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9 Older Women Share Their Harrowing Back Alley Abortion Stories

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via Flickr - renee_mcgurk
via Flickr – renee_mcgurk

In 1973, the Supreme Court handed down the decision on Roe vs Wade which made abortions legal nationwide. Prior to that, abortions were illegal in most states. Only three states, Alaska, New York, and Washington state granted abortions on demand which meant women seeking abortions were left with difficult and dangerous choices to make. Below are the stories of nine such women.

1. Mary, 76 years old

I am 76 years old and had 4 illegal abortions in my twenties. I was and am intelligent and a fast learner. However, I was ignorant of how to protect myself from pregnancy, was convinced that a man had every right to call the shots in a sexual encounter (Who was I to tell him to stop? Hadn’t I let him kiss me?), and was extremely fertile (I became pregnant using a diaphragm). That combination still exists even though abortion is legal and, if a young woman fits that description, she should contact Planned Parenthood and find out what the deal is.

I was extremely lucky that I was able to locate a nurse skilled in giving abortions in NJ for three of my abortions (she never told me about contraception but did take me to a doctor for a D&C) and a woman in Harlem who was also skilled. One abortion was done when I was 5 months pregnant. Another was done at the behest of my then-husband who informed me he didn’t want children. I was so totally relieved after each abortion and abstained from sex for months after each one. It took a friend of mine to clue me about Planned Parenthood where I was fitted for a diaphragm.

I have never had a moment’s remorse about any of these abortions. I had good reasons for each one. I still believe that raising children is an enormous responsibility that I am glad I postponed until I was mature and with a man I loved who also loved me. It was hard enough to raise children under these circumstances. I can’t imagine what I would have done if I had been forced to have 4 children!

What I really suffered from was my ignorance, passivity (the inability to say “no”) and my fertility. I think women still have that problem even though there is supposedly sex ed in school and abortion is legal. We are brought up to be obedient and to keep our sexuality repressed. It took me until I was 55 to truly enjoy intercourse with a male lover. I never thought of exploring my sexuality with a woman and only learned about oral sex with my boyfriend in my 60s.

It is so important to feel empowered in a sexual relationship and not be worried about one’s performance and “what will he think?” I urge anyone who is in this boat to free yourself from the attitude because who you are sexually is a large part of your life. Explore your sexuality with someone you completely trust who loves you.

2. Mabel, 75 years old

In 1966 I was 31, married with 2 children (born 1964 and 1965) and 3 months pregnant with my third child in as many years. I had an IUD in place. I was also nursing!

I knew I could not have another child so soon. I was physically and mentally exhausted. I was working, doing family work, 13 hours a day, seven days a week. My husband was not one who pitched in, changing diapers, doing laundry etc. We were an “old fashioned” couple brought up in the ethos of the fifties that focused on being in service to your husband, whose needs trumped everyone’s.

My doctor was sympathetic and with his aid I located an abortionist in Nevada. He, however, was “on vacation”. The next step was Tijuana. I had the support of my husband and we went, leaving the other 2 kids with a baby sitter. The abortionist was kind. I sobbed uncontrollably as soon as we were back on U.S. soil. It was one of the most difficult and best decisions of my life.

It is difficult for me now to imagine what I was willing to put on the line: my life. I was risking everything. If I died, my two children would have been without me. My husband would have remarried. My parents would have blamed him. The entangled consequences are painful to picture.

Indeed, the Right is making up a syndrome, another desperate attempt to void Roe vs Wade. I would never want my daughters-in-law to have to face the balance that my husband and I faced. And why should they? In all cultures, in all history and pre-history women have had to make the decision whether they could provide for yet another being. They made it alone, they carried it out alone in the interest of the survival of those who were living. For the Right to reserve the right to massacre others in war and at the same time blithely accuse women of murder is beyond ludicrous.

3. Susan, 59 years old

It was 1970 and I was nineteen years old. It was a perfect Southern California night & I was hitchhiking with a male friend. The roadways were busy and soon a car stopped and my life was changed forever with that encounter. Raped, brutalized, beaten, and tortured by two men. I survived that ordeal only to be repeatedly victimized (and in the process shamed into silence) by the systems in place that were there to supposedly help me. The police whom I first reported the crime, and gave my underwear & other clothing to, I found out later, didn’t file a report. The doctor in the emergency room, where I was taken, accused me of lying. Later when I learned I was pregnant, I started the process, (the only option at that time), to obtain a legal abortion by being declared “mentally ill” by a psychiatrist. I had to submit to psychiatric testing and session after session with an unsympathetic man who made it obvious that he had no respect or empathy for me or for what I had experienced.

The system moved slowly & the weeks of my pregnancy went by. I was panic stricken of being too far along in my pregnancy to be legally allowed to have an abortion. I was so emotionally wrecked I couldn’t work so I quit my job, my car broke down alongside the road and I just walked away from it. I had no support system. I felt that what had happened to me (and the system confirmed this) was so despicable that I couldn’t share it with anyone. I begged the male friend who was there not ever to speak of it to anyone…but of course he did.

My life stopped entirely. I just stayed at home curled up in a chair, too fearful to sleep during the night and too ashamed to connect with any of my friends. They all knew but pretended they didn’t…it was painfully uncomfortable so I stopped seeing anyone. Finally, I received an appointment at the local hospital. I went alone…another horrible, isolating experience. The whispers, stares and insensitivity of the nursing staff was devastating. I have no recollection of meeting the doctor. I was completely and utterly alone through the whole ordeal and after it. But it got done.

I bled heavily for a month afterwards, I passed large pieces of tissue and was very scared. One night I passed out, I believe, from the loss of blood. The doctor who performed the abortion refused me a follow-up appointment. I was too ashamed to go to another doctor for help. Somehow I survived.

Over the years, I have remained committed to Pro-Choice objectives so that no other young woman would have to go through what I did to get an abortion. I have stood in solidarity with every woman, under any circumstances, to make that same choice. I am immensely grateful that Planned Parenthood exists & continues to offer women a supportive, empathetic, safe place to have an abortion.

Do I have any regrets? No. Am I sorry? Absolutely not! That abortion allowed me a second chance,(despite all the obstacles the system placed in my way) to get on with my life. I had three wonderful, blissful pregnancies which produced three incredible (now, young adult) children that I adore. I have a fabulous (still madly in love) marriage to the man of my dreams. I have never looked back on my decision to have an abortion as being anything but the right one. Be strong, my sisters, and have no fear or guilt in making the right choice for you.

4. Nan, 78 years old

The year was 1949 — I was just 17 years old and a college freshman. My mother had remarried in 1945 and I was resentful of my stepfather who was a professor at the local college. My parents were tired of the sulkiness and told me I would live in the college dorm, which suited me very well–freedom!

While there was liquor served at faculty parties in our home, I had never really enjoyed drinking. I did drink beer at the college hangout, and one–or possibly two–rendered me pretty silly and uninhibited. I had a friend who lived across the hall in the dorm and had a steady boyfriend. One night he came with a friend of his and we unfurled a blanket on the dorm lawn by the lake and began drinking a bottle of wine. Eventually, we drove to Bowers Mansion, a spot in the Carson Valley about 15 miles from Reno. I remember Ann and her boyfriend took a blanket and wandered off, and left me in the car with the date. He challenged me to a game of taking off our clothes, and I thought this was pretty funny. Eventually, of course, the sexual contact happened. It was painful, since it was my first time, and it seemed totally unreal and as though it were happening to someone else.

My period didn’t come and I called my mother, scared to death. They contacted their family doctor/friend, who gave them a name of someone to take me to. There was no anesthesia, much pain and bleeding and a visit to the family doctor for penicillin and who knows what else afterward. I have never regretted this– I was totally unprepared for a child and did not even know the man involved. My only feelings were of gratitude that I didn’t have to suffer the consequences of a foolish act on my part, and that my family made the decision for me. I have thought of it through the years, and only been mad that I wasn’t involved in deciding, but I was pretty panicked, so maybe it was better. I would not have decided any differently after all. Raised by my mother, I was not a sentimental baby lover at that stage in my life.

5. Linda 

My story began 37 years ago when abortions were not legal. I was in college, and had met the man who would later become my husband.

To say “I found myself pregnant” sounds so foolish to me now, but I was frighteningly naïve back then. He felt that marriage was the logical next step, but I knew that graduating from college was my priority and was terrified of my parent’s reaction. Names of “doctors” came from everyone, but no one I knew had ever really met them. After numerous phone calls where my request for “an abortion” was met with a hang up, I tried asking for “an appointment” instead and was successful.

We had to travel some distance, and the expense of $300 plus a hotel room, was far beyond our budget without help from friends.

The procedure was done without anesthesia, and there was no recovery period, however the doctor was very kind. In our youthful optimism, we hardly realized how dangerous this could have turned out. I was one of the “lucky ones”. I had a wonderful partner, I found a “real” doctor, and had caring friends to help. Many women in those days were not as fortunate. I learned that the man I loved was indeed a man who would support me in a difficult situation.

We later married and had 3 children who were planned for and eagerly anticipated by all our extended family.

We have never regretted our decision.

Today I look back on that experience as the beginning of a life dedicated to a women’s right to make safe and healthy choices for her future and her family. I serve on the Board of Directors at a Planned Parenthood, escort women past harassing protestors at a women’s clinic, and oversee a volunteer fund which provides financial help to women who cannot afford an abortion. I have never been “sorry”, I’ve been motivated!

6. Lily, 64 years old

It was 1962 and I was 16 years old. Abortion was not legal. I’d had a steady boyfriend since I was 14 and we didn’t really know a lot about birth control. When I discovered I was pregnant my best friend told me that she had overheard a way to induce a miscarriage. It involved not eating or drinking for three days, then drinking a glass of castor oil, and taking an extremely hot bath, and douching with vinegar. Well, I tried all of it, with her help, but it didn’t work. I went to my family doctor who had delivered me and my siblings, and he sadly explained that there was nothing he could do. So my boyfriend and I figured we’d have to get married. That meant I wouldn’t go to college and he would drop out of school to get a job.

Fortunately, my boyfriend told my older sister who had had three kids by the time she was 20 and she said “No way!” She arranged for me to have an illegal abortion. It was performed by an older woman whom I was told was a nurse. She was sweet and motherly. I was relieved that she was not some greasy looking male doctor. She inserted a catheter into my uterus, and a large tampon-like object to hold it in place. My sister was with me the whole time and it took place in the backroom of neighborhood medical office. Within several days I began to bleed. She called me to see if I was OK, and then said, “I never want to see you again.” It was only later that I found out that I could have had an embolism and died from that procedure.

I went on to go to college, to split up with that boyfriend, and to lead a very different life than I would have if I hadn’t had that abortion. In the 1970’s I became an abortion activist and also worked for several years as an abortion counselor.

I sometimes think of what my life would have been like – or what my child might have been like. But I have no regrets. I have one son, adopted. His birth mother considered having an abortion but changed her mind. That seems to close the circle somehow.

7. Serena, 59 years old

I was 19 in the spring of 1970. A freshman in college, the pill was brand new. I got pregnant the first time I had sex with my boyfriend. I had to go to an OB/GYN office in Scottsdale for a pregnancy test. Most of the women in the waiting room were quite pregnant. After the test, when I called the clinic, the doctor said “Congratulations! You’re pregnant. Would you like to make an appointment for prenatal care?” There was no way I was going to have a baby. I always felt in control and it was my life so my boyfriend and I started asking questions.

A friend of my boyfriend had gotten his girlfriend pregnant. They had found a “guy” – a former medical student, supposedly. His girlfriend lived in an apartment by herself so they arranged for this guy to do her abortion. She said he showed up at her door one night, took her into the bedroom, inserted a catheter into her uterus and then left. She had a miscarriage the next day in the toilet in her apartment. Sounded awful to me so we looked for other options.

A fellow student at Arizona State told me that a sociology professor would give you information about abortion. I went to his office and he gave me an address. He said to send them $5 and that they would send you information on where you could get an abortion. I sent the $5 and they sent me a list of information, about 5 or 6 pages long via a new mail service – overnight delivery. I got it in a couple of days from somewhere in New York state. The organization that sent it later became NARAL and I’ve been a member ever since.

I didn’t tell my parents. I didn’t want to disappoint them or be pressured to get married and have a baby. I wanted to be in charge of my own life. I never considered that having a baby at that time was in any way a reasonable option.

As I recall, abortion was only legal in NY – pretty far from Arizona. But it was available in Mexico only a few hours away from Tempe. I called the clinic in Mexico and with my rudimentary Spanish made an appointment for that coming Saturday. A friend of my boyfriend was going to drive us down there, but he got drunk and was thrown in jail the night before. So my husband borrowed a car from his grandfather and drove me down there.

I had a D&C with general anesthetic in a clinic just over the border from Yuma, AZ. When I awoke and went to the toilet it was a beautiful place, very clean. It looked like a resort motel. They gave me some antibiotics and cautioned us to buy some souvenirs before we walked back over the border. At the time it was not legal for American women to have abortions in Mexico, but it was legal for Mexican women. We took another woman with us through the border checkpoint because she had come by herself. We then walked back to our car and drove home.

I started hemorrhaging about a week later and went to my family doctor. Stupid of me because he was quite Catholic and, I found out much later, very much against abortion. He examined me, told me I’d lost almost ½ my blood and sent the nurse out of the room. He then asked me if I were pregnant. I assured him I wasn’t, laughing to myself. I had a transfusion and, I think, some drugs to stop the bleeding. After that I was fine.

I ended up marrying my boyfriend, though we divorced several years later. He and I remain friends to this day. When Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in the US I rejoiced. It makes me crazy that men, who control so much of our legal system are the ones who have the power to decide women’s reproductive rights. I was in a demonstration in Washington DC in 1988 (I think) for abortion rights and hundreds of thousands of women demonstrating for their right to have a safe, legal abortion. The best saying I heard and saw on posters was “Keep your laws off my body”.

I have had a wonderful life and have never regretted having that abortion. The only regret is that I had to go to Mexico and could have died if the doctor had punctured my uterus or if I’d had an infection. D&C is riskier than the procedures developed later and I was forced to have one in Mexico. Women will always have abortions, whether it is legal or illegal. They always have. They always will. My decisions about my body and how I will live my life concern no one except myself. I have never had any children and don’t regret that at all.

I now live in Denver, CO and volunteer at a clinic where protesters (mostly men) picket. We walk with the women who come for abortions from their cars to the clinic. At least I wasn’t subjected to the fear and intimidation that is the stock in trade of those lunatics. I usually remind the women that 100% of those men will never get pregnant and really have little understanding of childbirth or child rearing.

8. Camille, 73 years old

When I was 21 and married to my first husband I became pregnant. I had always been adamant about not wanting children. Despite this, my husband at the time encouraged me to carry the baby to term. I had no intention of doing so and instead sought out what was, at the time, an illegal abortion. By the time I actually found someone to do the procedure, however, I was four months pregnant.

The procedure itself went very badly and I had to be hospitalized. At the hospital, the doctors somehow then managed to save the pregnancy which made me extremely angry but that was the law at the time and the doctors were required to do that. Desperate, I managed to speak to one particular nurse who was sympathetic and was willing to conduct the abortion properly in the middle of the night.

9. Keese

In 1971, I was raped and viciously beaten by an intruder in my apartment. I ended up in the nearest teaching hospital’s emergency room. I had a fractured jaw, three broken ribs, I was black and blue from forehead to knees, and I had severe internal lacerations. The first 18 hours were a blur. My biggest worry was that the creep had impregnated me. I wasn’t on birth control and he certainly didn’t use a condom. The resident responsible for my care told me, “You are experiencing vaginal bleeding. We’re going to perform a D&C which should stop the bleeding.” I had the D&C. I wasn’t bleeding.

The rapist was caught soon after and sent to prison for 9 years for six serial rapes. From jail his friends and family threatened all of his accusers. From prison he sued one of his accusers, who gave birth to the product of rape, for custody of that baby.

The rape occurred in 2 years before the Roe v. Wade decision. I don’t know if I was pregnant — and neither did that doctor — but consider what would have happened to me HAD I been pregnant. I would have been denied an abortion.

That rape, like the Roe v. Wade case, happened in Dallas.

I’m not sorry. I’m not sorry at all. I never wanted to be a mother. I certainly would never have wanted the baby of a man who hated women so much he would rape them. TC mark

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