Today, January 22, 2023, we should be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision. Instead we are running a series we originally published in June, 2022 after the Dobbs decision was announced.
In light of the Supreme Court decisions overturning Roe v. Wade, DemCast USA will be sharing personal stories of people who have had abortions. As we read and edited these stories, we realized that the 13-year variance in our ages is enough to make our experiences with the politics of choice very different.
In January 1973, I was a 17-year-old high school senior, looking forward to going away to college. Birth control pills had already changed much of my generation’s attitude towards sex, but it was the Roe v. Wade decision that recognized that women had the right to make our own choices about our bodies and our lives.
Before Roe, most women were relegated to “back-alley abortions,” procedures that didn’t emphasize cleanliness or follow-up care. Many of these women were damaged forever, often becoming infertile, and sadly, a lot of them died. Roe changed and saved lives.
Over the next two decades legalized abortions resulted in a significantly reduced mortality rate of American women. Most of the public became used to, and supportive of, abortion being a legal medical procedure in the U.S. There was a vocal group of anti-choice people, but they were a minority.
In the early 1990s I became the president of the San Diego Coalition of Reproductive Choice. By that time the anti-choice forces had become louder and more violent. I actually had a police contact in case our organization had a confrontation with the “other side.”
One of my responsibilities was administering an abortion fund. Every week I had to review requests for funding from women in dire straits. These stories were heartbreaking, 12-year-olds raped by a family member, women who would die if they carried a much-wanted baby to term, women who already had multiple children and just wouldn’t be able to care for another baby. History and experience has shown that overturning Roe v. Wade won’t stop abortions, only result in more damaged and dead women, women who should have had the right to make their own decisions about whether to continue a pregnancy.
And now, after almost 50 years, we are faced with the reality that abortion will once again be illegal in many parts of the U.S. The pain that awaits American women will be devastating. But, aside from women being forced to bear unwanted children, there are other potential tragedies that will result from this decision. Since the medical procedure dilation and curettage (D&C) is a common abortion method, women who have one for medical reasons may find themselves accused of having an illegal abortion. In 2007 after years of menstrual problems, my doctor recommended a D&C. The test showed precancerous tissue, and at 52 I had a medically necessary hysterectomy. Fortunately they didn’t find any cancer, but if I hadn’t been able to have the D&C, it is likely that I would have eventually developed uterine cancer and would have had a very bleak prognosis. The D&C may have saved my life, but it may not be available to other women like me in the future.
When I was in my 20s in Austin, Texas, in the 1990s, I was one of the few women I knew who had never had an abortion. Luck, I always thought. Friends had their stories.
The one who went out boating on a lake with a guy in college, where he raped her.
The one who was known as “fast.”
The one who was secretly dating a man seven years her senior. When her parents forbade her to see him, she snuck out of her house through her window, and then she snuck out another night, to get an abortion.
The one during our senior year in college who had a visit from an on-again, off-again guy friend. A few weeks later she asked me to fill a birth-control prescription she knew I had. Her period was late; there was no morning after pill yet, but she had heard that taking enough birth control pills might cause a miscarriage. I balked, worried for her health and safety, but she lashed out at me, and that’s when I found out the truth about that night. They always had an understanding. When she asked him to sleep on the floor of her dorm room it meant no. Only this visit, though he started out on the floor, she woke up in the middle of the night to find him on top of her. I went to the pharmacy. She was a good friend, and she was afraid. I stayed with her after she took all the pills, but nothing happened. I can’t remember now who took her for her abortion.
Then there were those who took a prescription emergency contraceptive immediately, instead of waiting to find out if they would need an abortion.
The one who brought a guy back to her place, and things got a little rough, a little out of hand. It was late, and they both had been flirting and drinking for hours. She called me at 7 a.m. on Saturday, asking for a ride to Planned Parenthood.
The one who was in her early 30s, but after a divorce, had a summer romance with a much younger man. Something happened, I don’t remember the details, but she knew she might be pregnant. She asked for my advice. She was old enough, she said, to have a child. Should she wait and see? We were barely out of graduate school, we had no jobs and no money. “Where are you going to put a baby?” I asked. In the closet? She went to the clinic, too.
Then there was me, after a broken condom. At Planned Parenthood, the nurse quizzed me about my last period and then told me no way I could be pregnant. I told her since I was there I wanted to go ahead and get the morning after pill. I wanted to be sure, but that’s the only time in my life I’ve had a truly painful pelvic exam. I swallowed the first pills that night, then set the alarm for 12 hours later. The next morning, I took the anti-nausea pills and then threw up. I ate some toast to settle my stomach and then the second dose. I threw up again. feeling sick and alone, and decided the nurse was right.
As I said, I was lucky.
Lucky enough to not get pregnant when I was 25 and had no idea who I was.
Lucky enough to come from a family that believed that women had all the rights of men.
Lucky enough to get pregnant when I was much older, at a time my husband and I wanted children. Once the pregnancy test showed positive, those embryos the IVF doctor implanted in my uterus became babies.
A line from the novel “Fight Club” has remained with me for decades. “I want to have your abortion,” Marla says after sex with Tyler Durden. The thing is, nobody wants to have an abortion. Only sometimes she needs to.
Featured images by Julie Frontera
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