I had an abortion in 1964, before Roe, when I was 22. I was living, working, and going to school in New York City and had friends who could put me in touch with an angel for many women during that time, Dr. Spencer in rural Pennsylvania. I learned that Dr. Spencer was a country general practitioner who was committed to providing abortions, and had been doing them right along with his practice for decades. He was in his mid-70’s by then.
Unlike most women who didn’t know where to turn, or who didn’t have the resources to find a safe practitioner, I had my sister who worked for IBM, who had had at least one abortion herself and who could take me and pay for me to see Dr. Spencer. I made an appointment, we drove to western PA, I met with the doctor and he set me up for the next morning. We arrived early, before office hours with several other women, and I went under with anesthesia in the procedure room. Dr. Spencer worked with a young man who was helpful and respectful to the women, and I felt very confident throughout. I remember waking up in a different room and asked the young man “How did I get here?” He replied, “I carried you,” which has remained a metaphor for me of how the two of them took such good care of us and saved us from possible untold negative impacts on our lives.
I recovered uneventfully, and we left. It was late in the morning by then. As I passed through the waiting room, I saw every type of person from the town waiting to see Dr. Spencer – young people, children, babies, men and women, older people. They either nodded a greeting or didn’t acknowledge me. But I realized that they all knew what Dr. Spencer did. I heard and read later about how the townspeople protected Dr. Spencer when the feds would come to town to try to arrest him. They did succeed at least once, but then he was back to helping women as always when he got out of jail. I never had regrets other than chiding myself for not being more careful with contraception, which, again, I was in a position to access (though I had to say I was married - I wasn’t – to get contraceptives at the Margaret Sanger clinic in NYC.)
Mine was a good experience of abortion pre-Roe, but I was able to get it because of my access to information and money. This was a rare experience in those days, and I feel really lucky. But I am acutely aware that then, many, if not most, women had terrible experiences with back-alley abortions or were unable to access abortion at all.
After having two wonderful children, I had a second abortion when the marriage was dissolving. This time it was 1974 during Roe, and I went to a clean, bright clinic in Boston with committed, supportive staff: a second good abortion story.
My experience here contributed to my becoming a life-long activist for the sexual and reproductive rights of women first as a nurse-midwife, and then, after getting a Masters in Public Health, an international program developer, trainer, and policy advocate for reproductive rights working in developing countries for decades.
My personal experience, again, was unusually good. The overwhelming number of other women did not fare as well. And working in Africa, Asia and Latin America training providers in abortion and post-abortion care, and working with community and advocacy groups within countries to change country laws and practices, I was constantly faced with the death and disability of women with unwanted pregnancy and the crushing stigma that drove those outcomes.
Abortion is health care. Abortions should be provided in regular health settings by all kinds of health care providers and treated as routine health care equal with all other aspects of women’s reproductive health services.
I remember waking up in a different room and asked the young man “How did I get here?” He replied, “I carried you,” which has remained a metaphor for me of how the two of them took such good care of us and saved us from possible untold negative impacts on our lives.