A few months ago, 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. Help Ms. continue the fight today. Share your abortion story by emailing email@example.com.
Editor’s note: These stories have been excerpted and lightly edited for clarity.
I am your daughter. I am your wife. I am your mother. I am a retired U.S. diplomat. And I am angry.
In 1973, I went to the drive-in with a local boy. One of the movies was a horror show, ‘Last House on the Left.’ The other horror show was me, losing my virginity in the back of his pickup. I was 16, with braces on my teeth and wearing headgear at night.
I was unprepared for life.
When my period was three weeks late, I went to Planned Parenthood. The nurse told me I was pregnant. I already knew. When I said, “I want an abortion,” she said that one of my parents would need to accompany me.
I would rather have died than tell my father.
That night, I snuck a steak knife from the kitchen and a blade from my father’s razor and hid them in my bedroom. When my father shouted, “Who used my razor?” my mother knew something was amiss. She searched my room and found my stash.
Later, I tried sticking dull scissors into my stomach through my pink, flamingo-patterned nightgown. When that didn’t work, I cried. My mother heard and came into my bedroom. She took the scissors and sat on my bed. Finally, she spoke. “Do you want to get married?”
I imagined my life in the Corn Belt, with that boy, wiping the faces of kids all day, eating cotton candy tacos at the State Fair, and watching soap operas. I could teach the kids to cow tip.
“I want to go to college.”
My mother sighed. “We need to tell Dad, so we can figure out what to do.” I begged in a frantic whisper, “Please, I’ll do anything, but don’t tell Dad.” I believed I would commit suicide if my father knew. I was so afraid of him, and I was sure I would suffer from his violent temper.
A sweltering day in the Midwest served as the backdrop for my secret abortion. I wore bell bottoms and a halter top. My mom’s signature perfume, Chanel No. 5, accompanied us into the sterile room which reeked of disinfectant.
The cold of the stirrups against my feet gave me a sense of relief from the heat. That relief was quickly replaced by agony. My braces cut into my lips as I writhed in pain and gritted my teeth. My mother squeezed my hand, her cigarette-stained fingers interlocked with mine. With my free hand, I grasped the arm of the chair.
The procedure must have been a D&C, where the uterus is scraped. Fifteen minutes, which felt like hours. Hours of praying to a god I didn’t believe in to make the abortion “work.” Please, God. Please make me not pregnant.
Shame followed me until June 24, 2022. I’m not ashamed anymore. Now I’m angry.
It’s a choice every girl and woman deserves to have. Having that choice saved my life.— Monica SO
As a Planned Parenthood escort, I’ve heard anti-choice protesters shout, ‘You should thank your mother for not having an abortion, so you could be born!’ But my mother deserved the right to control her own reproductive choices.
I knew things were bad before Roe v. Wade, but it took most of my life for me to fully understand how my own mother was impacted by government and church efforts to police her body. My mother is 90 years old. Throughout my life I’ve heard the story of her pregnancy, my birth and my pointy infant head, ad nauseum. In 1952, she was 20 years old and married to my dad. They moved to Boston for his job. My mom became pregnant, and voila—I was born.
But that’s not the whole story. Recently, my mother offhandedly revealed she hadn’t wanted to get pregnant just then. She wanted a diaphragm and tried to get one. My parents weren’t Catholic, so there were no church prohibitions. But when she tried to get a diaphragm, the reaction was a shocked, “This is a Catholic state!” She was made to feel shameful and dirty.
She didn’t know that, at the time, contraception was illegal. The birth control pill was always in the news, then the Roe v. Wade decision and feminist movement. I was shocked contraception was ever outlawed during my lifetime.
The Comstock Act of 1873, named for a guy whose anxiety about sex drove first the state of New York, and then the United States, incorporated birth control devices into anti-obscenity laws. So, because of that 1873 law, my mother was not able to get a diaphragm in 1952. Not until 1965 would the Supreme Court rule that married couples could legally access contraception. Unmarried women would have to wait until 1972 for “legal” birth control.
As a Planned Parenthood escort, I’ve heard anti-choice protesters shout, “you should thank your mother for not having an abortion, so you could be born!”
But my mother deserved the right to control her own reproductive choices.
I don’t believe my existence now outweighs the right to bodily autonomy that my mother should have had in 1952. So, mom, you have my thanks for many things but not for your lack of reproductive freedom—for that, you have my apologies.— Anonymous
In 1975, I was 23 and working as an RN.
When I felt the hard plastic of my IUD protruding slightly from my cervix, I went to Planned Parenthood to have it checked.
“The test’s positive—you’re six weeks pregnant,” the clinician said. I was single, unattached and chose to abort it. I was embarrassed and told no one.
The suction machine’s loud whirring accompanied brief but intense pain as the physician scraped the tiny embryo, not yet a fetus, from my uterus.
I cried in the recovery room.
“Crying’s a normal reaction,” I distinctly remember the physician saying kindly.
I had little sense of my tiny place in the history of abortions, but mine changed me. I became a women’s healthcare clinician, advocate and educator. Over a 40-year career, I taught hundreds, perhaps thousands, of clients and students about family planning. I learned, from discussions with women of all ages, that many who sought abortions had used a contraceptive method that failed. Some already had children, were married, or couldn’t afford—financially or emotionally—to raise more.
I’m glad I had the right to choose. 45 years later, I have no regret, guilt or embarrassment about having had an abortion. In my later 20’s, I got married and raised two wonderful children. They’ve grown to be fine, responsible adults, happily married, with careers and children. Later divorced, I was fortunate to have a financially stable career. Restricting abortion rights impinges on women’s independence and economic opportunities.— Abbey Pachter
I waited at the Newark bus station with a carnation in my lapel. The woman who drove me to the abortion told me that if her daughter ever got pregnant, she’d kill her.
In 1965, I had an illegal abortion. I was in my early 20’s, and I had just graduated from college. I was working in my first teaching job. At the time, single women didn’t have access to contraceptives—except condoms, which sometimes failed. I found myself pregnant. Abortion was my only option. I was lucky. I had a friend whose girlfriend had just had an abortion and he referred me to a medical doctor.
For the procedure, I waited at the Newark bus station with a carnation in my lapel. The woman who drove me to the abortion told me that if her daughter ever got pregnant, she’d kill her. We arrived at a huge apartment complex in northern New Jersey.
The doctor had told me the abortion would be $1,000. I didn’t have that kind of money; it was one-third of my salary. We finally settled on $700 cash. Since I appeared to be calm, they gave me fewer drugs. I woke up to loud screams and realized that they were mine. The doctor yelled “my neighbors,” slapped me, and I was out again.
I was barely awake on the ride back to pick up my car. I rolled down all four windows, hoping the cold air and the loud radio would keep me awake as I drive home.
Back at my apartment, my roommate was glad to see me alive. Without her help and the help of my brother, best friend and my boyfriend at the time, I wouldn’t have had the finances or the emotional well-being to get through it—partly because it was illegal, and partly because at the time I felt so much shame.
On that November day in 1965, I didn’t know what was to happen to women’s reproductive rights or the role I would play. My illegal abortion happened five years before New York state decriminalized abortion thanks to our Republican Assemblywoman Connie Cook. It was also eight years before Roe v. Wade became law, using Connie’s bill as a model, and 50 years before I made a documentary about Connie Cook’s life and work.
Now, I no longer feel shame. What I feel now is anger, anger at a system that hates and punishes those who choose what to do with their bodies. No one should ever have to have an illegal abortion. No man, or woman who parrots men, should decide that for us. Reproductive justice for all.— Sue Perlgut
My roommate had told the dean of the college, who insisted I meet with the priest and a doctor of her choosing. The doctor said everything was fine. I thought he meant the abortion had succeeded. One month later, I realized he had meant the pregnancy was still intact.
I found out I was pregnant in January 1966, during my senior year at Georgetown University. I knew nothing about birth control, and even if I did, access would have been difficult without parental approval—which I was not going to receive. My family was Catholic and considered premarital sex a sin. My overriding certainty was that no one, especially my parents, could ever find out I was pregnant. I could see no way out other than abortion. I was terrified and had no idea where to turn for help.
In the Yellow Pages, I found a physician’s office far from my school. The doctor was kind when he confirmed I was pregnant but could not do anything for me.
A friend in NYC made arrangements for the procedure to be done in her apartment by a retired nurse. Otherwise, only my roommate knew where I was going and why.
I have blocked all memory of the actual experience except the recollection of pain. When I returned to school, I found out that my roommate had told the dean of the college, who insisted that I meet with the priest and a doctor of her choosing.
The doctor said that everything was fine. I thought he meant the abortion had succeeded. One month later, I realized he had meant that the pregnancy was still intact.
After a repeat trip to NYC, I returned to a now very angry doctor who accused me of having an abortion, admitted me to the hospital, and insisted I call my parents. The doctor hooked me up to a drip designed to induce labor. It was unsuccessful. After 24 hours, he did a D&C. Afterwards, the doctor’s only comment was to coldly say that “the baby had been a boy.”
I told my parents it was a miscarriage. I received no support from them and had to pay my father back for the hospital costs.
I later married, had two tubal pregnancies and a hysterectomy at 30. I am certain that the abortion was the underlying cause of my never giving birth.
Sadly, I couldn’t see any other way out. In a kinder, wiser society, perhaps I could have given that child life. But my experience has led me to believe strongly that women must stand up for their right to make their own decisions when they become pregnant, without shame, without stigma, without fear.— Leigh Keeley
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