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 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.
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].
Editor’s note: These stories have been excerpted and lightly edited for clarity.
Content warning: This story contains graphic descriptions of surgery, rape and sexual assault.
I had friends and family members who got abortions in the 1970s and early 1980s. But it wasn’t until I learned the story of my great-aunt that I began to join local and national marches to fight for abortion rights.
I was at the calling hours for my grandfather’s funeral and my dad and I were talking during a quiet moment. We talked about grandpa’s siblings—he was born in Italy in 1896—and I asked, “What happened to his sister who died early in the 1950s?” My dad turned to me and said, “She died of a back-street abortion. Her own father, my grandfather, found her at home. She had hemorrhaged to death.” Later I said to my mom, “I never heard that story before.” And my mom said, “Neither had I.”
We found out later that the family was sworn to secrecy and it stayed a shameful secret for almost 40 years. She was an Italian Roman Catholic and a married woman with three children. We will never know what desperate circumstances led her to seek an abortion.—Elizabeth A.
A man took my money and told me to take off my pants and underwear. I hesitated. He told me to hurry up, this wasn’t a spa. I shivered, naked, in a dingy room with men making snide comments about how I’d had my fun and now I’d pay for it.
In 1958, I didn’t know I needed to ask him to use a condom. He didn’t offer. I was denied a diaphragm at a clinic because I didn’t have a marriage license. He said if I got pregnant, he’d marry me. I got pregnant. He left.
No money. No friends. I told my father, a pharmacist. He was angry. “For a smart girl, you’ve been pretty stupid.”
At the first place, a man in a white coat shoved packing into my vagina and told me to return in two days. When I came back, I got tired of waiting so long and asked to call my father. The man yelled, “Get the hell out.” That night I took out the packing.
My father drove me to the next place. We rang the doorbell and a man said, “You better leave. The cops are on their way.” As we ran, we heard sirens.
Later, in Harlem, I rang the doorbell. A man opened it—his fly unzipped, penis out. I ran.
We went to a hotel in Manhattan. My father said he’d wait. I was terrified as I knocked on the door. A man took my money and told me to take off my pants and underwear. I hesitated. He told me to hurry up, this wasn’t a spa. I shivered, naked, in a dingy room with men making snide comments about how I’d had my fun and now I’d pay for it.
I was told to lie on the table and put my feet in stirrups. No anesthesia. The abortion was done by two men. One said that if I made a sound they’d throw me out. The pain was so intense, I inadvertently moaned. They stopped. One sneered, “Another sound and you’re out of here.” I bit my lips and tasted blood.
When they finished, blood was seeping down my leg. Angrily one threw me a pad which I put in my underpants, shaking so badly as I dressed, I could hardly stand.
He pushed me to the door and warned me not to say anything. Painfully, I made it to the corner. No father. I felt wet between my legs. I stumbled into a hotel lobby and sank onto a couch. A uniformed man came over and pushed me out the door, but not before I saw the red stain on the cushion.
Two men offered me their services—for a price. I moved away. My father finally came. He saw my bloody pants and put newspapers on the seat. He said, “Your mother’s very upset so I went home.”
We drove home in silence. My mother told me to go to my room. “Your sister’s celebrating her high school graduation. You have no right to spoil it for her.”
I bled for days. Passed tissue with agonizing cramps. Stayed in my room. Silent.—Nancy King
I could have happily taken my abortion story to the grave. As far as I was concerned, my abortion story was between myself, my husband and our doctor and I was fine to file it far, far away in the darkest recesses of my mind.
And then it became clear that Roe v. Wade was going to be overturned. I watched as women around me shared their stories and I knew that I couldn’t stay silent. I was invited to capture women sharing their stories on video at the Abortion Stories 2022 Festival in New York. The experience was remarkable: It was pouring rain and hundreds of women huddled under a tent to commiserate and empathize.
My crew and I had a small set up in the corner of the tent and we welcomed more than a dozen women to share their stories with us. The women ranged in ages from 24 to 82, and their stories were as varied as their ages. I listened in horror as women described pregnancies that had resulted from rape and assault, and who had to resort to back-alley abortions to terminate the pregnancies. On the other end of the spectrum, women described their post-Roe abortions as “empowering” and spoke of nurses holding their hands during the procedure.
One of the women in the video said, “We are your mothers and we are your grandmothers.” That day, I felt that these women were my sisters; we are connected by this shared experience. That’s when I knew that I wanted to share my story, too.—Christina Anderson
Yen Yen, a new friend, knew of a doctor down in South Central L.A. A real doctor, she said, and she would want $200. Somehow I got the money together and on a Saturday morning my partner, Ian, drove us a somber hour from the U.C. Riverside campus east of L.A. to the doctor’s office in Compton. The address was located on a main street in a plain storefront. We went in.
A casually dressed young woman, perhaps in her teens, received us, instructed him to stay in the waiting room and led me through another door. The treatment room was plain and functional. After a few minutes, the matronly Black doctor in a light blue medical jacket entered.
Circumspect and efficient, she explained the procedure and gave me instructions. She had me recline and fit into stirrups. I heard the lid of the autoclave open and close. Then she inserted a length of sterilized rubber tubing into my uterus, along with tincture of green soap. She described what she was doing as she worked. She packed in cotton to secure the tubing. Familiar cramping began immediately. She repeated instructions and what to expect.
Said it would be a long night. She was kind.
After that, Ian drove us to the address in Hollywood that Yen Yen had given us where we could stay. My abdominal cramping intensified and we settled into the studio apartment. After midnight, we dialed Yen Yen who was expecting our call. She had said to call when it was time. I would know.
And she came—kind, soft Yen Yen. I never saw her again after that night, but she came. Amid my pains. Confusion. Vomiting. I could not rest. I felt trapped. As I look back, I was in real labor. Ian and I held each other. I know we both tacitly vowed that nothing like this could ever happen again. This was real. Too real. A far cry from the carefree beginnings of our young love.—Barbara
Thousands of women who wore the Dalkon Shield were damaged from a range of illnesses ranging from bacterial infection of the placenta and fetus, sterilization, involuntary miscarriage, hysterectomy and death from sepsis.
In 1972, I was denied an abortion in Ohio. I was pregnant with a Dalkon Shield [a ’70s-era IUD that caused severe injury to a large percentage of women] that the ob-gyn thought might be perforating my uterus. He asked me if I might become “insane” if I carried this fetus to term. I said, “No.” But he announced he couldn’t help me and recommended a shady doctor.
After an X-ray that showed the device was in a position that could indicate uterine perforation, the shady doctor—who had performed a rough, extremely painful examination while smoking a cigar he placed between my legs—called to say I should prepare for abdominal surgery.
He hurt me and humiliated me during the previous examination. I did not want him touching me again. Instead, we had connections at Yale University where my husband had taught for years. We were invited to travel to New Haven for the procedure. According to our friend who arranged it, Yale was planning to sue the federal government to legalize abortion and would use my case as evidence.
The person scheduling surgery was also humiliating in her attitude and made me wait two more weeks. I was bedridden—more ill with nausea, fatigue and general malaise than with the pregnancies of my three girls.
The procedure took place the morning of Jan. 22, 1973. The device had not perforated my uterus and it—along with the fetal material—was safely extracted. When I awoke from the anesthetic, my husband announced, “Two important things happened while you were out. Lyndon Johnson died and abortion was legalized by the Supreme Court.”
As humiliating and difficult as my experience to get the abortion was, I was extremely fortunate. Thousands of women who wore the Dalkon Shield were damaged from a range of illnesses ranging from bacterial infection of the placenta and fetus, sterilization, involuntary miscarriage, hysterectomy and death from sepsis.—Rebecca L.
I had just told my husband that I was leaving him when I got the news that I was pregnant. At the time, I already had two daughters under the age of six. I was figuring out how I was going to be a single mother with a demanding job that paid very little.
I was leaving him because he’d emptied my bank account and found my hidden cash to pay for groceries. I couldn’t live like that anymore. I couldn’t raise my girls in that environment anymore. And there was no way I could bring another child into the chaos that was our lives at that moment. Nor could I try to explain adoption to a 2-year-old and 5-year-old. I could just imagine them wondering if they could disappear like the baby that had been in Mommy’s tummy, particularly when I was also going to have to explain why we didn’t live with Daddy anymore.
I have never regretted my abortion. I don’t regret the two daughters I had with him, even though he proved to be a deadbeat dad who hasn’t seen his kids in nearly a decade. They’re now grown women, both working with children. I was able to go back to school, complete my degree. I found a temp job, which became a permanent assistant position, went back to school, and eventually became a manager, a homeowner and have raised these girls without child support.
I did it, but it wasn’t easy. And I don’t think we would’ve turned out with the lives we now have if there had been another mouth to feed. Nor, frankly, should I have to explain myself or my situation to anyone. I know I made mistakes, but who hasn’t? I’m proud of who I’ve become and who my girls are. None of it would’ve been possible had I not been able to exercise control over my body.—April M.
A woman who had become a victim in an abusive marriage and inevitably had grown to hate her husband and consequently, unfortunately, his seed and his genes.
I speak as a woman who has no problem becoming pregnant, who, apart from nausea, has no difficulty with pregnancy, whose figure (if one considers this superficiality) has not been disfigured and whose body shows no scar. Most of all, I speak as a woman who feels, with all honesty, that there is nothing more exciting, no greater adventure than experiencing the pregnancy and birth of a wanted child.
I also speak as a woman who had no say in becoming pregnant, who became pregnant through an act forced on her through an obligation she believed she had no right to refuse, an act akin to rape. A woman who had become a victim in an abusive marriage and inevitably had grown to hate her husband and consequently, unfortunately, his seed and his genes.
Thus, I wish to speak for the women for whom a child represents imprisonment, a barrier between a life that has become intolerable and freedom.—Lori Zett
U.S. democracy is at a dangerous inflection point—from the demise of abortion rights, to a lack of pay equity and parental leave, to skyrocketing maternal mortality, and attacks on trans health. Left unchecked, these crises will lead to wider gaps in political participation and representation. For 50 years, Ms. has been forging feminist journalism—reporting, rebelling and truth-telling from the front-lines, championing the Equal Rights Amendment, and centering the stories of those most impacted. With all that’s at stake for equality, we are redoubling our commitment for the next 50 years. In turn, we need your help, Support Ms. today with a donation—any amount that is meaningful to you. For as little as $5 each month, you’ll receive the print magazine along with our e-newsletters, action alerts, and invitations to Ms. Studios events and podcasts. We are grateful for your loyalty and ferocity.