MY PRE-ROE ABORTION STORY
I have always held a strong belief that any pregnant person’s reasons for choosing to undergo an abortion should be a private matter. No Judgments. Period. Nonetheless, I share my pre-Roe abortion story to highlight that no matter how complex the barriers, abortions will be sought out. We should all work to insure that what is provided is SAFE, ACCESSIBLE, and LEGAL. Unfortunately those ideals are constantly at risk, and have recently been further eroded.
When I became pregnant in the spring of 1968, it was my first time. I was then 22, an adult, but clearly naïve. I was only minimally aware of birth control, and frankly did not really believe that I would get pregnant. I was a graduate student in Manhattan, far from my relatives in Cincinnati. My boyfriend was a VISTA volunteer in the Bronx. When we were suddenly faced with the possibility of my having a baby, I had to very quickly learn and navigate through my options. I was fortunate to have my boyfriend’s emotional support and the kindness of several medical providers I found through the university’s health services.
I recall visiting a psychiatrist at the university’s health service who helped me identify my feelings, including my fears. I did have many fears. Some were aggravated by persons who made false assumptions about me (a physician who asked me how I had time to study), or projected their own values into the mix (my roommate who said she could no longer live with me if I chose to have an abortion). I met with physicians both alone and together with my boyfriend. One recommended marriage. Another explained that since I was still in the early stage of pregnancy, I might safely have an abortion if it was done soon. Safety was stressed. That physician identified a possible clinic.
The clinic identified was in San Juan, Puerto Rico. We learned that if we could raise (borrow) sufficient cash, we could fly there and possibly obtain an abortion in a medical setting, with an attending physician. The Manhattan physician warned us to take a thermometer and to monitor my temperature after the procedure. He also stressed the importance of returning to Manhattan as quickly as possible in the event further medical care was needed.
Of course, there were risks. I don’t think that I was aware then of any legal punishments. My view of the risk was primarily to my own body, including future child bearing. I did want to have children, just not so soon. Some years later I did come to see that the physicians helping me may have taken personal risks of legal punishment, including possible loss of a medical license. I have not forgotten their kindness.
On arriving in San Juan my boyfriend and I took a taxi into town from the airport. Although it was late in the afternoon, we located the clinic, using the address shared with us by the Manhattan physician. The clinic was closed. While we stood in the parking lot, a man drove in and asked me “how far are you?” We were startled and very wary. But I responded with the number of weeks. He then told me of another clinic, and handed me a business card. We did not want to go beyond what my Manhattan doctor had identified as safe. So we simply sought out a nearby hotel for the night. The following morning we went very early to the clinic, hoping to be seen there that day. We were relieved to find the clinic open with time available. In the waiting room with us were a young girl with her grandmother, and at least one unaccompanied woman. We were all subdued and respectful of one another’s privacy.
In retrospect, one can wonder how we were all so fortunate as to find this remote, safe, clean resource. Apparently abortion was legal in Puerto Rico, although I do not think I knew that at the time. It seemed that very little was written down, anywhere, presumably to avoid detection. Discovering the networks and using them was certainly not easy, nor free. Remember that we had no internet, no cell phones, and only word of mouth information. Although I was grateful for my boyfriend’s support, I found this to be a very lonely, frightening time. I believe that the only person who actually knew I was in San Juan was my roommate.
The attending physician met with us before proceeding with medical care. He expressed admiration for our respective work/study. He told us that he had a child who was in the Peace Corps in Central America. I felt respected, and even the exchange of cash did not diminish this feeling. The procedure the doctor used was a dilation and curettage, a D&C, under anesthesia, in an operating room. I had never heard of a D&C before. After it was completed, and I awakened from the anesthesia, I felt a great sense of relief. My boyfriend and I went out for a meal. Having not eaten much for days, I remember being ravenous. We did return quickly to Manhattan, as instructed, in case of any infection. But all went well.
I never chose to share this experience with anyone in my family (parents/sibling) nor with any clergy. I had been raised as an Episcopalian, but I do not recall my parents nor my church leaders ever speaking about abortion at all, much less as a “sin.” Pre-marital sex may have been mentioned, as contrary to church rules, but nothing more. That was probably fortunate for me. I did not feel any fear of “sinning.” I was no longer affiliated with any church. My boyfriend’s VISTA supervisor was a Catholic priest, however. Not surprisingly, he recommended another option to my boyfriend, accepting financial support from a wealthy couple for me to stay in a “home for unwed mothers,” until birthing and release of my baby to that family. I believe that his suggestion was well intentioned. He would have facilitated that. Instead, he loaned my boyfriend some of the cash we needed for the trip to Puerto Rico and my abortion.
I have had no regrets. I have a loving husband who is aware of my story and of my placing it in this repository. We have one birth child, a son, and one adopted child, a daughter. I have not met my daughter’s birthmother, but I respect her choice and have expressed to her our abiding gratefulness. We have four grandsons. We financially support various pro-choice organizations. When I was younger I served on the board of our local family planning agency. I am grateful for all the pro-choice work being done across our country and through the world. It is an honor to be a member of GRR!. Thank you for creating this repository of stories.