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

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.

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.