Women Who’ve Had Illegal Abortions Share Their Heartbreaking Stories

March 8, 2019

Read these and be grateful we have the right to choose (for now).

The ancient Egyptians inserted crocodile dung into their vaginas. A Sanskrit text from the 8th century recommends sitting over a pot of stewed onions. In Southeast Asia, they’ve been using abdominal massage for centuries.

Since the beginning of recorded history, women have been having – or trying to have – abortions. They’ve lifted weights, climbed trees, fasted, poured hot water on their bellies, jumped up and down, drunk special teas, tightened their girdles, and laid on headed coconut shells.

Whatever you believe about when life begins, and however you may feel about abortion, a glance through history makes one thing quite clear: outlawing abortion won’t stop women from seeking it out. There’s no ending abortion. There’s just ending safe, legal abortion. And in the Trump era, it’s more important than ever that we continue to fight for the right to make choices about our bodies.

If you’ve never had an experience with abortion yourself (or even if you have), a podcast called The Abortion Diary is worth listening to. It brings the issue out of the political arena and makes it intensely personal, providing women with a place to tell their stories in a safe, supportive environment. Melissa Madera created the The Abortion Diary after sharing her own abortion story, and the podcast’s mission statement calls it “a space for people to share stories they haven’t been able to share and listen to stories they haven’t been able to hear.”

Those include stories of illegal abortions performed in motels, on kitchen tables, without pain medication, by doctors and by men in butcher aprons. In a harrowing post on Broadly, Madera wrote about traveling the United States, listening to women’s abortion stories. Thirty of the women she spoke to had abortions before the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision recognized a woman’s legal right to make medical decisions about her own body, including the right to an abortion.

Of the women she spoke to, Madera writes, some “were fortunate enough to obtain a safe abortion with a private physician – or through a feminist underground abortion service – [but] others, particularly poor people and people of color, had to face unsafe, unsanitary, and dangerous conditions.

Here are just a few of these heartbreaking stories. Read them and be glad that for now, women in the United States and much of the world still have the right to a safe, legal abortion.

“This woman is a sinner”

When Barbara was 18, in the mid-1950s, she found herself pregnant by “a man I didn’t love.” She got the number of someone who performed abortions and drove to the address she was given. “This guy came to the door. I didn’t know if he was a fry cook, a doctor, or a plumber. I didn’t know what he was or what he did.” When he said the abortion would cost $200 (after examining her on the kitchen table), she realized she couldn’t afford the procedure. A friend “somehow got some pills for me to take.” When she took them, “I thought I had killed myself because I’d never had such pain in my life. It was horrible, and it just kept aching and aching. I didn’t have any bleeding, but in about four or five days I started having blood clots that came through.”

For a week, Barbara “burned inside really badly.” Finally, she went to her regular doctor, who told her to go to the hospital immediately. “They operated on me and saved my life because the doctor said if I had not gone then, if I’d waited 24 hours, I would have been dead.” In the hospital, they put a sign on her chest that said “Incomplete abortion.” Says Barbara, “This was a Catholic hospital. I just felt that they were somehow saying, ‘This woman is a sinner.'”

“I hope you’ve learned your lesson”

Says Wendy, “I was 17 years old when I had my abortion. It was in 1962. I lived in New York City. My father somehow got the name of the doctor and I went to that doctor, but that doctor was pretty creepy and the office was pretty creepy. Right away he wanted me to get on the exam table and he wanted to do an internal exam, which wasn’t really necessary. The whole thing creeped me out, and so I left.” She and her parents, who supported her decision, had decided it was best for her to go to the office alone, “so I didn’t feel like they had sent me off by myself. I felt like we were kind of in it together.”

Her parents helped her find another doctor, and “this time my mother came with me. The office was clean. He seemed like a real doctor. What I remember of the procedure is that it was fairly painful. He gave me some kind of sodium pentathol or something that kind of half put me out. But I remember him talking to me through the procedure and saying things like, ‘This is your punishment for your sins, and I hope you’ve learned your lesson,’ and that kind of thing…Luckily, I didn’t feel that I had sinned and I wasn’t religious or I didn’t really believe in sin, so that didn’t really affect me all that much. Except I sort of felt I was angry at him for having said those things.”

“I had done a bad thing and I was going to die”

Judi had an illegal abortion in the late 1960s, after being raped by a friend of her parents at age 16. “I wasn’t really aware of what sex was,” she says. Not wanting her parents to know, she went with a friend to get the abortion. “I walked up the staircase and knocked on the door that I was told was the apartment, and this guy is wearing an apron, like a butcher’s apron. He says, ‘Give me the money,’ and I hand him the money and then he hits me. He punches me in the face and I blacked out. When I woke up I was in a lot of pain. I was lying in a pool of blood, and the guy wasn’t there anymore.”

Her friend took her to the emergency room, where “they knew that I had had a botched abortion and everybody was very angry at me…It seemed the whole hospital was yelling at me that I had done a bad thing and I was going to die and they were going to try to help me, but they weren’t happy about my being there.”

You can listen to these stories in full, and hear more women speak out, on The Abortion Diary podcast.

Image via flickr.com.

Comment: Have you thought about what you would do if abortions were no longer legal and you needed one?

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