My name is Susan Quackenbush.
In June of 1969 I had an illegal abortion.
I was 22 years old, recently graduated from college, when my family doctor said to me “Susie, you’re pregnant.”
His words placed all the plans I’d made in jeopardy - my dreamed of country wedding in a few months, my first job teaching in the fall to support both my future husband and me and the tiny apartment we had leased that wouldn’t allow children. But what terrified me the most was the shame my parents would have felt. In the small Michigan town where I grew up, people gossiped about girls who became pregnant out of wedlock.
In the face of all this, I decided (and my fiance agreed), that getting an abortion was what was best for us. But how? Neither of us knew anyone who had had (or would admit to having had) one. The only person we could think might be able to help was a young gynecologist at the University of Michigan where we attended who had given a presentation about the safety of a relatively new contraceptive known as “The Pill”. Mostly married, or soon to be married couples, attended because until 1972, the “Pill” could only legally be prescribed for married women.
My fiance called the doctor who agreed to meet with us. After I explained why I needed to have an abortion, he gave us a phone number of someone to call who might be able to help. At no time did he say the word “abortion”. I now know that the person we called was a member of The Clergy Consultation Service (CCS), a group who referred women to licensed physicians for safe abortions. An appointment was scheduled with a doctor in Chicago. The cost would be $1000 cash.
Remembering this most pivotal day of my life, is for me, like watching a movie.
After a 3-hour drive we met a man, our contact, and another couple, at a restaurant on the outskirts of downtown Chicago. He drove us on a circuitous route to lose anyone who might be following us. We finally turned into an alley and stopped at the back of a tall building. After a ride in a cramped elevator, we entered a hallway, walked to a door and rang the bell. A woman opened it and motioned us in.
Entering the living room of a large apartment, I noticed that all the furniture is covered in white sheets. The sole illumination came from a glow at the end of a hallway. My fiance handed over the cash which we’d planned to use for our honeymoon. Then I followed the woman to a room at the end where I removed my skirt and panties and coverup with a sheet. There was a knock and a middle-aged Black man with a mustache entered. He treated me with the utmost professionalism and care. I was awake throughout the whole procedure. It seemed to take forever. Alot of scraping and pressure but no pain. Many years later, I discovered that my physician was Dr. Theodore Roosevelt Howard, a well-known civil rights activist, who believed that a woman’s right to choose was as much a civil right as any other. I am, and will continue to be, forever grateful to him.
I pray that women everywhere may have the right to safe, accessible, and legal abortions.
Freedom of Choice for All!