Daring to Remember: What Women Will Do for Choice

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.

“I was 18 and in my first year of college. The star of the football team and I fell in love—but it was 1966, and he was African American and I was white. We got engaged, and my Catholic parents kicked me out of the house. When my boyfriend got a football scholarship to Berkley, we saw each other every other weekend; I had to quit college to support myself. When I found out I was pregnant, panic set in. My fiancé abandoned me. I got a phone number from an acquaintance: Bring $500 and meet the man in front of Ships Restaurant on Hollywood Blvd at 3 p.m. tomorrow. Blue jacket. Give him the money and he will give you a ph number. Called the number, show up Saturday at this address—a small, closed doctor’s office in the San Fernando Valley. I had no idea who this man was. Terrified, I undressed, and he stuck a needle in my arm and I blacked out. When I woke up I was in excruciating pain; it was hard to breathe. The friend who was waiting in the car took me to Bob’s Big Boy, where we stayed for five or so hours until I could go home.” — Amanda, Washington

“I was a recent college graduate who felt I was missing the sexual revolution. So I foolishly slept with a much older artist and I didn’t know anything about birth control. He of course used nothing.It was 1967, my sister was dying and I was unhappy and depressed. I knew no one to help me, eventually I told my parents who arranged for me to fly to Puerto Rico and I had a procedure there in a doctors small clinic. My mother went with me. I have never regretted the abortion but often wish I wasn’t so stupid to get into trouble and cause my parents so much worry. And risk my own life. I was lucky, no health problems. I wish I had known more about birth control and that there had been somewhere I could have gone. I can’t believe we are headed back to those terrible times.” — Susan, New York

“When I lived in rural Colorado on a horse ranch, my equine veterinarian told me about a client of his who’d asked him if he would give her meds that would cause abortion or if he’d perform one on her mechanically. He was saddened and horrified that she was so desperate he was her best option. He declined. I asked what happened to her and he said she moved away not long after that and didn’t know.” — Mary Prewitt, Connecticut

I had an unplanned pregnancy when I was a senior in high school. The father and I planned a wedding, but then the Catholic priest told his mother not to let him marry me because of my religious beliefs. I was sent out of state to live with strangers awaiting my baby’s birth and then had to surrender him to an adoption agency to be adopted. I was 17 years old when I became a mother to this lost-to-me baby. That loss impacted my entire life and still does at age 71.

Even though I was obviously sexually active, I was never given any information to avoid a second pregnancy. No surprise that a year later, my now-husband and I were dating, and I got pregnant again. I knew there was no way I would have a baby and not be able to raise it, but marriage was not in the cards for us at that time, and he had just been drafted into the Army. I would kill myself first.

We tried many old wive’s tales to abort the baby spontaneously; one put me in the hospital. There, a doctor told me he could not or would not help me, but that if I had the abortion, to come see him afterwards and he would check me over to ensure I was okay. Because I had stayed in the Chicago area after surrendering my baby, there were some resources I didn’t have the first time around in a small town. A person told me to go to a drugstore in the inner city and ask for an individual by the name of “Rudy.” I paid him the money and was told to go to a particular city motel and room number at a particular time. I had a friend with me for support, and she was told to wait in the bathroom. I was told a disguised man would come in the motel room to perform the procedure. I awoke later and was given antibiotics and told to go home. Later, I did go see the doctor—and he examined me and said I was lucky and okay.

I was just turning 19, and had no fear of the abortion, since the alternative was to kill myself anyway. Only as an adult do I know how lucky I was that nothing bad happened to me, and that I could have another baby once I was safely married at age 23. No one should have to go through this. And I was a lucky one.

— Joy, Arizona

“It was 1974, in a foreign country. Having stopped taking the pill in 1973, I also stopped having periods; a foreign female doctor couldn’t tell me why, so, after taking her prescribed medicine with no success, I assumed I was defective and would never have children. Three months later, she tells me I’m pregnant. She never told me the drugs I took were horrendously poisonous to a fetus; the abnormalities were pages long after I did the research. The country didn’t allow abortions, so I flew back alone to the states, where the procedure was legal, and the male doctor there said I had a 50/50 chance the baby would be born okay—stupid odds considering abnormalities included missing or unformed arms, legs, internal organs, brain, basically everything that makes a human. It was an awful experience in the clinic room, inside the labor and delivery wing, where I had to remind the male doctor to close the hallway door. No one comforted me, including the nurses. No one checked on me as they brought in moms ready to deliver their babies to check out the facilities—and point me out as one of “those” women. After returning overseas, the botched in-hospital procedure left me with a uterine infection, which yet another male doctor diagnosed as stomach flu. While I went on to have two children, by forced C-Section, I refuse, to this day, to believe any male doctor who thinks they know more than I do about my own body or mind, regardless of their training. I had my tubes tied at 26 and a hysterectomy at 30 because it’s my body and I get to choose what I do with it.” — Carole, Alabama

“I had 3 illegal abortions in the sixties. The first in 1962: I almost died, peritonitis had invaded my major organs, I ended up in the hospital but survived. The second was in 1964: I was taken to a doctor’s home, but blindfolded until got inside, and it was dark with a very dim light. I was got on a hospital bed and was put to sleep. When I awoke it was over, and I was given antibiotics and blindfolded again so I couldn’t identify where I had been. Very underground and mysterious. The third time was in a doctor’s office, but I don’t know if he was a licensed doctor, because I ended up in the hospital again—not because of infection, but because part of the fetus and placenta were still inside me. That was the last. I finally said no more. Women should never have to go through that again—it’s traumatic and life threatening. I’m 75 today. This happened in my late teens and early twenties. I remember every moment as if yesterday.” — Patti, Illinois

Abortion rights protestors in 1978. (State Library of New South Wales / Creative Commons)

“I was born after the passage of Roe v. Wade, but in a state with strict abortion laws and general lack of access without traveling a good distance. As a teenager, I became pregnant from rape and was unable to attain parental consent for an abortion, nor did I have the resources to obtain one in another state. I had learned a method for a do-it-yourself abortion from a friend of a friend; the treatment consisted of an elaborate vitamin C overdose. This did expel the fetus, but I ended up choking on my own vomit and losing consciousness. I was found by my mother in a pool of blood. I was not taken to the hospital.” — Anonymous

“In 1939, at 19 years old, my mother got pregnant by my father before they were married. When she told her parents, they berated and shamed her—wouldn’t even allow her to sit on the front porch when it was hot. They were mortified. Scared and alone, not wanting to be married yet, she did the only thing she felt she could do: try to end the pregnancy. She did this with a coat hanger in the bathroom, unassisted. She cried as she flushed the fetus down the toilet. She survived with no help, no aftercare for her wounded uterus, no support from anyone. When she told her parents of her ‘miscarriage,’ they said, ‘too bad, you are ruined now, you’re getting married.’ For the rest of her life she referred to it as a miscarriage, still feeling the shame bestowed upon her by her family and society.” — Elaine, Georgia

“I was 13 years old, and I was date raped. He had me trapped. No one had warned me that a man who (apparently) liked me would do that. I don’t know how long it took for me to figure out I was pregnant, but not knowing what to do, I told my mother, who told my father, her ex-husband, who asked around and found a doctor. The abortion was done in an apartment and afterward I went back to my dad’s home, where I just kept bleeding. I sat on the toilet and blood came out like urine. I didn’t know anything might be wrong. Eventually it stopped, but years later I realized I could have died. When I was 17, abortions were legal—and it was so simple, painless.” — Michal, California

I had an illegal abortion in 1968, when I was 16 years old. To find out that I was actually pregnant, I gave my urine to a college friend to take to her college health services; there were no over-the-counter pregnancy tests. I would have been kicked out of public high school if they found out I was pregnant. In those days, even pregnant, married teachers were terminated in public schools.

I had been raped by my parent’s friend, who was a psychiatrist and threatened to have me committed if I told anyone. Fortunately, I had an older friend who had money to pay for my abortion—$250—and a car to take me to New York City.

My instructions were to come alone, knock on the apartment door, hand the cash and follow directions. I knocked, handed over the money, and the man who opened the door punched me in the face. I came to in a pool of blood and pain. I was able to crawl and stumble to a phone booth to call my friend and get to the hospital. I used my friend’s ID, as she was over 18. At the hospital, I said I had a bad period—but they were not fooled, and nurses kept yelling at me, saying I deserved to die because I killed my baby. Because I would not give information, and they could not prove abortion, I was not arrested as they were threatening to do.

I am grateful that I did not die and became the activist that I have been for 50 years. I am more than sad and distressed that abortion may become illegal again. Now, in my sixties, those days come back to me. I remember taking women from ew Jersey, where abortion was illegal, to New York, where it became legal in 1970.

By making abortion illegal is not going to stop women from getting abortions, it will be dangerous and life threatening.

— Judi, Florida

“This is not my story, but a story told to me by a very dear friend of mine. She was around 68 years old and a client. I was a hairdresser and we became immediate friends. Her name is Grace and she was, in my opinion, a badass woman. I wanted to be like her when I became her age. It was around 1950-ish when Grace found herself pregnant and unmarried. She had heard about giving herself an abortion but wasn’t sure how to do it. So, with a little help from her best friend, she discovered that most women were using knitting needles, crochet hooks, coat-hangers—whatever the ladies could find. Grace used a knitting needle and started stabbing herself in the vagina until she passed a large blood clot. Grace assumed that was the fetus and she disposed of the mass and when she was able to, she went to a doctor to clear out any other masses. Grace was lucky: she did not die, and she was able to, years later, go on to have a healthy baby girl. I have never forgotten Grace and I have never forgotten the effect this story has had on me and my fight to keep Roe v. Wade from being reversed. It has been over 30 years. Grace died about 15 years ago, and I hope she is looking down upon me while I am writing this and smiling. She had a wonderful, ornery sense of humor and I know she would not want any woman to experience what she did so many years ago. Please, I beg you to do whatever is necessary to prevent the Supreme Court from overturning Roe. It truly is a matter of life and death.” — Val, California

“I was a new medical social worker at a teaching hospital in 1972 and worked with the OB-GYN Residency clinic. They referred ‘crisis pregnancy center’ patients to me. I can still recall how important it was to include an assessment of suicide risk in my options counseling along with an assessment of her support system and financial means. The options included keeping the pregnancy and releasing for adoption—including going to a maternity home, one about 30 miles away and another out of state. Women who had the means could fly to New York or Toronto for an abortion, but suicide or hurting themselves was a real concern for women who didn’t have the means. During that year, I saw one woman who was admitted following a botched abortion. She survived but would never be able to carry a pregnancy again. Once Roe v. Wade was decided, the hospital where I worked happily started an outpatient abortion clinic.” — Quess, Michigan

“I was born in 1968; my mother became pregnant again shortly thereafter. However, there was something horribly wrong—and within her first trimester, she was septic, with a raging fever, and there was something horribly wrong with the fetus… It would probably not be viable once born, although it had a heartbeat and was indeed growing, in some fashion. Carrying the pregnancy was literally physically killing my mother; the only way to save her was to abort. However, the doctors could not do so without court approval. So, instead of going through a relatively simple first trimester abortion, she was laid up, terribly ill, while the court went over all the documentation, still initially refused and then finally agreed—in court terms, relatively quickly, but in pregnancy terms, after a devastating delay. By the time her abortion was approved, she was near the end of the second trimester, almost dead herself, had been in the hospital for weeks—and, instead of the quick and less invasive “D&C” approach, now that she’d felt the baby move within her, and was living in the terror and heartache that the baby, and she, were both dying, she also had to undergo the more intense and invasive later-term abortion procedures used at the time. Longer recovery time, in every aspect, and she nearly died. We were just lucky that she didn’t.” — Michelle, New Mexico

“My mother told me she had an illegal abortion before I was born; she later told my sister that it was because her stepfather had impregnated her. Other than having his child in small rural town in the sixties—to publicly allow that shame to destroy her own life and the lives of all her younger brothers and sisters—her only alternative was to risk death to end it.” — Anonymous

“In 1968, when abortion was still illegal in California, I was a student at UCLA. My roommate, a Latina who was the first one in her family to attend college, got pregnant by her much older boyfriend, who bolted as soon as he learned of her situation. She was desperate and afraid her parents would disown her if they knew. She found a place in Mexico that did abortions for $500, but she would have to drop out of college to earn the money. I was white and upper-middle class, as was my boyfriend, and between us we loaned her the money. We doubted she’d repay us, and we were correct, but at least the Mexican abortion doctor did a good job and she returned to UCLA in good health. I got on the pill and took it religiously.” — Maggie Anton, California

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