My husband and I have kept our abortion decisions to ourselves for 37 years. We did so because, when I became pregnant the first time, abortions were illegal, though available if you had the financial resources and appropriate contacts. The second time, we were still not ready to be parents, and thought our friends and family would not understand our decision. So we quietly and legally ended that pregnancy. We never felt any regret, having made the decisions after much soul-searching. It is because of these two very different experiences, before and after the Supreme Court decision to legalize abortion, that I am compelled to speak up now as we face the possibility of a reversal of Roe vs. Wade.
A recent global study of abortion once again concluded that most women who seek abortions for an unplanned pregnancy find a way to get one. The biggest difference is the issue of safety; where abortions are legal they are safer. The bottom line is that women will resort to any measures necessary to obtain an abortion when they are illegal, even at the expense of their own health and safety. There are many people today in the United States with no memory of a time when abortions were illegal. With the imminent possibility that the next Supreme Court nominee will be the deciding vote on Roe, I feel it important to share my experiences. I hope this encourages others who have remained silent to do the same.
Before going any further, I would like to tell you about myself in order to help dispel some of the stereotypes about those who find themselves faced with an unplanned pregnancy. I believe there are many others like me. My husband and I have been married nearly 40 years. I am a retired educator and he is a well-respected attorney. We have two adult daughters of whom we are very proud. We have strong extended family ties and relationships and a large group of social and professional friends. We have never spoken with any of these people about our abortion experience.
When in early 1970 I became pregnant, my husband was a student in law school and my career as an educator was new, exciting and provided our only income. We were not ready for parenting. We talked it over and decided to explore abortion options. Although the abortion law was soon to change, abortions were not yet legal. If you had money and access to resources, abortions were available, not in a back alley, but a hospital. Our family doctor, offering a promise of secrecy, referred us to a gynecologist who made an appointment for me to meet with a psychiatrist. If I could convince the psychiatrist that I was “emotionally unfit for motherhood and incapable of caring for a child” he would write a letter that would be sufficient basis for an abortion.
The sessions I spent with the psychiatrist were demoralizing. There were questions I was uncomfortable answering, but I had to make sure they would provide appropriate evidence of my “unstable” emotional state. The stakes were high and I needed that letter. I left his office after each session feeling emotionally shaken and violated. But, with letter in hand, I was deemed unfit for motherhood. Perhaps at the time I really was, but the label was unsettling. The abortion was scheduled and required a hospital stay. Although the hospital staff was kind to me, I felt as if I was wearing the scarlet letter “A” on my hospital gown.
Although we then used a diaphragm as our method of birth control, about a year later, my husband and I again found ourselves facing the decision of whether we were ready for parenting. We determined that we still needed more time before we became parents. Roe had just become the law and I could now have a legal abortion. I made an appointment through the same gynecologist and the procedure was scheduled as an outpatient a few days later. This experience was very different from the first one. The same hospital had a welcoming and supportive environment, specifically for women choosing to have an abortion. .
When we were ready for parenting the experience was wonderful, and it was followed by the birth of a second child a few years later. Waiting to become a parent was essential for me. I was ready to assume the responsibility parenting requires. The desire to become a parent and feeling prepared was essential for me, as this decision is irreversible, just as is the one to abort. All women need to be allowed to make this choice.
In Jeffrey Toobin’s book “The Nine”, he states that anti abortion justices want to protect women from making a decision they will later regret. I have never regretted my decision and this was reinforced recently when I saw a play about a woman who was tormented by thoughts of her abortion. She could not put the memory of what might have been, to rest. But her life was troubled in so many ways the abortion decision seemed one of many things causing her emotional turmoil. I could not relate to her torment because for me, the decisions have always felt right. We each need to search our hearts when faced with an unplanned pregnancy.
The state of women’s rights around the world is very troubling. You just need to pick up a newspaper, listen to the radio or watch the television news to see the limitations and restrictions women are facing around the world and even here in the United States. It continues to be a major issue, if not the major issue of this presidential campaign. Losing the right to chose is unacceptable. The candidate who wins the election will select Supreme Court Justices, and will therefore have great influence on abortion rights and other issues of personal freedoms.
I know others must have similar stories, as abortion statistics indicate that large numbers of women have had abortions. We need to speak up and share, since it is easy to forget how losing the right to legal abortion could affect women’s lives. We need to dust off these stories and share them with each other, and especially with those born after Roe became law. It is not a time to remain silent.
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