I Had a Terrifying Illegal Abortion -- That's Why I Will Always Fight for Legal, Safe Access
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It wasn't a coat hanger. It was a wire.
The theory was that by inserting the wire through the cervix, moving it around a bit and then removing it, an infection would result and the pregnancy would be aborted. It worked. It was March 1967.
Afterward, after I watched the ‘doctor’ wash his hands with one of those little soaps wrapped in white paper, after he tilted the bedside lamp just so and after he said, “That should do it,” I got dressed, left the motel with the flashing vacancy sign, made my way to the bus station in downtown Detroit, and rode in the dark in the eerie silence of a mostly empty Greyhound all the way back to Mt. Pleasant, the tiny Michigan town where I was a freshman in college. Curled up next to the window under my black pea coat, I wondered how long it would take, whether it would be on the bus or later. I worried that something a lot worse than being pregnant would happen to me because of what happened in the motel room, that I’d get sick or bleed to death. I wondered if I would ever feel right about what I had done and if there had been choices that I hadn’t considered. I remember feeling like a mouse that had found the tiniest hole for escape while a giant tomcat loomed. I was distraught, empty and alone on that bus. Back in my dorm room, Jane, my roommate, held both of my hands in hers and said, “It will be OK. You’ll see. You’ll have lots of children when the time is right.” It was a gesture of kindness and compassion that even now brings tears to my eyes.
I was 19. I had slept with my boyfriend just a single time. When I missed my period, I ever so reluctantly made an appointment with the town gynecologist who confirmed the pregnancy and then quizzed me incessantly about whether I knew who the father was. Did I know who the father was? Of course. There had only been one person ever. Yes, I knew.
The doctor told me to tell my parents but I couldn’t. My mother, who had suffered for almost her entire adult life with severe depression, was so deep in her terrible place, on the couch or in bed all day, sleeping or staring, that I almost canceled my departure to college. The last child at home for many years, I had become her driver and caregiver when these episodes occurred. Leaving seemed like the worst kind of betrayal and yet the pull of the relief I knew I would feel being out from under her mental illness was irresistible. I really wanted to be in a place where people were happy. The thought of going home, sitting down on the couch, where I knew she would be, to tell her I’d gotten pregnant was unfathomable. Without question, I could not do that. My problem, then, was mine to solve.
My father, matter of fact as he was about everything, would line up a Justice of the Peace and get us married, but my boyfriend had already nixed that plan. He had a friend who had a friend who knew about the “wire” plan. We didn’t have the $250 it would cost to pay a bona fide illegal abortionist so the only option was amateur hour. There was no real discussion. The wire became the path we would follow. I was cornered. I knew I was alone with the consequences whatever they would be. My boyfriend could walk away and no one would ever know. He was free. I was cornered.