Daring to Remember: From El Paso to Juarez and Back Before Roe

This post is part of Daring to Remember, an ongoing series of stories about life in the years before Roe v. Wade and in the face of contemporary attacks on the right to abortionIn these uncertain times, we are fighting for Roe and safe, legal abortion access with our own testimonies about life without choice. We are daring to remember what a nation without safe, legal abortion access looks like. Submit a story here.

My abortion at 16 years old in 1967 was decided on by my mother and the father of my boyfriend. I was sent alone on a plane to El Paso, where I was instructed to take a cab—but not a Yellow cab—to Juarez and go to a supermarket, telling customs that I was going shopping. I was given a secret number to ask for if approached to make sure it was the right person.

At the supermarket, a man approached me and told me to get into his car. I did as told and I was driven around and around for about a half-hour and then into a middle-class neighborhood. As we entered the driveway, the garage door was opened by a woman inside and then quickly closed. I was led to a living room, where I sat with two other girls. When my name was called, I was interviewed by the doctor who asked for the agreed-upon money and then demanded $200 more—or he would turn me away. I had about $75 more for food and cabs, and I gave it all to him. He called me a whore.

El Paso’s second ward in 1972. (Photo by Danny Lyon for the National Archives.)

He led me into a bedroom, where I removed my clothes and was given a gown. I was placed on a gurney and wheeled into a converted operating room with the doctor, the woman who had lifted the garage door and another man. They gave me ether. At one point in the procedure, I heard all of them yelling at me: “Breathe!” “Breathe!” I came out of the ether fog and heard them clearly but I couldn’t make my lungs work. The doctor still had an instrument inside of me and I could feel the pain. The other man socked me in the stomach, hard, and I gasped for breath. Then they put the ether back on me and I was out again.

When I woke up a few hours later, I was laying in the bedroom with the other girls. The woman came in and put three tampons tied together inside of me and a large pad. She told me to get dressed. I was led back to the car and driven about five minutes away into a very sketchy neighborhood and dropped off in front of a bar. It was night, and there were many men hanging around outside. I had no money for food or a cab back to the United States. I was crying.

One man came up to me and said he would drive me to El Paso. I didn’t know him or what he had planned, but I had no choice. I knew if anyone in the United States found out about the abortion, my mother would have been prosecuted for sending me across state lines for “immoral purposes.” So I got in his car—and this angel of a man took me to the airport in El Paso.

By the time I got to the airport, I was hemorrhaging heavily and had bled through the tampons and pad. The doctor had given me some antibiotics and four pads in a bag. I sat on the toilet for a long time, bleeding heavily and feeling lightheaded. Then I heard my flight called and I put on two of the pads and got on the plane. The bleeding eased up when I was in the air but started again by the time I got home. I hemorrhaged for about a week—lost 10 pounds and missed the first week of my junior year in high school. I was devastated by the whole experience and dropped out of school a few months later, not to return until I was 28, when I got my GED and started college.

I could have died at that man’s home, died standing in front of that bar or bled to death at home. No one should ever have to go through what I did. I felt defeated, ashamed, branded, lost all self esteem.

I don’t know who the man was who drove me back to El Paso or why he did it. I am thankful to him—the one person who showed me kindness during that ordeal.