How much would we lose in a world without Roe v. Wade? Ask a woman who’s been there.
Our Draw the Line storytelling project collects and shares the stories of women’s reproductive health care experiences. No two are alike, which for us underscores how essential it is for a woman to have the final say on her reproductive health choices. The following women’s stories take us back to a time when abortion was taboo, illegal, and sometimes tragically dangerous.
Each one is an inspiration to fight every day to protect reproductive freedom and to pledge to never go back.
It was 1968, and I found myself in a situation where I had to have an abortion.
I had a girlfriend who had a friend who was a nurse and she said that she would give me the abortion. I had to meet her in a hotel room. I was humiliated.
She took out a long rubber hose . . . I’ll never forget. She made me lie down on the bed and she inserted this hose, and she said you are going to have to keep this hose in your body for the next couple of days. And two days later I remember starting to hemorrhage. I had to be rushed to the emergency room. I just remember the excruciating pain.
In 1969, four years before Roe v. Wade, I was in Spain and intentionally pregnant. At 27, my biological clock was madly ticking and my boyfriend of five years agreed it was time. But 2-1/2 months into the pregnancy, he said, “I _ _ _ _ed up. I can’t stay with you,” and walked out the door.
As I was weighing the options of going to Switzerland to live on a commune or going home to live with my parents, I met a young Englishwoman who said, “You can have a baby later under better circumstances for both you and the baby.” She herself had recently had an abortion at a clinic in London. I had only heard about back-street abortions in the States, or worse, in Mexico, so this opened up another option, one that felt like the best one for me.
My mother and I flew to London and I got an appointment with the clinic right away. The procedure took place within a day or two and I stayed overnight at the clinic. Even though I had not had any second thoughts about this, I woke up crying. It is a loss in a way, yet I have never in all these years even for one moment regretted the decision.
When abortion was illegal in New York State, before Roe v. Wade, I had a small abortion clinic in my own apartment to help friends who needed it have safe abortions. I happened to know somebody who had learned during the Depression how to stimulate the cervix so that abortion occurred naturally.
When I had it done for myself, I didn’t know whether it was going to be successful or whether I was going to be hurt. It's scary to do something that’s illegal in your own home.
It was very scary, and it was embarrassing. It was—well—mostly scary.
In my tiny world of 3,000 Catholics, I got pregnant during my first sexual encounter. It was 1970. Before Roe vs. Wade. Before I’d heard of the pill. I didn’t know any other girl who’d ever faced what I was facing. I didn’t tell my best friend. I didn’t tell my favorite teacher. I didn’t tell my mother or my sister. I didn’t even tell my boyfriend.
Six weeks before the due date, my father noticed the bathroom cabinet had an unusually large supply of Kotex. He asked my mother to ask me what was going on, so when she walked into my room one June morning, I confessed. Within days I was hustled out of town and hidden with a foster family. I gave birth to my son in secret, without the support of the baby’s father or my family. The doctors and the nurses at the hospital treated me as if I was filth.
I begged the social worker to let me place my baby in a foster family so I could get him back. He wouldn’t hear of it, so I signed the adoption papers and told no one for almost 21 years when I decided to search for my son.
Shame should never be part of any woman or girl’s reproductive history.
I married right out of college in 1972. I had been accepted into a graduate program at Harvard, and it broke my heart to let that dream go. I suppose I was too young and too much of a product of my time to stand up for myself and refuse marriage to someone I already knew I did not care for.
I am thankful every day that abortion was legal during the 1970s, at which time I voluntarily terminated two pregnancies. I extricated myself from an unhappy situation, and luckily went on to attain that PhD, have a career, remarry, and give birth to two children.
I was luckier than many of my high school friends who had illegal abortions or put children up for adoption in the 1960s, before Roe v. Wade. Two had botched abortions and could never have children.
How painful to pay your whole life for a mistake made when you were so young and unformed.
I got pregnant in 1974, the year after Roe v. Wade. I was newly married and in my mid-20s, but I had just found a way to go back to school to finish my degree, and I knew I would not be able to do that and have a baby.
We were living in San Francisco. All around me were women energized and emboldened by feminism, thrilled to be shedding the skin of our mothers’ 1950s lives. It was such an empowering time. I had the abortion and felt no stigma or pain. Just the clarity that I was making the right decision for myself.
I think a lot of this clarity was because the specter of the dark days before Roe v. Wade—when a woman’s future was a game of chance—still felt very real, very palpable. I think it’s important to remember that. To remember so we never go back.