Ms. readers share their experiences of abortion pre- and post-Roe v. Wade.
The Supreme Court is poised to overrule the longstanding precedents of Roe v. Wade, representing the largest blow to women’s constitutional rights in history. A new series from Ms., Our Abortion Stories, chronicles readers’ experiences of abortion pre- and post-Roe. Abortions are sought by a wide range of people, for many different reasons. There is no single story. Telling stories of then and now shows how critical abortion has been and continues to be for women and girls.
Prior to Roe, those seeking abortions were forced to find secret and sometimes unsafe providers through word of mouth, borrow cash, and travel hundreds of miles for procedures. It was a risk. Some women were injured. Some were raped. Some were rendered infertile. Some died.
The Court’s ruling in the Roe decision greatly improved the lives of generations of women, giving them previously unknown levels of freedom, autonomy and control over their lives. Even still, abortion access is illusory to many—particularly women of color, low-income and rural women.
Women who have had abortions have spoken out many times during the last 49 years. Millions have marched in countless rallies and demonstrations for reproductive rights. By a margin of two to one, Americans support the tenets of Roe.
In January, Ms. relaunched its iconic “We Have Had Abortions” petition campaign with the encouragement and support of some of the original signers of the original 1972 petition, in which 53 well-known U.S. women declared that they had undergone abortions—despite laws in most states rendering the procedure illegal. The Washington Post credited the 1972 petition with the “start of a powerful strategy in the U.S. abortion rights movement: ending the secrecy that had kept many women out of the fight.”
The fall of Roe will strain abortion access nationwide. We cannot, we must not, lose the right to safe and accessible abortion or access to birth control. Help Ms. continue the fight today. Share your abortion story by emailing [email protected], and sign the petition.
Editor’s note: These stories have been excerpted and lightly edited for clarity.
“I had an abortion to save my life after being raped by a boyfriend.
“At that time, there were only two doctors that performed abortions in Idaho. I have no idea how many doctors there are now. If the laws that are being proposed now had been in effect then, I would not be here, nor my beautiful child who came along later in a loving relationship. I choose to be alive and deal with all the emotions involved in these extremely painful situations. That is my spiritual and physical journey. No government—or religious group—has the right to take that pain, or the choice, away from me.”—Lark Corbeil
If the laws that are being proposed now had been in effect then, I would not be here, nor my beautiful child who came along later in a loving relationship.
“I was 24-years-old, broke and living alone in Barcelona, my hometown, when I first got pregnant. The father was a traveling salesman. Once I discovered he traded in drugs, I cut all ties. I found out I was pregnant two weeks later.
“I wasn’t emotionally or financially ready to be a mother. I struggled to pay rent and keep the house heated. A pregnancy would jeopardize my part-time job and a child out of wedlock would shock my very Catholic family.
“Abortions were illegal in the early ’80s, but my friend’s sister in Amsterdam offered to help. Like thousands of Spanish women, I went to a Dutch abortion clinic. Many women in the U.S. today will not have the privilege of such help. They will endure illegal and dangerous abortions or birth an unwanted child.
“After, I tried to push the abortion out of my mind. I didn’t condemn my decision, but I sometimes found myself calculating how old the child would be and felt a pang of guilt. These feelings increased as I faced an abortion again, 15 years later.
“I’d been married only a few months when the ob-gyn explained the baby was not viable. I would have a miscarriage or it would be stillborn or die immediately after birth. He recommended an abortion.
“I fell into a depression that lasted a year. I hated filling out questionnaires at the doctor’s office on the pregnancies, children, miscarriages and abortions I’d had. I lied. I buried what happened and called it a miscarriage.
“Finally, I made peace with the truth: I hadn’t been able to welcome these two beings into the world. It was the best I could do at the time.
“I’ll tell the truth next time: Pregnancies: Seven. Children: One. Miscarriages: Four. Abortions: Two. There’s a lingering sadness, but I am not ashamed.”—Isidra Mencos
“In 1969, I was a single mother, no child support, working every overtime hour I could and hoping for a promotion. Despite using a diaphragm, I got pregnant. I knew that an out-of-wedlock pregnancy would ruin any hope of a promotion at the conservative telephone company where I worked. There was another tricky problem—abortion was illegal.
“But, I thought, I was lucky. A friend told me of a woman in Ensenada, Mexico who could help and we went to a blue house in the hills. The old woman inserted a catheter into my cervix and promised she’d give me a ‘miscarriage.’
“I didn’t miscarry. Instead, she gave me a raging pelvic infection, and my ob-gyn gave me a stern lecture about not having an abortion until the infection was cured. That took several weeks and I was near the cut off point. Another friend told me of a doctor in Mexico City who was safe. The doctor agreed to do it for $400. With costs for airfare and a hotel room … it was impossible. Once again, I was lucky! A friend loaned me money.
“On a cold morning in August, shivering in my white sundress, I found myself standing on a corner, waiting for a man I didn’t know to bring me to the doctor. Kidnap, rape and murder were whirling in my head. A man drove to the curb, rolled down the window and said, ‘Are you Pam? Get into the car.’ He took me to a clinic where they were kind to me, gave me anesthesia and ended my problem.
“Life went on. I did get that promotion and paid back my friend. Without her, I would never have been able to go on to the life I’ve led. She and that doctor changed everything for me.
“Now, I volunteer at a local Planned Parenthood clinic, helping patients get through a safe, caring and affordable abortion.”—Pam Wright
A man drove to the curb, rolled down the window and said, ‘Are you Pam? Get into the car.’ He took me to a clinic where they were kind to me, gave me anesthesia and ended my problem.
“I have always been staunchly in favor of a woman’s right to determine her own healthcare, including abortion.
“Although I never had to make the decision whether to have an abortion, I’ve had three dilation and curettage procedures (D&C). All were results of miscarriages. On one occasion, I tried to have a ‘natural’ miscarriage—with no medical intervention. I was losing so much blood that intervention became necessary for my safety. I requested genetic testing in two of the cases. Both were found to be genetically ‘incompatible with life.’
“Miscarriage is painful. I wanted to carry those pregnancies to term. Over the years, I have thought about what it would have been like if I had not had the option of D&C. I might have died. The daughter that I already had might have lost her mother. I have wondered whether some of the people who want to control my body would also like to ban the procedure, or even the teaching of the procedure.
“Maybe not so far-fetched. I hear rumblings of the desire to hold a woman responsible for her miscarriage.
“If I had not had genetic testing available, would I be considered a murderer? It is horrific that we see our society moving backwards into a situation where some people believe they have the right to invade a woman’s privacy and even her body.
“They believe that it is a God-given right, but only if you believe in their god. I’m now 70 years old. I remember the pre-Roe era. I am praying that we don’t go back. And my God is absolutely okay with that.”—Susan Emerson
“I was raised by caring parents. They were scientists and let me know early in life where babies came from and that, after puberty, girls could control whether or not to become pregnant. I could have sex and not become pregnant. They would have supported me when, in college in 1964, my diaphragm failed, and I became pregnant. I did not go to them. Instead, I self-induced before returning to campus. I thought I had successfully induced a miscarriage, but I fainted in the bus terminal and woke up on the floor of the terminal office in a pool of blood. The people in the room must have understood what happened, but no one offered to help. They allowed me to change my clothes before leaving. On campus, I got medical attention. I’ve been an active advocate for abortion rights ever since.
“It shaped who I am today, decades later. I taught middle and high school sciences for two years and counseled many students about birth control. I counseled hundreds of women and girls in Boston before Roe v .Wade. If they could afford it, we helped them find chartered flights to London where abortion was legal and if they could not afford the travel, we referred them to Clergy Counseling Service where ministers, rabbis and priests referred them to illegal, safe abortionists.
“When the New York law passed in 1970, we organized carpools. I worked for Planned Parenthood training personnel in family planning programs in Washington, Idaho, Oregon and Alaska. When we moved to Washington D.C., I was hired in October 1973 to open an office for NARAL. The next year, NARAL asked me to be the executive director. We started chapters in almost every state and an education fund and political action committee.
“I still spend considerable time working on gender equity issues. If women cannot control when or if to have children, they cannot avail themselves of the education and economic opportunities available to those who cannot become pregnant.”—Karen Mulhauser
I thought I had successfully induced a miscarriage, but I fainted in the bus terminal and woke up on the floor of the terminal office in a pool of blood.
“When I was a college student in Kansas, I kept a list of the few available traveling abortionists. I helped bring these women to campus and procured half-way decent places for the procedures. But I also had to rush women to the hospital after botched abortions. Some of these women were rendered infertile because of this. A few years later when I lived in Ohio, I drove a woman all the way to Manhattan, where abortions were legal. Some people who could afford it would go to Puerto Rico, or other places where abortion was legal.
“Thankfully, the younger generations haven’t had the same experiences, until now. They don’t understand how bad it was and how many lives were ruined by an unexpected pregnancy.
“It is so difficult to see 50 years of hard work and support for women’s rights being legislated away by conservative religious white older men.”—Joan Irvine
“The Roe v. Wade decision was too late to help me with my daughter, who is still living as a shell of a person. She will soon turn 67-years-old.
“I wanted to be pregnant and in 1955 I was, but I kept spotting. My doctor said based on the level of bleeding, I would probably miscarry at about eight to 12 weeks. By three months, the doctor could feel something that might be a heartbeat. He had asked the hospital to terminate the pregnancy at 12 weeks because he could see trouble ahead. He was in tears when he told me he could not perform an abortion without losing his license.
“A couple of months later, he still heard a heartbeat but again warned me I would miscarry because the baby wasn’t growing. I had several hemorrhages and at seven months I was on complete bed rest. He again asked permission to end the pregnancy from some council, but it was not granted because I had a normal pregnancy and delivery with my son previously, so there was no precedence.
“At seven months, I was rushed to Catholic St. John Hospital, hemorrhaging. My doctor wanted to do a C-section right then, to save me. They wouldn’t allow it because there was a baby heartbeat, however weak, and the baby might die during the procedure. The baby’s life came first, apparently, so I was sent home.
“Three days later I was back in the hospital, hemorrhaging again. The doctor had to wait until they couldn’t hear the baby’s heartbeat. Finally, I was given a C-section. I don’t remember anything about it.
“I recovered two days later. They told me I had a baby girl. Legally blind and deaf, unable to comprehend anything and needing 24/7 support. She lived in a state hospital and became a ward of the state.
“I’ve supported Planned Parenthood ever since and rage at the fact that every abortion discussion is led by men! What the hell do they know about it?”—L.M.
Sign and share Ms.’s relaunched “We Have Had Abortions” petition—whether you yourself have had an abortion, or simply stand in solidarity with those who have—to let the Supreme Court, Congress and the White House know: We will not give up the right to safe, legal, accessible abortion.