In 1962 when at age 18 I found out that I was pregnant, I felt as if my life were over. I was doing well academically away at college, had just broken up with my first serious boyfriend and knew that there was no way I wanted to disrupt my life by continuing the pregnancy. Of course, abortion was illegal in every state back then, but I never for a moment doubted that I wanted to terminate the pregnancy. My parents were very strict and the very idea of telling them frightened me as much as the pregnancy. It was incredibly difficult to find a physician willing to perform abortions. One name led me to a doctor serving prison time in Pennsylvania, the next name brought me to an alcohol-reeking man with a filthy office. Yet another supposed lead found me in the office of a Manhattan OB-GYN who was on a state committee investigating physicians who were abortion providers.
By the time I finally had a viable name weeks had gone by. On a Friday morning my best friend went with me to Washington, D.C. and gave me the $250 the abortion would cost. We were met at the airport by a man who insisted my friend could not go with me, then once in his car, explained to me that I would be blindfolded as the location needed to be kept secret. I was so relieved to find a clean medical office with a kind provider and nursing staff. My relief was short-lived, however, as after examining me, the doctor told me that I was now in the second trimester and he never performed abortions beyond the first as there could be too many complications.
My tears of desperation touched this kind man and he told me to stay in his waiting room until the end of his work day. At that time he took me to his home where his wife gave me dinner, while he went to another room to call someone. When he returned he told me I would be taking the train to Baltimore where a woman would perform my abortion. He didn’t give me any details, but insisted on giving me a vial of antibiotics which he instructed me to begin taking immediately.
I was met at the Baltimore train station by a woman who recognized me by the orange head scarf the doctor’s wife had given me for that purpose. She silently walked me about ten blocks to a dilapidated row house where a woman drinking straight from a bottle of Canadian Club answered the door. Without so much as a greeting she asked for the money, told me to take off my clothing below the waist and pointed to a dining room table.
By this time I felt this was my last option, so I climbed onto the table despite the alarms going off in my head. Without any pretense of a sterile environment she proceeded to insert a rubber catheter into my uterus. That was the entire extent of her involvement. The train station woman led me to an upstairs room where I remained alone until Sunday morning. No food, no phone, no distractions. Just a bloodstained mattress on the floor and a toilet and sink.
My labor began in the middle of that first night and continued until early Sunday morning. I was absolutely positive I was dying and no-one in my life knew where I was. I took a paper from my purse and wrote a goodbye to my best friend. I remember at some point during that horrific weekend hearing screams, but having no idea that they were mine until the train station woman unlocked the door to tell me to shut up or I would be out on the street.
To this day I am amazed that I survived that ordeal, but it forever changed me. I have been pro -choice ever since and I will be until my dying breath. After all I realize that I was actually fortunate. I survived and went on to have children when they were wanted. We must keep abortion safe, legal and accessible to all women!