My mother had an abortion nine years before it was legal
Here’s what it might be like for the lucky among us
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This is a story about the past, which might foreshadow the future.
My mother sent me this email when I asked her yesterday about her abortion :
Looking back on it, I was one of the lucky ones. White, well-educated and with a responsible partner, I was able to get an abortion in September 1964.
I found out I was pregnant just a few days before I was to start graduate school.
I was lucky that I had a college girlfriend who was open enough to tell me me she’d had an abortion the year before. I was lucky that she told me, because women at that time felt ashamed to talk about these experiences.
I contacted her and got the name of the doctor. Yes, he was a doctor. I had even checked him out to confirm he had an M.D.
My boyfriend was able to take out a loan at the school where he was a graduate student to pay the $500 fee. That was a lot of money; he paid it off over time. We had both agreed we were not ready to be parents. We married several years later and our decision to eventually have children was made once we were settled in our careers.
But it was scary. My boyfriend and I were given an address on the near North Side in Chicago. A residential neighborhood. We found a basement office. The windows were curtained. We were let in by a woman. The rooms were dark and hushed. It was an early-term abortion which went over two days.
The doctor inserted a string into my vagina to trigger contractions. We went to a motel that night. I had a LOT of discomfort and cramping and I was in a lot of pain. I took aspirin to relieve the pain. I was also scared. The doctor had not said much about what to expect.
The next morning we went back and I think he used a suctioning device to release the tissues. I had a lot of bleeding for days afterwards, and some cramps too.
I never regretted terminating this pregnancy. I may never have gone to graduate school and had a career as a social worker and psychotherapist.
But I have thought of that possible child. I imagine her soul reincarnated into another body, and she has had a life of her own.
There are many, many stories like this, including many more from people who were not as lucky as my mother.
My mother wanted me to pass along one other thought: Overturning Roe won’t stop abortions. “Women have always had abortions. They will continue to have abortions,” she said.
There are people who have long been preparing for a time when abortion is not recognized as a constitutional right. The journalist Jessica Bruder recently wrote about the “abortion underground”: “people who want to keep abortion accessible for everybody who might want access to abortion,” she says, regardless of what happens with Roe.
I also recommend reading the stories on Shout Your Abortion. It’s helpful for me to read these stories. They remind me that abortion is healthcare. Abortion is normal.
And it’s not just about access to abortion. It’s about, as Lane said yesterday, the tragedy of babies born to women who can’t care for them. It’s the tragedy of a system that forces pregnancy, but won’t support children and families through a social safety net.
There’s a lot more to be said and done in the wake of the news about this leaked opinion. For now, consider donating to the National Network of Abortion Funds, which provide money, information, accompaniment to clinics, meals, childcare or a hand to hold for someone making the choice to have an abortion.