My name is Sue Perlgut.
In 1965 I had an illegal abortion. I had just graduated from college and was in my first teaching job in New Jersey. I was in my early 20s, and in those days, single women didn’t have access to contraceptives except condoms, which sometimes fail, which ours did, and 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.
Although it cost me a third of my salary, I was lucky. I survived. I didn’t have to travel far but, was treated with less than courtesy. I was to wait at the Newark, NJ bus station with a carnation in my lapel. There were two other women there too. Both 19 years old. The woman who drove us to the abortion told me on the ride there, that if her daughter ever got pregnant she’d kill her.
In the car, the scene with a New York City doctor replays itself in my head. The doctor tells me that the abortion will be $1000. “We have costs and we take the risks,” she says. “$1000? I'm sorry,” I say. “I just don't have that kind of money. It’s a third of my salary, I guess I can't do it.” “What about your parents?” she asks. “Out of the question,” I reply. I get up to go and she asks if I think I could pay $900? We finally settled on $700, cash which I was to bring with me.
We arrive and pull into a huge apartment complex in Northern NJ, enter a redbrick high rise and take the elevator to the 14th floor. Our guide knocks on the door of 14 B. Since I appear to be the calmest of the three women on that car ride, they take me first and give me fewer drugs. I wake up to loud screams and realize that they are mine. The Doctor, who is a MD, yells, “my neighbors,” slaps me, and I'm out again.
I’m barely awake on the ride back to the bus station where the driver wishes me luck in a very business-like way.
I roll down all four windows of my car hoping that the cold air and the loud radio will keep me awake as I drive home. I do manage the 45-minute drive home without falling asleep.
When I get back to my apartment, my roommate who was sitting home very worried and waiting for me, is 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 because it was illegal and at the time I felt shame.
On that November day in 1965 there was no way I would know what was to happen to women’s reproductive rights or the role I would play. My illegal abortion happened five years before NY 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 which you can find on ConnieCookFilm.com
Years later, in my 40’s I told my mother about my abortion and she told me that she had one also, shortly after I was born.
Now, I no longer feel shame, what I feel now is anger, anger at a system that hates and punishes women who choose what do to with their body. No woman should ever have to have an illegal abortion. No man, or woman who parrots men, should decide that for us.
Reproductive Justice for all.
This story is so powerful! I can’t wait to watch your documentary.