Before Roe, women were forced to rely on their friends and the grapevine to procure abortions. Some doctors would perform the procedure, but you would have to find out about them from someone who knew—and breaking that silence could feel impossible. Even if women did find clandestine providers, many then had to travel across state lines to get the procedure. Others resorted to back-alley abortions by manipulative and abusive providers.
Letty Cottin Pogrebin, a co-founder of Ms. and one of the original signatories of the historic “We Have Had Abortions” petition published in the first issue in 1972, told her pre-Roe abortion story during her interview for MAKERS. Pogrebin, who faced an unwanted pregnancy as an unwed teen before Roe, had limited options—and at the time, she was intent on finding a provider or choosing death.
Women who got pregnant before Roe v. Wade had very few options. Women died. Lots of women died. When I found out I was pregnant, I was in my senior year in college. I would have killed myself. This isn’t hyperbole. If I couldn’t have had an abortion at 18, I would have killed myself—because I couldn’t see how I could possibly live my life. I had to work. I didn’t have rich parents who were going to support me. I didn’t have a husband.
I asked my dorm counselor for help, and she told me she couldn’t help me. My roommate and I found out about, through the grapevine, a fantastic, saintly doctor: Dr. Spencer, in Pennsylvania.
Pogrebin relied on the grapevine when everything else had failed. She survived because of it.
— MAKERS (@MAKERSwomen) June 28, 2018