Roe v. Wade: A Personal Reflection
I didn’t intend to keep the fact of my abortion a secret. It’s just that bringing it up never seemed to be appropriate or helpful. Besides, no one except health care providers ever asked me. But some forty-seven years later I’ve decided it is time to share this hidden, if not secret, part of my life. Keeping it inside feels like a burden. The pending appointment of a conservative Supreme Court Justice to fill liberal Justice Ginsberg’s seat brings an added urgency to the topic. Roe v. Wade, which gave women the right to choose, soon may be overturned. I need to add my voice.
On October 1, 1973—the year of the historic Supreme Court decision—I learned that I was six weeks pregnant. I had moved to Boston only one month prior to this discovery. I left New Jersey to start a graduate program in sociology at Northeastern University. My intent was to study the women’s movement of the 1960’s and ‘70’s. With no job prospects in the immediate future, I planned to live off savings for the time being. I had sold my car to reduce expenses and was sharing an apartment with a young couple.
I had chosen the Boston location to be near a boyfriend who had left New Jersey the year prior to enroll in a graduate program at Brandeis University. But there was more than the boyfriend and graduate school motivating me to move to Boston. I wanted to make a fresh start. My four post-college years in New Jersey were an important period for me; it was a time to explore life outside of academia, to move in and out of relationships, to stretch limits, and to make mistakes. Those years were like a delayed adolescence for me. But after living without much direction, I felt the need to choose a straighter path and to set some personal goals.
The news of the pregnancy was a blow to my plans. I’d been using a contraceptive device, but it had obviously failed me. I felt in no position to become a responsible parent. After a brief conversation with the Northeastern OB/GYN doctor who informed me of the positive test result, he handed me a phone number for a local abortion clinic. Before leaving his office, I made an appointment for an abortion on October 5th.
My next hurdle was to inform the boyfriend. By the time I arrived in Boston it was clear that the he and I were already drifting apart, but I needed him at that moment. I told him about the pregnancy and the abortion plan--and that I didn’t know who the father was. Taking all this news in stride, he offered to accompany me to the clinic regardless of how I’d become pregnant. I welcomed his support.
In the days and years following the abortion I have not regretted my decision. Yet I acknowledge that it has had lingering effects on me at various points in my life. Immediately after the abortion I felt a sense of loss. The boyfriend was already moving on to his political and academic callings. I felt alone and somewhat abandoned, with no one to share the experience with.
A few years after this episode, I entered into a stable relationship with the man who was to become my husband. We eventually decided we wanted to have children. However, our bodies had other plans. We were faced with infertility issues. During those years of trying to become pregnant I couldn’t help but think back to the pregnancy of 1973 and wonder, what if…? Was that my only chance at motherhood? Fortunately, after nearly six years of trying to conceive we were blessed with a child.
When our son was about a year old, our family hosted a birth mother in her final month of pregnancy before giving the baby up for adoption by our close friends. For religious and personal reasons, she chose to continue her pregnancy. I was comfortable supporting her in her decision. Over the years my husband and I have shared our friends’ joys and trials in raising that child, who is now married and has a child of her own. And we are still in touch with the birth mother.
While I feel I made the right decision for me in 1973, I will never claim that abortion is a choice to be taken lightly. But choice is the key. In the coming months, if Roe v. Wade is overturned on constitutional or political grounds, I urgently hope that a way be found for a woman to continue to have the freedom to choose.
- September 29th, 2020