Toni’s Story – 1968.

January 8, 2019

In 1968 the USSR and the US were testing nuclear bombs. Laugh-In premiered. The My Lai Massacre occurred in Viet Nam. Surveyor 7 landed on the moon. Peggy Fleming won the gold in the Winter Olympics. Martin Luther King was assassinated. Lyndon Johnson was president, and I got pregnant.

I dated Rick for nearly two years, and in my opinion, it was exclusive. There had never been a discussion about marriage or commitment, but I thought we were going there soon. There was one very romantic night as we talked in his 1964 Corvette, and our lives changed.

In 1965, the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional for the government to prohibit married couples from using birth control. Not until 1972 was birth control available to single women and non-liars. As a couple, we used the age-old method of rhythm, early withdrawal, and a prayer. It was a difficult plan to maintain in the front seat of a sports car. I remember being terrified to ask for the pill from a doctor, afraid of judgment and that someone would tell my dad. It was illegal and women were forced to use fake names or other deceptions for service. There were only two kinds of unmarried women in those days, a good girl (virgin) or a whore, no choices in between.

I wasn’t very far along when I figured out what happened, and I told Rick. He said nothing at the time but came over a day later to tell me he wasn’t ready. He presented a deal, if I wanted the baby, it was all mine. He would not be involved in any way. If I didn’t go that route, he would pay financially for the abortion, and I would pay emotionally and physically.  I earned three hundred dollars a month at my job, with no insurance and the horror of my guilt, I agreed.

A week later, I waited in the lot behind the Hitching Post Bar in Peoria, Illinois and met a guy. I handed him an unmarked envelope full of cash, and he laughed. “What am I supposed to do with all of these envelopes?” I had no suggestions as we left for an unknown location. My information was slim, I knew how the baby got in there, but no idea how it would come out. As we drove to East St. Louis, about two hours away, he educated me. When the trip started I was timid, but as we arrived, I had a friend and a confidant. He knew my secret, and he didn’t judge me. I wish I remembered his name, because he was open, honest, and gave me much-needed information and some warning signs of problems to watch for. He promised if I felt well enough after, we could go to the Cardinals baseball game in St. Louis.

We arrived at a doctor’s office, and he sat with me waiting for the nurse to call my name. I went in alone, got undressed and laid on the table. The doctor came in and put unidentified medical tools in a large metal bowl, poured alcohol (I assumed) on them and set it all on fire. I was smart enough to know that was an effective form of sterilization, but to this day I wish he would have pulled them out of a little box, like at the beauty shop. In my fear, I requested my driver to come and sit with me. He did, and the last words I remember for sure were “are you sure, you can still change your mind.”

Yes, I was sure.  I don’t remember much more. About an hour into the ride home, he stopped and bought me a Dairy Queen ice cream cone. I slept the majority of the way back. During the entire experience he was kind and considerate. It would be years later that I would recognize the risk he took helping to guarantee a safer choice.

Somehow I was home, and Rick was there. He brought me a can of orange juice concentrate every day for a couple of weeks. He heard that it was healthy. Even now, I seldom drink orange juice, but I still love the Dairy Queen.

There were details that I knew nothing about regarding bleeding and tampon use. Rick was there for me, and we would talk for hours. Both of us recognized it might have been our only chance to have a baby. That concern ended up being real for me, not for him.  My inability to have children was for another health reason, not the procedure on that day.

Almost a month later, he took me on a date, and one of his friends brought over my sunglasses,  “the abortion guy sent them, said you forgot.” I still wonder how many knew about our situation.

Our relationship lasted another two years; I loved Rick then, I love him now. Even though I haven’t seen him in forty-five years; some bonds are life-long. I have no regrets, but occasionally I do visit what if land.

In the mid-80s, I mobilized by the memory of my experience. There is a strong belief that no woman or girl should be as ignorant and frightened as I was. During my years as an activist, I was the president of a large city chapter of the National Organization for Women. I did a radio show, and we were under attack by every caller. I decided to tell my story, and the lines went quiet. Finally, the phone rang, and the message held up was Marjorie on line two. My mother had called, and she asked one question, “Was it the football coach?” Don’t worry Rick wasn’t my coach: I was well out of high school when we met. Once she knew and understood, I could speak out with no shame.

Later I was invited to lead a panel at a university for the right to life movie “The Silent Scream.” The pro-choice side consisted of an emergency room doctor, a Unitarian Minister that had been a driver, and me. Even though it was an event by a religious right to life group, the Unitarian church got three new members the next Sunday.

Daily I watch the attacks on women’s rights and realized I must speak. They can steal some of our options, but they can never take away what we have learned.

In 2017, over three million people participated in Women’s Marches around the world. In 2018, the nomination of Judge Kavanaugh is confirmed. Then, 126 women are elected to Congress. In 2019, on January 1, Ultima Thule from NASA sends back an image of a rocky object a billion miles beyond Pluto, the furthest world humankind has ever explored in space. The Trump administration plans to put a “domestic gag rule” about abortion in Title X funding, which has served low-income women with family planning for nearly 50 years. And I speak out one more time for choice.

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