He has control over Barbara. He has got her brainwashed.” And Murphy’s parents, by Barbara Dodd’s account, expressed sharp criticism of her career as an exotic dancer. But the two young people at the centre of the tangled web of family passions and public curiosity insisted last week that there was nothing unusual in their relationship. Said Murphy: “I think that it is easy to forget your thoughts in the mix of everything, as was the case with Barbara.”

Pressure: Still, the week’s events left prochoice and anti-abortion activists and family members alike somewhat skeptical about the sincerity of Dodd’s conversion. Said family friend Fern Nicholson: “Her mental state was very healthy after the abortion. Why is she lying?” According to Nicholson, Dodd had been determined to have an abortion well before her case came to the attention of prochoice activists. Indeed, Nicholson claimed that Dodd had been so set on having an abortion that, at Dodd’s request, Nicholson had even booked an appointment for her at a clinic in Montreal. And Cherie MacDonald, a spokesman for the Ontario Coalition for Abortion Clinics, also denied that she had pressured Dodd. Said MacDonald: “I do not see it as applying pressure to say, ‘Barbara, we support you all the way.’ ”

As questions continued to hang over them, Dodd and Murphy finally withdrew from the media spotlight last Thursday and retreated to a friend’s farm. But their hold on the public's attention may not be over yet. Dodd said that modelling agencies have contacted her to offer her contracts, and book agents and film producers from the United States have approached the couple about buying their story. When, or if, their account appears on the big screen, however, the lesson it leaves may have less to do with the right to abortion than with the right to change your mind.