Our Abortion Stories: “The Word ‘Freedom’ Is Hypocrisy When Women Lose the Right To Control Their Own Bodies”

Protesters hold a ‘die-in’ in Boston on May 16, 2022, to represent the women who are at risk of dying while seeking illegal abortions or as a result of pregnancy complications. (Erin Clark / The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

On June 24, the Supreme Court overturned the longstanding precedents of Roe v. Wade, representing the largest blow to women’s constitutional rights in history. A 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.

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. Share your abortion story by emailing myabortionstory@msmagazine.com, and sign our “We Have Had Abortions” petition.

Editor’s note: These stories have been excerpted and lightly edited for clarity.

“My abortion was in the spring of 1967, when I was 20-years-old.

“My doctor’s hands were tied. He confirmed a six-week pregnancy and cautioned: ‘If you don’t come back for prenatal care, do not tell me what you do. I cannot know your plans.’ He could not risk breaking the law by knowing if I even thought about an abortion. 

“After a desperate conversation, my boyfriend agreed to find and pay for someone to perform an illegal abortion. He found a licensed vocational nurse. 

“She had someone deliver a brown paper bag of dry leaves to make into tea and drink before her visit. When she arrived and examined me, she said, ‘Good, the tea did something at least. Your cervix is opening real good.’ I felt the cold catheter against my warm body as she pushed the tube deeper inside me. When she finished, she told me I would bleed a heavy-like period for several days and the catheter would come out on its own.

“I bled copiously overnight and all weekend. I remember lying on the bathroom floor for the relief of the cool tile on my clammy skin as I bled and passed the catheter. I drifted in and out of consciousness. 

“On Monday, an ambulance took me to the County Hospital, where I was assaulted with a barrage of questions: ‘What did you do?’

“By law, they were not allowed to stop my bleeding, to perform a D&C, if there was any chance I was still pregnant.

“A police guard was posted outside my hospital door. Men in white always started with, ‘What did you do?’ when they woke me. I always denied everything. They told me they were required to let me bleed until a spot of white tissue was passed.

“Blood transfusions were given when it was clear I wouldn’t make it. As the donor blood dripped into my veins, my cramping intensified and a dime-sized fragment of white tissue was passed. A doctor inquired, ‘Tell me what you did!’

“Preparing to perform my D&C, he said, ‘No anesthesia; you don’t need meds.'”

—Catherine Klatzker

Grace Graupe-Pillard, an artist from New York, shares her pre-Roe story.

“1971. Dearborn, Michigan.

“I was 17.

“Abortion was illegal.

“My mother had just had a heart attack.

“My boyfriend’s draft number was 8.

“Two years earlier, my sister had become pregnant and was forced into a Baptist Home for unwed mothers. She was forced to surrender her baby.

“My father was an unyielding man of high moral ground. 

“I took a bus to meet a shady doctor, deep in Detroit.

“No exam, no anesthetic.

“Ripping, tearing, suction.

“I took the bus home where I began to hemorrhage.

“I called my boyfriend who drove me to the ER.

“They contacted my father. 

“My relationship with him was destroyed.

“I don’t know if he ever told my mother who was heavily medicated and recovering from her heart attack.

“I was left damaged, emotionally and physically, in every possible way.

“Let no girl or woman ever go through something like this, ever again.

“Puerto Morelos, Quintana Roo, Mexico (where abortion is legal).”

—Mariann Black

On the day of my appointment, there were two dozen protesters out front. They said I was going to hell. I thought, going? I’m already there.

“It was 1984. 

“I turned 19. I had never dated anyone because I was chubby and awkward. 

“One night, I went to a going away party for a coworker. It didn’t take much for me to get drunk. Two beers and I could barely walk.

“My friend insisted that I let his friend Ken give me a ride home. ‘He is a super nice guy, he’s studying to be a nurse.’ I relented; it would be a long walk and I was terrified of getting popped for public intoxication.

“Ken didn’t take me home. Instead, he drove me five miles to the gravel yard where he raped and sodomized me. I was a virgin. 

“When he was done, he pushed me out of the car and drove off. I stumbled back to town, in the pitch black, bleeding and in pain. The people I lived with accused me of making it up to get attention, so I took myself to the ER and had a rape kit done. My vagina needed stitches. The police took a report, but I never heard from them again.

“Later, I realized I was pregnant. I had horrible nightmares. I didn’t want to be touched by anyone. I kept reliving that night each time I closed my eyes. A coworker helped me find a clinic and her mom lent me the money to terminate the pregnancy. I was scared and ashamed. I was numb.

“On the day of my appointment, there were two dozen protesters out front. They said I was going to hell. I thought, going? I’m already there. Some guy pitched a beer bottle towards the door and hit a pregnant woman going to her prenatal checkup.

“The nurses were lovely, but I don’t remember anything of the actual procedure. At home, I called my mom hoping for some support. I was so sad. She told me I murdered her grandchild and she would never forgive me.

“Because of my right to choose, I am where I am today. My girl was conceived from a union of two people who truly adored one another. I have two gorgeous grandchildren, and a loving, brilliant husband. I have an amazing life. I know I did the right thing. I knew I could never look into those eyes and not remember.

“Almost 40 years later, I wonder how different my life would be if SCOTUS had betrayed us then as they did a few days ago. It’s too nauseating to even comprehend.”

—Valyrie Schrader

I do not feel the slightest twinge of guilt about that abortion, because I am guilty of nothing. I do not feel ashamed about it either, because it is not shameful.

“In 1984, I had a first-trimester abortion. My birth control failed me. I was utterly unprepared to be a mother. I needed to take the steps in my life to become the person, and mother, I ultimately became. By ending that pregnancy, I was able to give my children the life I wanted them to have. There is no question in my mind, then and now, what was the right choice. 

“I do not feel the slightest twinge of guilt about that abortion, because I am guilty of nothing. I do not feel ashamed about it either, because it is not shameful. I do feel sad sometimes, but then I think about my daughter, son, son-in-law, grandson and granddaughter. Happiness overwhelms me. 

“When supported by a partner, pregnancy can be a joyful wonder. When unwanted, it can be absolutely horrible. But it is nobody’s damn business what that woman decides she must do to protect her well-being or her family’s.

“I do not accept the religious beliefs that drive the bans and restrictions on early-term abortions. I have my own beliefs. In this country, that is my right. The word ‘freedom’ is hypocrisy when women and girls lose the right and the ability to control their own bodies. It is intolerable that one religious ideology is being shoved down the throats of everyone, entirely against their will and in opposition to their values and beliefs.

“Millions of women and girls face the dreadful decision about what to do when they are unwantedly pregnant. Think how many happy families would have been destroyed or never existed if women and girls who had abortions were robbed of that right and that freedom to decide. Think how many of our family members would not exist if those of us who have chosen an abortion over having a baby at a wrong time or from a wrong person had been forced to have that unwanted baby instead.

“I am 65. Nationwide, women and girls have had the right to choose abortion to end an unwanted pregnancy safely and legally since I was 15. Millions have used that right to save their lives and that of their families. I hope that others of you who feel this same outrage will take action, as I plan to do, to bring that right and freedom back to every single woman and girl in America.”

Peg Weeks

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.

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About and

Phoebe Kolbert is an undergraduate student at Smith College studying sociology and reproductive health and justice. She is an editorial intern with Ms. and a contributor to the Mainer News Cooperative. Find her columns for Mainerhere.
Michelle Moulton (she/they) is a former editorial intern with Ms. and a graduate of Smith College, where she majored in the study of women & gender and sociology. Her beats include reproductive justice, LGBTQ rights, domestic violence intervention and pop culture.