Our Abortion Stories: ‘You Aren’t Thinking of Having It, Are You?’ Were His First Words

This summer, 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.

A picture of a deceased woman, Agnieszka, who died as a result of Poland’s strict abortion law, is held during a protest in Krakow on Jan. 26, 2022.—where abortion is illegal and restrictions continue to tighten. Regressive abortion laws in both Poland and U.S. go against global trends. (Beata Zawrzel / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

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

I remember when a single woman who sought birth control had their doctor ask, ‘Are you a slut? Sleeping around? What would your parents say?’

Nancy Kolb

I remember when women didn’t have control over the basic processes of their own bodies.

I remember when only rich, mostly Caucasian women could choose whether to terminate a pregnancy.

I remember Sherri Finkbine being savaged for her decision to travel to Sweden to terminate her pregnancy.

I remember before there were birth control pills.

I remember when married women needed their husband’s written permission to access birth control.

I remember when a single woman who sought birth control had their doctor ask, “Are you a slut? Sleeping around? What would your parents say?”

I remember wearing a thigh-high dress and sitting in a Planned Parenthood pop-up clinic, with my panties in a brown paper lunch bag, along with 30 other fidgety coeds, waiting for a perfunctory pelvic exam.

I remember shimmying back into my panties while a six-month supply of low-dose color-coded birth control pills was stuffed into my brown paper lunch bag.

I remember that low-dose birth control pills don’t always prevent pregnancy.

I remember a notice in the University of Minnesota Daily, a college newspaper, that offered a solution for those who either couldn’t obtain birth control or whose birth control method had failed.

I remember in the early 1970s, the underground railroad to New York, a state where women could access services to decide the course of their pregnancy.

I remember a Catholic girl with college scholarships, the first in her family to reach for secondary education, slinking to a suburban house where selfless volunteers helped make travel arrangements and a clinic appointment in a far-away state.

I remember being grateful that I had enough scholarship money to pay for the travel and clinic expenses.

I remember being unsure of how I would pay for next semester’s tuition.

I remember morning sickness during the first flight of my life, wedged between two businessmen, while I studied for my pathophysiology final.

I remember a clinic in Harlem when a confused, middle-aged Black woman in a fast-food restaurant uniform looked across the waiting room and asked, “Are all ya white girls here for a physical, too?”

I remember compassionate, non-judgmental Black doctors and nurses who ministered to a pale and petrified Midwestern girl.

I remember two years later celebrating when a woman’s right to choose was declared a constitutionally protected right.

I remember when that was still true on June 23.

Now I remember that’s not today.

Now I remember that women are in the same damn situation today that we were in 50 years ago, 150 years ago.

Now I’ll tell my grandchildren, so one day they will remember too.

— Nancy Kolb

I remember morning sickness during the first flight of my life, wedged between two businessmen, while I studied for my pathophysiology final.

I was a 16-year-old senior at Ithaca High School in 1968 or ’69. My classmate became pregnant and was in no position to carry her pregnancy to term or raise a child. I decided to do what I could to help. I confided in my favorite teacher. His brother was a physician and had some connections to help my classmate. My teacher did whatever needed to be done to help her terminate her pregnancy. 

The confidential conversation with my teacher was the last time I spoke about the situation until recently. When it became obvious to me that Roe v. Wade would be overturned in 2022, I joined a group of women in Ithaca called Eliminating Abortion Stigma (EAS). Many members of the group had illegal abortions during the pre-Roe era and speak publicly about their experiences to emphasize the necessity of preserving safe and legal abortion care. 

Joining EAS compelled me to share the experience I had as a high school student with other EAS members. Then, I realized what an incredible risk my teacher took by trusting three teenage girls to keep the secret. We all honored his trust and none of us, including the teacher and his brother who also helped my classmate, suffered any consequences for our actions. We felt good about having been able to help our classmate. I still do. 

My classmate and I could never talk about her abortion. Although she is no longer alive, I have no doubt that my classmate was grateful for what we did to help her. My trusting teacher and his brother are no longer alive today either. I wish I could say thank you to them.

— Myra Kovary 

I realized what an incredible risk my teacher took by trusting three teenage girls to keep the secret. I wish I could say thank you.

The January cold sliced through my hair, chilling my scalp. I verified my fictitious name and handed the driver an envelope of $300. He gave me a blindfold and told me to lie down on the floor in the back. I was too numb to be afraid. All I could focus on was that I wanted this to be over. I was unmarried and pregnant, on my way to get an abortion. It was 1962.

Access to contraception was a challenge for unmarried women of my generation. Very few doctors would fit a single woman for a diaphragm, the birth control of choice at that time. The morning I’d gone for my gynecologist appointment, I’d put on a navy-blue suit, with a white silk blouse which I thought was what a respectable, newly married woman might wear to her first gynecologist appointment. I left the doctor’s office with a little tan case and a tube of goo that he told me would protect me from unwanted pregnancy. 

When I missed two periods, I knew I was in serious trouble. A second visit to the doctor confirmed what I had suspected.

“I don’t understand how I got pregnant. I always wore my diaphragm.”

“Oh, they’re not 100 percent effective for women who have an inverted uterus.” The doctor gave me a look, which read, ‘How could you not have known that?‘ He then said, “But you’re 25. High time to think about children.” I thought, ‘Says who? ‘

My boyfriend Paul and I were not ready to start a family. We discussed the pros and cons for hours and then agreed: marriage, but no baby. The next day, I took a plane to Baltimore and went to a designated street corner in a downtown garbage-strewn neighborhood and waited for a black Ford station wagon to pick me up.

We stopped four times. At each stop, someone stumbled in and lied down beside me. We didn’t exchange a single word. At the last stop, a hand grabbed my forearm and pulled me out of the car, into a chilly room. In silence, my legs were placed in stirrups.

A voice finally spoke to me. They said that I had nothing to be afraid of. “It won’t take long. You’ll be home by dinner time.” 

After a few hours, the arrival process was reversed and we were in the station wagon. Again, there was no conversation among us. I only remember asking the girl whose body seemed closest to mine if she was all right. Or maybe it was she who asked me. 

I’m now in my 80s, yet that day remains vivid in my mind. The decision to overturn Roe brought back all the terrifying details of that day. I survived and was able to have a family when I chose to. Now that legal options are no longer available, illegal ones will be the only choice for many women. No woman deserves to be thrown blindfolded in the back of a car, to experience that fear and anxiety because she is denied the right to choose.

— Beverly Pimsleur

Let’s fight like hell to keep abortions legal in as many states as possible.

Lasara Firefox Allen

It was 1993, and I was a young rebel in the midst of ending a relationship of four years that had driven me to the edge of my sanity. In true dysfunctional fashion, my becoming-ex-boyfriend and I took a trip to Mexico to celebrate our breakup. We rode his motorcycle to an idyllic fishing village in Baja and camped in a pasture near a beach. We had crazy, risky, very hot, I-guess-this-is-goodbye sex. We were, as they say, young, dumb, and fulla cum.

I got pregnant somewhere in the midst of those few bittersweet days. My ex’s first words were, “You aren’t thinking of having it, are you?’’ I had been. 

My friend knew of people who were involved in an underground reproductive justice collective. They knew how to perform an “early uterine evacuation,” or an EUE. In other words, they knew how to perform an abortion in the privacy of one’s own home.

It was illegal, but if abortion were ever illegal in America again—and we all knew it could be—we’d need health collectives like this one around. And the EUE was going to be $50 instead of $150 or more.

In retrospect, I wanted to punish myself for having become pregnant, for having decided to have an abortion, for not standing up to my ex to take the choice—my choice—into my own hands.

On the day of, I was shown the equipment. A setup that was sparkly-clean, but so low-tech that it was intimidating: a homemade, manual aspirator. All of a sudden, its reality was staggering. The pain was radiant, white-hot, and overwhelming. I had never felt anything so extreme. It was like a red-hot poker was being forced into my uterus. Into the very center of my being. It was over, and I was still shivering, quaking and crying. I felt like there was something wrong with me because the experience had been so hard on me. That I wasn’t being strong enough. That I was feeling too much.

Even a legal, medical abortion is only sometimes easy, and still abortion is absolutely the best possible option for those who choose it. Every time. 

Now that Roe v. Wade has been overturned by this dangerous Supreme Court, let’s fight like hell to keep abortions legal in as many states as possible, and to reinstate a federal ruling securing national access to abortion.

—Lasara Firefox Allen

Looking down, she sees the cord kinking from between her legs to some tethered recess deep inside. The cellar laundry room is dark, the cement floor cold on her back. My aunt is 17 years old.

“I’ll marry you, Suze,” said John. “We can make it with us both working.” That was always the plan. But not until graduation, still three months off. Nursing students were not allowed to marry, let alone become mothers in 1957, in Altoona, Pennsylvania.

The degree means everything. Home is a failing farm near the silted, slugged ditch called the Juniata River. To Suze, the neat brick dormitory at the Mercy Nursing School shines like some kind of clean, bright heaven—with her own room. Under the bed, a cardboard box holds her mother’s old lilac suit in crumpled tissue paper, a shiny ring from John, a veil on loan from the church organist. A way out. Her new life. Where she can help pay the rent on the trailer John has his eye on, pay it all if his MS, from being gassed in the war, comes back.

I imagine her voice loud in the empty dark, saying “thank you,” grateful her water broke when she was alone for the weekend, the other girls gone to their homes on streets with sidewalks in town. Grateful she made it this far, carrying high under the loose student-nurse smock so that no one guessed, not even the sharp-eyed nuns.

Later—after the small, flannel-wrapped chrysalis is removed from her dormitory dresser drawer, after Suze packs up to leave Mercy, after the public defender bargains for her release into John’s “custody”—comes the day in the high-windowed courtroom. 

“One question,” the judge asks. “Was the baby born alive?

In place of answers, images. Pain like a dirty river breaking over her in waves. Alone in the cold dark. Saltwater soaking rags in the big tin tub. Her cap, immaculate and starched, was pinned over her hair in the next morning’s mirror. Through it all the voice in her head reviewed what she’d need for the wedding: Momma’s old suit, the new ring, the borrowed veil. And—boy parts, a face? Something blue.  

Rebecca Foust (This story is an excerpted version of a short story that originally appeared in American Literary Review.) 

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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.
Clio Morrison is an editorial intern with Ms. Magazine. She is a senior at Cornell University, double majoring in Government and Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies and double minoring in Law & Society and English. She is passionate about advocating for reproductive rights through the power of writing.