8 Stories That Show What Abortion Was Like Before Roe v. Wade

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As the 43rd anniversary of Roe v. Wade approaches on Jan. 22—and with the Supreme Court set to revisit women’s fundamental right to access abortion in the Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole case, the most serious threat to abortion since 1992—the Ms. Blog decided to look back at the realities of illegal abortion pre-Roe, and for women today who lack access to proper care.

As part of our #WeWontGoBack campaign, Ms. Blog readers are sharing their own stories, or the stories of friends and family members who have resorted to illegal abortions because they had no choice. Use the hashtag to share your story on social media.

Below, read pre-Roe abortion stories collected from the Ms. Facebook page.

“In 9th grade a good friend became pregnant by our AAU coach. He threatened to kill her if she told how she became pregnant. Her parents were divorced and her mother had committed suicide a few weeks prior. She borrowed money from everyone and wrote a check on [her] dad’s account to go to [the] local abortionist. She died in [the] girls bathroom a week later. … She was a very talented artist and composed music. I had known her since third grade and even now, at 62, can hear her laughter and have a caricature of myself she drew. She had to be buried in a different cementary as was Catholic raised, as did her mom. After her death a group told the coach to quit or we would tell. We were 14-year-old kids doing the best we could for our friend. … She was just a baby herself.” — Evelyn H.

“When I was in a Midwest high school, we pooled our babysitting money to help our 16-year-old friend fly to Mexico, alone, for an abortion. Her parents thought she was staying at a friend’s home overnight. Imagine. I am 64. Never again—not going back.” — Bonnie B.

“My mom had one in Tijuana in the late 1960s. She told me she remembers watching the doctor use fire to sterilize the tools. She was OK, but terrified. She had given up a child for adoption a few years prior and couldn’t face that loss again. … I need to get the full story from her soon. I was afraid to ask for more details. It seemed like something she had kept hidden for so long. She only shared this with me when I was in my late 20s. Abortion must remain a safe and legal option.” — Jena G.

“I had a roommate in Madison, Wisconsin who became pregnant and, because in 1969 you couldn’t get an abortion in Wisconsin, the four roommates chipped in to buy her a plane ticket to NYC to have the abortion. She came home in fine shape but it was traumatic for her not to have a regional option and not having the funds as a college student to pay for it. So when I read about the closing of Planned Parenthood clinics so that underserved women don’t have regional options even for breast exams or Pap smears it is infuriating!” — Susan A.K.

My submission is very short. It is about my Mother, b. 1924, d. 1971.

She was found in a pool of blood on her cold white tile bathroom floor. Her mother found her. She was discovered, [she] did not die. Later, she had my sister and me. After her suicide at age 46, her mother told [me] about finding her daughter unconscious in a pool of blood.” — Carol F.

“In 1932 at the height of the Great Depression, my grandmother had one little boy and was five months pregnant with her second child. She was a lifelong, devout Catholic. My grandfather just came home to their tiny-two room apartment and informed her that he was leaving her for another woman. She had no job and was about to be evicted from her apartment. She was desperate, terrified and alone. A week after my grandfather left, she found a back-alley abortionist who performed [the] abortion and she very nearly bled to death. … [Then] she returned home and delivered a ‘stillborn’ (or so her parents thought) baby boy. She developed peritonitis and lapsed into a weeklong coma. When she regained consciousness and realized what she had done, she cried non-stop for two months. I was the only person she ever told; she told me that her grief and sorrow was so intense that she feared dying as she was terrified of having to face the child she aborted. She lived to be 102 and never once allowed herself forgiveness.” — Patricia H.

“My mom spoke of aunts and other beloved female family members who could not afford and/or could not handle another pregnancy and child. All that was available to them was ‘kitchen table’ abortions done in secret with a coat hanger. The pregnancy was aborted, but these women died horrible deaths from peritonitis due to internal punctures and infections. They felt as though they had no choice and were desperate not to have more children. My mom was haunted by their stories and the fact they felt so trapped. It was such a loss for her and the family to lose these lively, strong women. This was in the 1930s and ’40s.” — Jayne B.

“I’m a 62-year-old man but I know that my single mother had an illegal abortion in her teens, before I was born, that almost killed her. She couldn’t stop bleeding and couldn’t go to the hospital without facing criminal charges. All she could do was wait it out in a hotel room. Apparently, her boyfriend collected newspapers for her to sit on to collect the blood.” — Wm P.

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Photo via Flickr user Kool Cats Photography licensed under Creative Commons 2.0

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    Comments

    1. Kathryn Sullivan says:

      The tip of the iceberg…..so many more untold. I lost a girlfriend at 16 in 1959 to a self induced abortion, she was so afraid of her father she took one of his guns and shot herself in the stomach and bled to death…..the newspaper reported it as a suicide. Never again…we will not go back.

      • Margaret John says:

        That’s horrible. Was she attempting, at 16, to give herself an abortion by shooting herself in the stomach? That sounds like suicide, not an abortion.

        • Betty Claypool says:

          Margaret John, don’t be so dense. It was both suicide and abortion. A girl at that time had rather be dead than to have a baby out-of-wedlock.

        • It sounds like desperation.

          • “It sounds like desperation.”
            Agreed. Young girls at that time were expected to be virgin at marriage, be loyal to their husband. and birth his children; without straying from that path. For a girl to birth a child before marriage was breaking all three. She would be shunned from the community, labeled a Jezzibel whore, possibly disowned by her family, and have no hope for anything close to a normal life.

          • It was

        • Rtuteeadt says:

          It’s because she couldn’t get an abortion!

        • Jane Highwater says:

          What’s the f’g difference? She was terrified and pregnant and felt she had no options.

        • That was the problem, you couldn’t safely or legally have an abortion, but you couldn’t give birth and raise a baby either. The only choice was to give birth and give the baby up for adoption. Unwanted pregnancy ruined so many lives and caused the deaths of many as well.

          • That’s EXACTLY right. In 1969, with no true choices except a shotgun wedding, my mother was forced to give me up for adoption. Legalizing abortion gave women empowerment to make their own decisions instead of having them imposed on them: not only the choice to abort, but also the choice to keep the baby too.

    2. TheRealThunderchild says:

      Such a procedure nearly killed someone very close to me, in 1960 I think.
      The irony of all the religious nut jobs, and I’m Catholic, is that abortion isn’t mentioned in the Bible, as isn’t ensoulment at conception.
      They’re thumping a book that absolutely does not support their beliefs.

      • THIS.
        The loudest opponents of safe, legal abortion are Christians, and there is no mention in the New Testament. There is no mention in the Old Testament, either. In Judaism, a fetus is regarded as a pre-human. A fetus becomes fully human only after it has half-emerged from the birth canal.
        The only passage I’ve found that can be even tangentially related to abortion is Exodus 21:22 “If men strive [fight] an hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit [fetus] depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman’s husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine.”

        This verse describes a situation in which a man, who is fighting another man, accidentally hits a pregnant woman, and causes a termination of her pregnancy. The following verse, 23, explains that if the woman died, the guilty man would be executed by the state. The accidental killing of a woman under these circumstances was considered a capital offense, because she was a human person.

        However, assuming no further harm happens (e.g. that the woman does not die), the man responsible would have to pay at a fine. The amount would be set by her husband and approved by the judges. This would imply that the death of a fetus was not considered to be the death of a human person. If it were, then the man responsible would be tried for murder and executed. However, because the fetus had possible future economic worth to the father, he would have to be reimbursed for his loss.

        • Stephanie says:

          Thank you for posting this! For those of us not well-versed in the Bible, it’s hard to discuss (debate/argue) the issue with someone who uses the Bible to back up their stance.

      • There’s a passage in Numbers that outlines the punishment if you hurt a pregnant woman and cause her to miscarry. The punishment: a fine paid to the father. It is implied right afterward that if the mother dies then the person who harmed her is to face the usual penalty.

        In another part of the OT they discuss a method of discerning whether a woman has committed adultery (cheating on her husband). It involves giving her some kind of bitter water, if I remember correctly, and if she’s pregnant it’ll abort the pregnancy.

        And then there’s the fact that in Hebrew the word for “life” is the same as the word for “breath”.

        It’s pretty clear, if you know what you’re looking at, that the Bible doesn’t prohibit abortion or at least does not consider it murder. Anti-choicers attempting to argue otherwise are left with some verse from Jeremiah (I think) that says something like “Before you were formed in the womb, I knew you”. Which isn’t an argument against abortion. It’s a statement that God knew some special person was going to be born and what he was going to do with his life. Clearly God doesn’t go to all that trouble for everybody or we wouldn’t see so many little kids dying of starvation in poor countries.

        (The usual disclaimer here: if God exists, blah blah blah.)

        • Send this to the public please

        • Thank you for this

        • Kate Parker says:

          Question: “Is Numbers 5:11-31 referring to God causing an abortion?”

          Answer: Numbers 5:11-31 describes an unusual procedure a husband could use to determine if his wife had been unfaithful to him. Essentially, the husband and wife would come to the priest, the priest would then create a concoction of unpleasant ingredients, and then the wife would have to drink the concoction. If the wife was guilty of adultery, she would get sick and her belly would swell. If the wife was innocent, God would protect her from the effects of the concoction. There was nothing magical about the concoction. It was entirely a matter of God using the result to demonstrate whether a woman was innocent or guilty. So, in summary, Numbers 5:11-31affirms the truth of Numbers 32:23, “Be sure your sin will find you out.”

          Some propose that Numbers 5:11-31 refers to God causing an abortion. The 2011 edition of the NIV mistakenly states that the drink will cause miscarriage in Numbers 5:21-22,27. However, this is not what the passage is talking about. Pregnancy is nowhere mentioned, or even hinted at, in the text. The only thing that even sounds like pregnancy is the guilty wife’s stomach becoming bloated, but even in that instance, it has nothing to do with pregnancy. Further, the passage does not say that drinking the concoction would cause an abortion/miscarriage. While drinking a poisonous mixture of ingredients could very well cause a miscarriage, that is not what this text is speaking of.

          If a wife was found guilty, the punishment was death (Leviticus 20:10). If the wife was found innocent, she would be “cleared of guilt” and “able to have children” (Numbers 11:28). So, again, Numbers 5:11-31 does not refer to abortion in any sense. Rather, it is describing a method that God allowed to be used to determine if a wife had committed adultery against her husband.

          The NIV text is an isolated interpretation of the texts. The NIV is the *only translation* to use the word “miscarriage” and they insert it in the place of words that translate as “waste away”. The NIV also omits entire verses and sections.

          Only a couple of translations even translate בֶּ֖טֶן (be·ṭen) and בִּטְנֵ֖ךְ (biṭ·nêḵ) as womb.

          The rest use belly or abdomen.

          More:

          http://www.gotquestions.org/Numbers-abortion.html

      • In fact, Genesis 2:7 supports the notion that life begins with the first breath. Not that many people care; to a lot of them, Scripture exists only to be invoked in support of their opinions.

      • I am Catholic as well, and I am a single mother. I have never felt more condemned in my life for keeping my first child, and that leaves me to ask what it is they are actually supporting. Do they only support the fetus for the 9 months that it is in the uterus? And then what? We condemn the mother and the child after it is born? We refuse to help a single mother because she is divorced/unmarried?

        After that, I was raped and put in the same position. I am so grateful for the availability of abortions today. I will do whatever I need to do to support Planned Parenthood to keep their doors open.

      • Thomas Burgess says:

        “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born Iconsecrated you.”(Jer 1:5; Job 10:8-12; Ps22:10-11.)
        Since the first century theChurch has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 2271.)
        You either believe all that the Church teaches or none of it. You can’t pick and choose. If do you can’t call yourself Catholic.

        • Jennifer Steffen says:

          Yes, Thomas Burgess, Jeremiah 1:5 DOES say that. However, you forgot to include the 2nd part of the same verse: “and before thou wast yet come forth out of the womb I sanctified thee: a prophet unto the nations did I ordain thee.” Sorry, but that puts a whole other spin on the verse!! God was saying that He knew Jeremiah before he was born. It is obvious from this verse, He wasn’t referring to everyone!!

        • Jane Highwater says:

          With joy and deep relief, I no longer call myself a Catholic.

        • Vicki Johnson says:

          Catholics used to believe that the sun orbited the earth, and people who disagreed were burned at the stake. Joan of Arc was burned for wearing men’s clothing. Church teaching has changed many times!

    3. Alison Jane says:

      My father is your quintessential, all American, uber Conservative, Christian, Vietnam Veteran. He is extremely right wing on all but two topics; gay rights and abortion. He always tells this story about this beautiful and talented girl he went to school with in the early 60’s. He tells the story about how she took some money and paid to have a back alley abortion from which she later hemorrhaged to death. We live in a very small town and to this day people know exactly who we’re talking about whenever that story comes up.

      Honestly though, we may differ on many opinions but the fact that he can see the importance in a woman’s right to safe and legal abortions gives me hope that he’ll come around on other topics. 😉

    4. Its a woman’s right, plain and simple. It’s her life and if she doesn’t want to give a child for adoption, she should be able to make a decision, while I personally would never have one. There shouldn’t be a legal matter to this, its noones business, except the woman who has the decision to make.

    5. LJ Roberts says:

      In 1968, my friend in college became pregnant from her very first sexual experience. Her mother threw her out, her father was gone, the boy and his parents disavowed any responsibility. Her aunt gave her the money and I took her to a “doctor” in Chicago. Later that evening, she started to hemorrhage. I took her to the hospital and the only way to save her was a complete hysterectomy. She was 17 years old. We will NOT go back to this!

    6. Pamela Tiger says:

      I’m 56, barely old enough to remember seeing a black and white photo of the results of a self-induced abortion with a coat hanger, when I was young. I don’t know where I saw it, or why, but even now the effects are heart-stopping. It was of a woman laying on a bathroom floor, with a coat hanger halfway out of her vagina, in a pool of blood, presumably dead (I don’t recall any more than the image).
      Never again. Safe and legal, safe and legal, safe and legal.

    7. Alexa Bender says:

      My great great grandmother already had six children in the great depression, and after finding out she was pregnant with number seven she knew she couldn’t feed the children she had already so she gave herself an abortion with a big rusty nail and almost died. We can never go back

    8. Kimberly Slone says:

      Heartbreaking stories, a few of millions. If you are against abortion then by all means do not have one, but please do everything you can to make sure that women and girls who are sick, abused, living in abject poverty or whatever their reason, don’t have to face the horrifying, cruel and deadly reality of illegal abortions ever again. oh and Planned Parenthood has prevented far more unwanted pregnancies than it has performed abortions, so support them too!

    9. I had an abortion in 1971, two years before Roe. I was an 18 year old college student and abortion was illegal in Ohio unless you could get 2 psychiatrists to write letters stating you would kill yourself if you continued the pregnancy. NY had passed a liberal abortion law the year before, so my BF and I drove 1K miles round trip to NYC in order for me to get a safe legal abortion. I considered myself lucky that it was that close. After Roe, a clinic opened in Columbus (still open) and I worked there. Young women especially need to know what is at stake if we are forced to go back to those ugly desperate days

    10. Fstinnett says:

      Unfortunately there are two people hurt or killed in all of these stories

    11. Melanie Brumfield says:

      People who oppose abortion will not even blink an eye at these stories. A very cold part of me thinks that that the right to life movement do not believe these things never happened…much like the Holocaust.

      #wewontgoback

      • The circumstances don’t matter. These stories are sad because people are deceived and do things they should not do and hurt themselves and others. Murder is against the law. Period.

        • Jennifer Smith says:

          It is very easy to judge someone when you will never gave to face the decisions and consequences she will. The circumstances matter enormously. These women were not deceived about what might happen to them- they knew their lives were in great danger, and on the flip side, society had made it very clear that they would be ostracized and banished, even by their own families, if they chose to keep their babies. Have you read any of these stories? Do you really think women want to risk being butchered in a back alley or try to end their pregnancies themselves with a coat hanger? They should not hurt themselves? They should not have to hurt themselves. Abortion is not murder. That’s why it’s not against the law in the bible or the constitution. Maybe try a little compassion and empathy for women who are put in impossible situations. I know it’s not part of your world, but maybe think on it?

    12. Barbara Kerr says:

      https://www.facebook.com/notes/barbara-kerr/what-it-was-like-before-abortion-was-legal-for-my-daughter-gracie/10150089525457396
      There was no sexual revolution in South St. Louis, not for me or my friends – it was a sexual concentration camp. In the halls of our high school we stumbled around, crazed with sexual hunger, dying of lust. The stench of menstrual blood soaking through nonabsorbent pads, the boys’ and girls’ sweat and cheap cologne forming a cloud of misery, the rough clutching and pushing away of hands in the darkened auditorium – oh, it was terrible. You wanted each other so much, and spent hours, days, plotting a way to almost have sex without having sex, figuring out precisely how far you could go without getting pregnant.

      Because getting pregnant was the end. No, this is not about back-alley abortions, I’m sure you’ve heard about that, and the knitting needles and coat hangers and lye sprays used to end pregnancy. We actually didn’t know what abortion was, because nobody you ever knew had ever had one, although a lady who lived next door had been sterilized, we heard, in the mental hospital where she had her lobotomy. Her name was Jo Anne or Roberta, I can’t remember, but she was spookily silent. Taking away her ability to get pregnant with more crazy people was the scientific thing to do.

      .

      Anyhow, getting pregnant meant exile – the end of your parents’ love, your teachers’ respect, your friends’ affection. Not to mention the end of your dreams of going to college, becoming somebody, or ever having a real wedding. Girls who got pregnant just disappeared, and you never, never heard from them again. There were unwed mother homes where they were sent. I didn’t know where those homes were, or what they were like. They were spoken of in whispers. I pictured them as these unairconditioned, old houses with mean nurses and nuns, where ballooning girls sat by curtained windows, fanning themselves and crying. Sometimes you knew who got them pregnant, but the guy was still in school and never talked about her, and started dating somebody else.

      The funny thing was, the girls who got pregnant weren’t the ones who were slutty, the dories – god knows why we called them dories. Maybe it was an Irish term, there being a lot of Irish people in Dogtown. The dories ratted their hair high, wore lots of lip gloss and thick blue eye shadow. They were known to have sex with boys in cars and in other peoples’ parents’ basements. They hardly ever got pregnant. No, the girls who got pregnant were just like me, really nice girls, really smart girls. Well, they were a little quieter than me and my friends, and more in the third tier of popularity. I was in the second tier. The girls in the first tier – don’t even ask. Banker’s daughters, car lot owners’ daughter’s, with name brand clothes and purses and shoes, who looked almost like county kids – that was what we called kids in the suburbs. Being from Ladue or Clayton was like being from California, it was so completely golden and distant. They were untouched by lust or its consequences. But those third tier girls – good at math, with neat handwriting, always friendly and sweet, who loved their pet poodles, kind of pale, thin, not much makeup – it was they, the nondescript nice girls who got pregnant. Kim, pregnant by Tim the baseball player, from sex at a party. She’d been my best friend once, loved the Beatles. I didn’t know that she knew Tim, or that she went to those kinds of parties. Cheryl Lynn, math club type, kind and awkward – always ready to give you her sandwich or the her circle pin you admired. Jesus, we heard she had twins and we didn’t even know who the guy was or if he married her or what. Or what. She just disappeared in the middle of the school year. Lois, the girl who got drunk and threw up a someone’s pajama party but otherwise was a docile, smiling girl, also just went away, a pregnancy victim never heard from again. There were five girls who got pregnant in my class of about thirty Track 1 A “headed for college” group. They weren’t headed for college any more.

      It didn’t get better in college, even though it was finally ok to have sex in college, it was kind of the sophisticated thing to do once you were lavaliered and then pinned, which was sort of pre-engaged. Girls were pretty smug about it. That is, until the first pregnancy scare, which was not just a personal crisis but a crisis for everyone around her in the dorm. At any one time, some girl on the dorm floor thought she might be pregnant. This was college, so many of the girls were on the Pill. Here is how you got the Pill. You went to a doctor, in St. Louis or Kansas City – you would NEVER be able to get it in Columbia without being married – and you complained of excruciating menstrual pain and irregular periods. My doctor (so embarrassing, he had delivered me eighteen years before) gave me a prescription, furrowed his brow and said, “Now, these are not to be used lasciviously.” No kidding, that was the word he used, and I remembered blushing and feeling hot all over. But of course I took them back to college with me and first chance I got, told my boyfriend – of FOUR years—that we could at last have sex. Can you imagine four years of waiting, of agonizing discussions, promises and pleas?

      And two weeks after that lovely, long awaited night in a quite nice hotel room – Un Homme et Une Femme on TV, completely ignored by us except for the wonderful music – of course, I thought I was pregnant. Maybe I hadn’t been on the pill long enough, maybe I had missed one, maybe somehow, some way…. Pregnancy fear. It was so numbing, so terrifying that it perfectly mimicked the symptoms of pregnancy. Vomiting, depression, sleeping restlessly, waking early, constantly feeling one’s belly, one’s labia, trying to figure out the probabilities. You had to wait at least a month after your first missed period to get a pregnancy test. And that in itself was an ordeal. They gave them at the Student Health Center – the same joint that wouldn’t give contraceptives. But the pregnancy test was like being finger printed and booked for a crime. You sat in folding chairs on a certain day in the hallway with other silent girls, waiting your turn for your test and your lecture. You gave a urine sample and sat across the desk from this old guy, Dr. Galleota, who really, really glowered at you, looked disgusted, spoke with utter contempt. He said I was not college material. That if I was pregnant, I would have to leave college. That I should have controlled myself. That college was a place for people with self-control. It was terrible. Then you waited three days for your tests to come back, because they shot your urine into a rabbit and if it died, you were pregnant. Like voodoo or something. It came back negative, and I felt re-born, somehow purified, even from the sexual act. Not pregnant. The truth was, the sheer stress of it all broke up my relationship, as it did many relationships. What kind of guy wanted a crying, fear crazed girlfriend? What kind of girl wanted a guy who said, “Then we’ll just have to quit college and get married” in the same tone as if he were suggesting double suicide? After two more scares, I had had enough.

      I became a contraceptive scientist, getting my prediction equation as close to 100% effective contraception as possible… Pill plus rhythm plus condom… and I learned enough to tell everybody I knew about every aspect of fertility and the art of nonreproduction. I started a committee by putting up posters called the Birth Control Committee. We couldn’t get any reliable books or pamphlets, so we wrote to McGill University in Montreal, where a newsprint pamphlet had been published with the absolutely best information about contraceptive methods, including a new one, the IUD. We sold it for a dime on the street corner and gave it out at the YMCA.

      Then we heard that abortion was legal in London, England, and our committee helped a girl to collect enough money to fly there. Then, soon after, we heard it was legal in New York. Our little committee had found professors, ministers, and even one doctor who believed women should have the choice of having an abortion. They, the adults, formed the Clergy Consultation Service. It was all very serious and sorrowful and sacred. We counseled girls, helped them get their pregnancy test from the one kind doctor, Dr. Pfeffer, bless him forever, and if they were pregnant – AFTER discussing all the alternatives with the liberal ministers in a circle, alternatives that were relatively shitty (leaving college, going to a home, having the baby somewhere, giving it up for adoption, or having it, usually as a single mother, with zero help from unforgiving relatives and doomed to hang out with hippie mothers in the park playing with naked babies and dogs with bandanas), then we would help her take up a collection from all of her friends, maybe even get some cash from the guy, and one of us would drive her to Lambert Field in St. Louis, where she would fly to a clinic in New York, and return, unpregnant, usually in pretty good shape, and being given lots of supportive counseling afterwards because of the guilt thing.

      Then it was legal in Kansas. I drove so many girls, leaving before dawn to get to a small clinic in a run down part of Kansas City, Kansas. I can’t remember all their names, and only a few faces, but I remember the books I read while I waited all day for them to be counseled again, to sign the form that said they had physical or mental health reasons for an abortion, to show their permission slip from the kind doctor, to be tested again, to have their procedure, and to be counseled again. Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre. The Second Sex. The Feminine Mystique. The Complete Poems of Emily Dickenson. The Bell Jar. The Complete Poems of W. H. Auden. The Complete Poems of Dylan Thomas. Catch-22. Love Story. Therese Desqueroux. Madame Bovary. The Condition of Man. Jane Eyre. King Lear. The Religions of Man. On Aggression. The Double Helix. You might say my college education took place in the abortion clinic waiting room.

      By then I was a hippie feminist activist. After Woodstock, it seemed like every single day, the world changed, and new, wonderful idea or a new, lovely freedom was born. Free speech and the end of censorship –with peace marches, sit-ins, teach-ins, The Haight Ashbury Free Press, Comix, and Prairie Fire. Consciousness raising groups and equal rights rallies. News of Stonewall, where gay men fought back. Concerts by Beautiful Day, Quicksilver, Simon and Garfunkel, where everybody smoked dope and dropped acid and nobody got busted, because the cops were stoned, too. The first yoga classes and drum ceremonies and transcendental meditation. Earth Day. The first Food Co-op, the first Daycare Co-op, the Free University. And finally, one January afternoon as I dozed on the ratty couch in our office at the crisis center, our sort-of leader, Rev. Roger walked in and quietly said, “Abortion was legalized today, all over the country, by the Supreme Court.” It was the last and most important freedom that we gained that day. There were five or six of us sitting around, smoking and drinking coffee. Nobody spoke. We just sat there. I didn’t feel joyous, or victorious, or anything. Just grateful, and weary, and a little stunned, like those prisoners in the opera Fidelio, walking out into the sunlight, blinking and stumbling, hardly knowing what to do, but free.

    13. Being 73, my own Mexican abortion comes to mind. Water was broken and I was sent back to Arizona for upcoming hospital
      emergency visit. By the the time I got to Phoenix I had high temperature and heavy bleeding. Spent 5 days in the hospital.
      We can not go back

    14. In the fall of 1969 I was in my first year of teaching, and became pregnant as a result of a one-night stand (fueled by alcohol). I determined early on that I would have an abortion. A group of campus ministers in the college town where I lived were helping women get legal abortions in Puerto Rico and England. I was afraid to go to Puerto Rico, so I booked a flight to London for two, figuring somebody else in the same town would want to go too. Sure enough, a woman also counseled by the ministers called me the next week, and we left over Christmas break on “vacation.” I was eight weeks pregnant and nervous and scared. I told my brother and his wife just before I left, just in case something happened, but I never told my parents. I am grateful that I had the financial resources to be able to obtain a legal abortion prior to Roe v. Wade, but I know many poor women did not. Over the years, I have volunteered with Planned Parenthood in my local community, supported PP with my financial donations and have spoken out in support of PP. I encouraged my two daughters to go to PP with or without without me, and served on my local school district’s health advisory committee for sex ed. It angers me that Congress is continually trying to get around the law passed 43 years ago to ensure safe, legal abortions for all women who desire one – especially poor women.

    15. FRED J ABARHAMS says:

      HAPPY BIRTHDAY

      The day I turned 26 is burned into my mind the same way that people remember events like 9/11 or the JFK Assassination.
      It was 1960, and, as usual, in the vanguard of social change, I was breaking the rules by sharing an apartment with Rochelle. She was a tall, intelligent, attractive brunette, as unconventional, daring and adventurous as I was. A teacher at the Lexington School for the Deaf, she was a free spirit who traveled, alone, all over all over the world. I met her just before she left New York for a year to teach at a US Army School in Europe. We corresponded for that year, and when she returned we dated for a while and then found an apartment together.
      I was deeply in love with her, and quietly tolerated idiosyncrasies that would have brought me to the edge of mayhem with anyone else. Prominent among these was a total inability to be punctual. There was an inverse correlation between the importance of an event and her degree of lateness. It was so predictable that I adjusted the time that I would tell her we were supposed to be somewhere to her logarithmic scale of lateness. As a result I seldom had to wait more than 5 minutes for her to arrive although she would be technically hours late!
      Because of her commitment to lateness and an intense flirtation with hypochondria, I wasn’t overly concerned when she confided that she was late, in a periodic, menstrual sense. As it turned out it the cause was biological. A visit to her loyal gynecologist confirmed that this time her condition was the result of a rapidly growing fetus. The loss of freedom due to unwed motherhood was totally unacceptable to her. She didn’t want a baby and she definitely didn’t want to give up her lifestyle to get married. In those days, having a child out of wedlock would have meant immediate dismissal from the New York City Public School System. It was well before Rowe and the only practical solution was a back alley termination. There was no alternative. Any feelings I may have had to the contrary were not considered. I was hurt and confused but I was also relieved because I was not ready to shoulder the burden of paternity. I was given the task of finding someone to carry out the task. I did not object strenuously.
      After consulting with everyone we knew in the shadow world I found a ”doctor.” He was supposedly an unlicensed medical resident from Jamaica, West Indies (not Queens) and he made house calls. He was a small but nattily dressed black man in a cream colored three piece wool suit. He sported a neat goatee and carried an expensive ostrich leather briefcase under his arm.
      When he arrived at our apartment, I gave him a considerable sum of money and he went into our bedroom where Rochelle was waiting. I stayed in the living room with our friends, the racially mixed couple that had put us in touch with him, and who had availed themselves of his services some months earlier.
      There was real fear in the air. We were involved in a major felony. If anything went wrong and the police showed up, we would be in really serious jeopardy. No one knew what the penalties were, it wasn’t clear, but it wasn’t good. In order to relieve the tension we were self-medicating, passing a joint around. At that most anxious moment the blare of the door bell shot a powerful jolt of adrenaline into my system. It wasn’t the downstairs bell, it was the apartment door. My heart rate revved up to a syncopated double time. After several paralyzed moments of hesitation I stumbled to the door and cracked it open.
      Standing in the dimly lit hallway was a very fey, blond young man holding a red, white and blue portfolio schoolgirl style in front of his chest. Without preamble, he lisped,
      “How many people are living here?”
      The Constitution of the United States mandates that a nationwide census be taken every decade. This charming, unemployed young chorus lad had volunteered to participate in that vital federal tabulation.
      At the risk of perjuring myself no matter how I answered, without really pondering the still unresolved philosophical question of when does life begin, or, for that matter, end, I stammered out,
      ”Just two people.”
      I nervously answered his other questions about our races, religions, number of bathrooms, etc., while bracing my trembling hands and shaking body against the door frame. Apparently satisfied, he graciously handed me the mail that was lying in front of the door, and went to ring the neighbor’s door.
      I collapsed on the couch and mechanically began opening the mail. There were several cards congratulating me on my 26th birthday.
      Only a few weeks later my father died. We had never resolved our rift over my having moved away to live with Rochelle. I knew he was still angry when he died. I couldn’t deal with the double dollops of guilt that I was carrying around, so I resolved them by going home temporarily to take care of my mother. Rochelle took off for South America for the summer. When she returned we sublet the apartment and drifted apart. A few years later she married an acquaintance of ours, a humorless, pale faced, blue lipped attorney. They moved to LA where he became a prominent attorney in the film Industry. They had two kids.
      I didn’t keep in touch, though, once, while having lunch with my daughter in an outdoor café on Central Park South, she walked by with her daughter. She was wearing a Putumayo type white cotton dress she had bought from a native in Colombia. Although she had gained a bit of weight, she looked good, and we chatted briefly.
      In 1998, I heard from a mutual friend that her husband had died and thought of calling her, but never got around to it. After a discreet period of time, however, she got my number from the mutual friend and called me because she was coming to visit her parents in New Hope. We made a date to meet in New York some weeks later. Since we had always loved the Broadway theatre, and a good friend of mine was then playing opposite Julie Andrews in Victor, Victoria I called him and got his house seats.
      In 48 years she had not basically changed. I was standing alone, boiling, in the lobby when she finally showed up, a full hour and a half late just in time for intermission. I couldn’t see watching only the second act so we went to dinner without seeing the show. It turned out to be Julie Andrews’ last ever Broadway performance, her voice collapsed completely the next day and she will probably never sing in the theatre again.
      Oh yes, why was she late for the theatre? Well, she was staying with her parents at their home in New Hope, Pennsylvania. She had taken their car into the city, and because she didn’t want to spend the money for a parking garage, she had driven around the mid Manhattan theatre district for an hour and half looking for a parking space. She finally found one, but she lost any chance of renewing a relationship with me.
      I realized that I had never told her about my 26th birthday and the appearance of the census man. Unless she reads this she will never know the back story about that traumatic evening so many years ago.

      • Fred, this is one of the most interesting stories I’ve read in a long time. Thank you for sharing and writing the way you do.

    16. In 1934, my grandmother learned she was pregnant with her fifth child. This was the Great Depression in Kansas, and she was a desperate and terrified farm wife. She went to the local doctor and begged him to take care of it. He refused. She gave herself an abortion with a knitting needle. Peritonitis set in and she died in agony. The doctor filled out the cause of death as Food Poisoning, because, he said, he wanted to “spare her family the shame.”

      My father was the oldest child, age 6. He was the only one who remembered their mother.

    17. My second husband, at age 60 told me, “I died when I was 9 years old. The rest of this is just waiting for my heart to stop.” He was referencing his age when his Aunt Kathleen, age 19, committed suicide and nearly killed the rest of her family by turning on the family car in the garage. After his mother died many years late, we inherited various prayer books and journals, old notes kept by his grandmother, mother, and Kathleen. His grandmother wrote of her daughters death in a series of short notes jotted down in the blank pages of a prayer book: “Kathleen told me she might be pregnant. I told her we will go to the doctor together.” And then a few days later “Kathleen died, she left the car running in the garage.” Both his grandmother and his mother said, they basically stayed drunk the rest of their lives. The trauma to my husband and his brother, who were both very close to their Aunt Kathleen, was lifelong. I truly believe no one in that family ever forgave themselves, and his grandmother always wondered, did her attempts to get her daughter to keep the baby lead to the suicide.

    18. StarBlackNight says:

      My mother worked with an RN back in the late 60s to help assist young girls who were ‘in trouble’ in a shady motel in the South. They buried remains out behind the hotel. But this nurse was trying to help as much as she could with pilfered tools from the hospital. It was still imperfect and many of the girls bled out, and could seek no further help after the abortion for fear of stigma and charges. My mom had an abortion herself because she had left her abusive husband and could not afford it on her own. She was only 18. She died a traumatized, bitter, depressed woman who feared doctors so much that she refused to go and never knew she had cancer until she died.

    19. Longtime Planned Parenthood volunteer Linn Duval Harwell shared this, about the death of her mother:

      Linn Duvall was born in 1923 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, “in my grandparents’ home, which was an ugly yellow brick house. Ugly! But a lot of love in there, and a lot of tragedy too.” The house contained her grandparents, her parents, two sisters and one brother — and eventually, one more sister. “We had three bedrooms and one bathroom, so we were really jammed in there.”

      The children came pretty much on schedule. “Between all of us there’s two years, except between me and my youngest sister there were four. That’s because my mother had a successful abortion. Then she had my sister, and then she had the fatal abortion.”

      Linn remembers very little of her mother: “Just things like when she’d open a can of tomato soup. We liked tomato soup. And when she sat in the claw-foot bathtub and my grandmother handed her one child after another and she scrubbed us up. I remember that. And she was very, very loving. I sure do remember that!

      Linn’s father was a newspaperman, not exactly a lucrative profession. “I remember at one time he was making eighteen dollars a week with a wife and five children.” It must have played a part in the abortions: the family couldn’t afford to get any bigger.

      The fatal abortion happened in a fairly typical way. “The woman who helped her was a nurse who came from a very well-known family in Pittsburgh. She used a knitting needle, and that’s all I know. She perforated the uterus, and my mother would have developed blood poisoning from the infection.

      “After the abortion, she was abed in the front room of the house where we were born. And my sister Eleanor, who was 10, was lying in a cot beside her. My mother, knowing she was dying, said to her, ‘You will be the mother now.’ Just imagine saying that to a child!”

      Clara Duvall was 34 when she died in March 1929.

    20. Penny Duff, RN (ret.) says:

      Read “When Abortion Was a Crime” available on Amazon in print and as e-book. I am so thankful that my 1972 abortion in Washington, DC was legal.

    21. So in this modern age, the 14 year old girl would go to Planned Parenthood, get the abortion, pay for it somehow and her statutory rapist would walk.

      We’ve come a long way baby.

      • Candice Hanfelder says:

        Nothing is perfect, Zelie. When I was 17, I got a job working lunch hours at a reputable bar that served lunch to Attorneys and Judges and office workers from the Court House a block away, as well as store merchants and college students in my home town. When I turned 18, they let me tend bar because 18 was the legal age to serve alcohol then. I met an attorney who I thought I adored and was a little in awe of who was only 29 years old. He was going through a divorce, which I secretly questioned, but the divorce was finalized about a week after I started seeing him so I trusted him probably more than I should have. When it came to sex, he pushed for it and I said I was not on the pill. He began asking me about how I felt about abortion, giving different scenarios as to why a woman might want an abortion. He was debating hard for some sex that night but no was my answer. We did eventually have sex and I did eventually get pregnant. His answer was, “We’ll have to have that taken out of there.” when I told him. I was still living with my parents, and my doctor also advised that I have an abortion because I caught something earlier from the attorney which we both took pills for but I didn’t know I was pregnant when I took the pills. The Dr. said the baby could be severely deformed by the pills I took. I had the abortion but I have a problem with the attorney feeling like it was okay to do it that way. I know I was young and romantic but he shouldn’t have misused me that way. Still, I’m grateful for legalized abortions. Never go back.

      • And if she doesn’t have the abortion, in many U.S. states the rapist can get partial custody. How is that a good alternative?

    22. In the 1970s I worked for a time in a medical clinic that had an outpatient surgical center that performed pregnancy terminations. But the state kept flip-flopping on allowing the procedures. I recall arriving at work one day to learn of a young woman’s death when her appointment was cancelled at the last minute due to one of the flip-flops. Death by coat hanger.

    23. Catherine says:

      In 1966 my mother got pregnant with her 5th child. My father said they could not afford another child so my mother went to Kansas to a back room abortion “clinic “.
      She watched a white Poodle eat her fetus from a bowl on the floor!!

    24. There are so many women who need help but can’t reach out because the means isn’t available to them. It’s heartbreaking to hear these stories, as they were certainly young, strong women with so much potential.

      It’s still illegal where I am from, and I still hear stories of the terrible experiences some women have with shady abortionists.

    25. Mary Dickey says:

      My great-aunt Agnes Colbert died at age 24 during the 1920’s, long before I was born. She had three small boys and when she became pregnant with the fourth child, her husband told her he would leave her as he didn’t want any more children. She sought an illegal abortion, which killed her. Her husband asked various family members to take the children and when no one could, he placed them in Boys Town. No one ever knew what happened to them after that. The official story in the family was that she had died in childbirth. My grandmother told me the “shameful” truth. She said she had felt guilty all her life because she had been unable to take in her sister’s sons, but she was a new widow with two kids of her own and only a meager income. She said she wondered all the time what had happened to her nephews. A sad, sad story on so many levels.

    26. Cecelia Peterson says:

      I am a long-time Emergency Department nurse, but my career started after Roe v. Wade. I never had to hold the hand of a terrified young woman as she bled to death from an illegal abortionist’s botched procedure. But I know many of my older peers who did, and their stories were horrific.

      If abortion is made illegal, it will not stop abortion. It will only stop safe abortions.

    27. I haven’t needed an abortion and hope I never do. However, planned parenthood saved my life. Just this past summer(2015) I made an appointment at planned parenthood to have my birth control taken out because it was causing me to have vaginal bleeding. Thanks to my desperation to have it taken out my doctor finally took me seriously and agreed to take it out. Although planned parenthood didn’t directly save my life, I still give them the credit for not turning me away and giving me am appointment, which in turn saved my life.

    28. Judith powers hanratty says:

      In 1966, my sister had a “kitchen table” abortion. Her uterus was punctured causing hemorrhaging. My husband, who was in the Navy, saved her life by bringing her to the hospital. They both faced criminal prosecution. Patti had an emergency hysterectomy. The horror, blood and fear has never been forgotten. Safe abortions must be available.

    29. Stephanie Harper says:

      Another aspect of abortion being legal now rarely gets covered.
      In 1965 my mother was pregnant, two years after having me. She was married, and the pregnancy was planned. Sadly at less than 12 weeks along she began to miscarry. She called the doctor, terrified, from home where she was caring for her two year old (me). She was told that she could not go to the hospital or the doctor’s office. She had to completely miscarry at home and could only be seen in the office after it was all over. Because abortion was illegal, the doctor and hospital could not risk even being accused of terminating a pregnancy. My mother survived, and had two more children after this experience. But it made a conservative Christian farm girl into a vocal proponent of the right to safe abortions.

    30. In March 1972 when I was a Senior at a Catholic High School, I became pregnant. My parents figured it out and told me that they would let me make my own decision. i opted to abort. My father took me to NYC where it was legal. The staff at Wickersham Hospital treated me with kindness and respect. My roommate was in her early 20s and from Michigan. A young man held her hand while she wept. On the flight home, my father said to me “that girl you shared a room with could easily have had that baby and raised it with the guy who brought her to NYC”. I said ” Really, that was her older brother. She should marry him and raise a baby she does not want.”? And it was then that i realized that it is not my place to judge or question another person’s decision about whether to bring a child into the world. I do not know her circumstances.

    31. Jane Highwater says:

      It was 1965 or somewhere around that year. I was ten or twelve. The adults were talking in hushed whispers about a scandal in the next town over. A young woman had disappeared. Her body was found in a shallow grave down by the river. She had been pregnant. Her boyfriend was going to jail.
      Never again. Never!

    32. concerned guy says:

      this should be an issue that only women get to vote on, not a bunch of old, privileged, white politicians.
      Imagine if women voted on men’s health issues.

    33. Other than in the retro world of Republicans right wing fanatics who seem nostalgic for those pre Roe v Wade days there is nothing warm and fuzzy about a time when access to birth control was difficult and abortion was criminalized. Good health care and control over ones body is a woman’s birthright. Lets not forget those times when women paid a steep price for illegal procedures For a reminder of the good old days when abortion was both risky business and a crime http://envisioningtheamericandream.com/2015/10/05/controlling-womens-bodies-risky-business/

    34. Constance says:

      48 years ago today, an ambulance roared through Beverly Hills at dawn. I lay inside, age 17, in agonizing pain, hallucinating and dying of blood poisoning from a perforated womb, the result of an illegal abortion by a granny in Boyle Heights. I had been sick for days. My father, an MD, first thought I had meningitis, then peritonitis. I didn’t dare tell him that I knew exactly why I was in such agonizing pain. I have never told this story. We cannot go back.

    35. Elizabeth says:

      I was the last child of 4 in the mid 1950s. It was before The Pill, so it was 4 children in 5 years. My mother loves children and rejoices at the birth of each of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, but she has told me a story that happened around the time I was born, of a neighbor woman who had 10 children and found herself pregnant again. Shortly after she found out she was expecting she ‘stepped in front of a train’, killing herself, the unborn baby, and leaving 10 children without a mother. My kind, loving, Christian mother of 4, grandmother of 7, great-grandmother to 8 still recalls with tremendous sympathy and understanding why that mother made such a desperate, tragic, irreversible decision. In a time when there was inadequate birth control available, and abortion was expensive, hard to come by, unsafe, and illegal, it was not an uncommon story. How is any woman going to prevent getting pregnant when birth control is forbidden and unreliable? Where was a woman with 10 children going to find the money, time, privacy, and support to leave the country to find an abortionist? Not knowing what other struggles the woman was having in her marriage or personal life in addition to the 10 children, Mom still found it understandable that this woman would feel so incredibly desperate and out of options that suicide-by-train made sense on some level. My mother has never forgotten that poor woman and her family, and has been a supporter of abortion rights ever since. Having raised 4 closely- spaced children herself, she felt tremendous compassion with the woman’s circumstance, knowing how difficult it is to carry and give birth to children when you DO have the resources (physical endurance, access to sleep, food, support, money for housing and clothes, medical care…all that it takes to do it well), and how tragically hard-to-impossible it is to do the same without it. As I entered high school she had several private talks with me to let me know that if I should ever find myself in a similar situation, that she would be supportive and open to whatever option I felt I needed to take. Fortunately for me, birth control and sex education was widely available when I came of age, as was abortion, as well as the notion that women, of course, held the right to control what went on in their own bodies. To go back to the days when women silently nodded with understanding on hearing that another woman killed herself rather than go through a pregnancy, childbirth, and commitment to raising a child she didn’t or couldn’t want, is to go back to the days when women bleed to death or die of sepsis after unsafe, illegal abortions. Making them illegal won’t stop them- it will just make it more dangerous for everyone involved. The book, “When Abortion Was A Crime” details the black market underground that existed before Roe v Wade: because it was illegal and dangerous if caught, the high cost of having one made it lucrative for anyone to get involved in it. Any person with an entrepreneurial tendency or a need for quick and easy cash got into it for the money, and, because of the stiff penalties associated with it (murder charges for all involved), secrecy was paramount. The self-proclaimed abortionist didn’t need any training or skills, just a private room and word-of-mouth. They knew the desperate pregnant women wouldn’t tell where they’d been, and the abortionist would go to great lengths to hide their own identities and contacts. Mistakes or sloppy results had terrible, often fatal or life-altering consequences for the women, but very rarely for the abortionist. There was no accountability for anyone except the women and anyone who attempted to help them. We can’t go back to that model. Sex education from an early age for both men and women, easy access to birth control, and safe, legal abortion needs to be available to all.

    36. Dustin Nelson says:

      I never knew things were so bad before. Sadly I doubt any of these soul-crushing stories will sway anyone on the anti-choice side; unless we can bother to get out and vote against the republicans (let’s be honest about our enemies) we WILL be going back. Inaction supports the other side.

    37. I was a bit luckier than the girls of the 60’s I got pregnant in 1973 (I am now 59) I was 15 and the only place to get an abortion was either in CA or NY – my mom knew, supported me and helped me with the money but she could not go with me – so I flew to NY alone. Kinda very scary for a 15 year old girl. The women of the clinic meet several of us at the airport – we were taken to the clinic, I remember it was the first time I ever saw women that didn’t shave. They were loving kind and supportive – the procedure was preformed with care and in safe conditions, the clinic then put 4 of us up in a hotel room together for the night – 4 girls strangers from different places in the United States – we didn’t have much money between the 4 of us but we pooled it and walked to a neighborhood store and got snacks – and then huddled together for the rest of the night – the next day the clinic came and made sure all of us got on the correct planes to fly home – I am not sorry and I am not ashamed – I consider myself one of the lucky ones just on the fringe of abortion being legal in 2 states.

    38. Thank goodness for legal abortions. As a senior myself, I have heard too many horrible tragedies thrust upon young women who became pregnant, some through rape, incest, manipulation, or foolishness. I wish you would set aside your pre-planned Bible judgments about women who were alienated, marginalized, denied burial, condemned by their families, churches, etc. Don’t judge .. but don’t forget history which if not heeded, could repeat itself.

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