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. 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. Help Ms. continue the fight today. Share your abortion story by emailing email@example.com, and sign our “We Have Had Abortions” petition.
Editor’s note: These stories have been excerpted and lightly edited for clarity.
The day Roe overturned, one memory monopolized my mind.
I was 14 and my mother received a call from the YWCA. It was time to take a pregnancy test. My body was numb, following the worst night of my life: the night I was raped.
An older boy invited me to watch a movie on a bright day in June. I made it through freshman year and finally felt comfortable in my teenage skin.
We never watched the movie. Once alone in his room, we talked and kissed. We drank terrible vodka, his eyes became glazed and everything in the room became darker. I remember yelling, pleading for him to stop. Him flipping me over like a rag doll. I remember watching it happen, suspended in the air in the corner of the room. I remember screaming. He wasn’t listening. My voice didn’t matter.
The rape (or “incident” as everyone called it), the forensic exam at the YWCA and the court process that followed all had something in common: I had no agency.
The pregnancy test was negative. “Thank God,” my mother said.
I’ve lived a full life. I became a lawyer. I lived in Spain. I made it to South America, danced in the streets of Buenos Aires. I’ve loved deeply and have accepted love.
But I can’t ignore the time when I collapsed on the kitchen floor and traced the veins in my wrist with a butcher knife. That girl on the floor is me, as much as the woman accepting a juris doctorate degree is me.
Over 20 years later, on another bright day in June, I read Roe v. Wade had been overturned. My partner held me as I cried. I was 14 again and wondering: What if the pregnancy test had been positive? If I had been raped in a post-Roe world, would I have been able to choose to have an abortion? Would I still be alive today?
The justices who signed onto the Dobbs opinion do not care about 14-year-old me. They made clear that my voice doesn’t matter nor does my body. Forcing a person to carry an unwanted pregnancy will result in trauma and even death.
I mourn for the people who will be hurt in this post-Roe world. I want them to know that they’re not alone. I have known helplessness. I have known despair. I know that my voice is now powerful, especially when amplified by the voices of others. We cannot let six regressive Justices have the last word.—Anonymous
When Roe was passed, I was 11. I remember my grandma crying. All she said was, ‘Now they can be safe.’
I had been on the pill for five years back in 1977 when it failed me and I became pregnant. The day after I found out, I boarded a Greyhound to an abortion clinic 60 miles away.
I had just taken a seat when two priests in Roman collars boarded. They made their way down the aisle and sat down in front of me. I clutched my duffel with my robe, slippers, sanitary napkins and cash tucked safely inside, as though the priests posed some kind of threat. I spent the hour-long ride staring at the backs of their heads, at first defensively, and then with contempt as it dawned on me that an abortion would excommunicate me from the Catholic Church. It stunned me to realize I actually welcomed it. My mother was a Protestant and I had grown up subconsciously defending her from the Church’s subtle but ever-present hostility toward non-Catholics. I liked the idea of being an outsider, a maverick, a dissident. Of finally becoming my mother’s daughter.
My mother, when I finally told her, was sorry I hadn’t called her for a ride and had to make my way to the clinic alone. Whether she supported a woman’s right to choose despite her eight kids or because of them, I can’t say.—Ann Kozak
My grandmother told me that one of her nieces became pregnant while her husband was fighting in the Vietnam War. She came to my grandmother for help. My grandmother was the favorite aunt to all her nieces and nephews.
My grandmother was a staunch Catholic, daily rosary, and went to church at least two times a week. We have family members who are priests.
My grandmother had compassion for her niece and was able to find “a place.” She said it was awful. Her niece survived, unable to have children afterwards.
When Roe was passed, I was 11. I remember my grandma crying. All she said was, “Now they can be safe.”—Maria Briscese
Even a medically safe abortion cannot be truly safe if it is illegal and shrouded in secrecy.
My Aunt Sally had a medically safe abortion in 1953. She was a physician, and her abortionist was also a physician. She had access to a safe method of abortion, and the abortion was performed in the hospital where they worked.
The aftermath of her abortion, however, was far from safe. Her abortionist was also her lover.
Dr. Sarah Matteson, as she was known professionally, was the first female chief resident in psychiatry at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, N.Y. She was working closely with Dr. George Engel on cutting-edge treatments in psychosomatic medicine. Having a child would have interrupted her promising career, perhaps permanently.
Sally’s lover, Paul, was a general practitioner who had served in World War II as a public relations officer, reporting from scenes of carnage on the European front. He had survivors’ guilt, now recognized as a symptom of PTSD. He and Sally had been dating for three years. She had tried to break off the relationship several times, but felt enormous guilt about abandoning him in his fragile state.
Sometime after the abortion, Sally and Paul went to a diner near the hospital during a break from the night shift. As they returned to Strong Memorial, on tennis courts behind the hospital, Paul pulled out a gun and shot Sally twice, in the face and in the abdomen. Then he shot himself in the head. Sally survived the shooting, but Paul did not.
The great promise of Sally’s career evaporated. She did not return to her position as chief resident. Sally did continue her career in psychiatry, but not at the heady levels she had been aiming for while at Strong. She never worked full-time again.
Sally’s physical wounds were visible on her face. Half her face was paralyzed as a result of the shooting, so her smile was crooked. She also lost her hearing in her right ear, and often cupped her left ear to hear better. She was still stunningly beautiful.
Sally had to contend with an unwanted pregnancy, the risk of illegal abortion, as well as the added burden of taking care of her mentally fragile lover.
Though Sally’s abortion was medically safe, it cost her her career, left her with lifelong guilt about the suicide of her lover and kept her silent on the topic for 52 years. She suffered from depression and alcoholism her entire adult life.
As we face a future of recriminalized abortion in many states, I want to add Sally’s story to the many accounts of pre-Roe abortion. Even a medically safe abortion cannot be truly safe if it is illegal and shrouded in secrecy.—Alice Knox Eaton
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.