My name is Diane Therol Chaffin, known to my grandson as Nana, a 73-year-old grandma, who had an abortion after a rape in 1967, six years before Roe v Wade. Before I tell my experience with abortion, I’d like to briefly tell you about another grandma.
My grandma, Catherine Therol, found out she was pregnant not too soon after my father was born in 1927. Grandma Catherine was told of a neighborhood lady who could make sure she was no longer pregnant. She also made sure she could no longer have children. Grandma Catherine isn’t the only woman in my family to be adversely affected by illegal abortion
In 1967, as a college freshman in Oakland, CA, I was voted Homecoming Queen. After winning the game Bill, the captain of the basketball team, and I went to a friend’s home to celebrate. Later, as we walked back to the dorm he pushed me into the bushes and raped me. In a few moments he took away the excitement of the day, my sense of trust, safety, and pride. He left me with anger and shame.
In the dark, I walked to the dorm to find the dorm mothers, Miss Berry & Miss Bemke, aka Berry & Bemke. They called the police. The Oakland Police Department did nothing.
The only other person I told was my grandpa, Andre Therol. When I called him, he drove over to help.
About 3 months later I realized I was pregnant. Berry & Bemke called my grandfather, who drove over, faster than the first time, to help. Seemed like I cried for days.
Berry and Bemke knew of a group of legitimate doctors who performed abortions through word-of-mouth appointments, in nearby Berkeley. I found out much later about the danger for all involved, including Berry, Bemke, Grandpa Andre. I barely remember finding the location after driving through a neighborhood with lots of trees. All I did was cry. I knew little about abortion.
As we all walked into a nondescript building, I felt only fear. Later, I vaguely remember the anesthetic, cramps, blood, and loneliness. In a fog, I remember Grandpa Andre paying for the abortion in cash.
I stayed in a hotel with my grandpa for a week, before going back to school, numb and, for a while, unable to concentrate. I do not know what I told my friends if they asked about my absence. My grades fell. I have no idea what lies I told my parents.
All involved worked in darkness. They took big risks, but were willing to do so. We all were made to feel like criminals. We were forced to sneak around and keep secrets. I wondered what would have happened if someone found out. I wondered what would have happened without Berry, Bemke, and Grandpa Andre.
Before we married, I told my husband, who reacted with love and tenderness.
In my late 40s, I told my mother. She slapped me hard and left the room.
I recently told my son and daughter-in-law, who have responded with kindness.
I was lucky. I had support. I was educated. I had access to money and care. I was white.
In a journal I keep for my grandson, I tell him about family history
and daily activities, for him to read when he’s older. One day I’ll tell him how the unjust laws affected his Nana.
I’ll also tell him of the phenomenal life I’ve lived because of my abortion. I was able to finish college, teach at a community college, throw pots, cook Thanksgiving dinners with my family, and have a grandson who tries to teach his Nana chess.