Today Forward.com launched a series of abortion stories from their readers, titled Silent No More, Forward Readers Tell Their Abortion Stories, in advance to the anticipated ruling from the Supreme Court on Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt.
Below is the collection of stories in their entirety, or you can click here to jump to their website.
What should I do? What should I do? What should I do? Those four words went around in my head in the spring of 1973. I was 28 years old, wife, mother of two sons and I was pregnant. Being an only child, my dream was having a house full of kids with all the commotion that goes with raising a big family. At that time, my children were ages seven and four and I really, really wanted a daughter to begin to even out the sexes in my family dynamic.
However, my marriage was not “made in heaven,” as I had hoped it would be, and we constantly had financial setbacks due to my husband’s gambling habits. Gambling brings not only the lack of funds, it also brings lying, mistrust and disappointment into the marriage. I was miserable. My four-year-old son was severely asthmatic and caused us much worry and concern. That same year he had spent one week, at two different times, in an oxygen tent, and we also made countless trips to the emergency room, usually during the night. I never knew when he would have an attack, and our family life was filled with worry and interruptions. If I wasn’t worrying about the bills, I was worrying about his health.
I was two months pregnant and in no position emotionally or financially to take on another responsibility. Roe v. Wade had just been decided, and having an abortion was safe and legal. Was that an option for me and my family? After discussing this decision with my husband and my obstetrician, the doctor agreed to perform the procedure at the same hospital where only four years earlier he had delivered my son. Due to the high demand for the procedure and the hospital scheduling only four a day, I had to wait 10 days for my appointment.
Those were the hardest days of my life….I was not feeling well, my heart was breaking, but the voice in my head kept saying, “This is the best approach to the problem at hand.” Along with my voice, my mother was 100% in favor of my decision and she too kept me strong by supporting my decision. Thank you, MOM! My husband was indifferent and left the decision to me.
The day finally came, and my husband took me to the hospital, and when it was all over, I felt a wonderful feeling of relief. I have never regretted the decision. I do not have any emotional scars and have not second-guessed myself on the decision I made 43 years ago. I behaved responsibly to my family and made it possible for me to care for the children I already had without additional burdens. It took me seven additional years to have a tubal ligation, because at 28, I was not ready to make the decision to not have any more children. I wanted to leave that door open if I felt there might be a better time to add to my family; however that opportunity never presented itself.
I was a lucky woman then due to the wisdom of the Supreme Court justices at the time. and now I am a lucky women because my granddaughters still have the opportunity to make choices when it comes to their health care. This country cannot let this right to privacy become history and disappear.
— Carol, 71, Arizona
In June 1969, I was ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary. My first “pulpit” was rabbi of the Hillel Foundation at the University of Florida. I was 26 years old and married with a three-month-old child.
I grew up in Boston, intensely aware of the ideas and thinking of the Catholic Church. In retrospect, I led a very sheltered life as a teenager, both unaware of and oblivious to the radical life changes to come.
In 1969, the University of Florida had not yet caught up with the many radical campus changes in the universities in the more liberal Northeast. It was a very conservative campus, although the issues for students were not much different than those for their Northern peers.
Rabbi Max Ticktin had become a very important influence in my thinking and in my career aspirations. My decision to go into Hillel was very much influenced by Max. He became very involved in an organization called Clergy Concerned.
To make a very extensive story short, the Episcopal priest at the University of Florida and I became the local participants in Clergy Concerned. John and I soon were intensely involved in counseling young women both from campus and the larger Gainesville community in reference to what we euphemistically called problem pregnancy. Through the Clergy Concerned network, we were able to arrange for these women to travel to New York, where abortion was already accessible.
We met with many young women during those years. We discovered that both the college coeds and local townies were painfully unaware of how their bodies functioned and general issues of sexuality.
I smile when I think of the fact that the Jewish girls, for the most part, went to see John with their concerns, while their non-Jewish counterparts came to me.
Abortion counseling was a felony in the state of Florida at the time. I got in touch with a liberal Jewish attorney who was willing to work with John and me and was prepared to support us if and when we got into trouble.
I vividly remember the day that my secretary at Hillel asked if there was anything wrong with our phones; for the entire morning, repairmen had been working on the wires and telephone lines leading into the Hillel building. Realizing my phone was being tapped, I sought advice from Max and became careful with my telephone talk. Of course, this step raised my level of paranoia, but it did not stop me from work I believed was right.
This experience is a very important piece of my career. I was very young and very naïve. I am proud of my decision, and regard my activity as a profound Jewish moment.
Max taught me to treat the matter not as a mechanical convenience for these women, but rather as a life lesson for their personal sense of dignity, as contrasted with the shame and fear that many of them experienced.
Not a day went by without my personal soul-searching. I am deeply grateful to my Episcopal colleague for the ability to share, to compare ideas, to pray together and to reexamine our different but similar seminary training.
In 1972, I became the Hillel rabbi at the University of Pennsylvania, and returned to the pseudo-safety of Northern liberalism, but I return to the University of Florida in my mind every time the right-to-life discussion hits the news. I would caution your readers to remember that this is more than a political point; it is about the lives, fears, sense of shame, fear of future and the neshamas of human beings whose right to choose must be protected by everyone, especially those in authority.
— Michael, 73, New Jersey
My cisgender male partner of seven years and I had sex, and the condom we were using for safer sex and birth control broke. Within the hour, we called our friend who was a nurse practitioner at the Feminist Women’s Health Clinic and got a prescription for Plan B (a prescription was needed at that time, almost 15 years ago). I took the medication, and we both hoped that would be the end of it. Neither of us wanted children — not then, not ever.
Over the next few weeks, I felt different. I could feel subtle shifts in my body that were probably imperceptible to an outsider. I felt certain I was pregnant despite virtually everyone around me stating that I wasn’t. Most significant and disorienting, I could feel another presence with me. I know that isn’t everyone’s experience, but it was mine.
My partner and I went to the clinic on week three to get an early pregnancy test. It was confirmed. I made an appointment that afternoon to have an abortion as soon as possible. I learned that I would need to wait another few weeks for the fetus to grow big enough for the doctor to accurately and safely terminate the pregnancy.
I was entirely confident in my decision to have an abortion. I was profoundly grateful that I had a feminist doctor to do the procedure legally. But I was also a bit captivated by the complexity of what I was experiencing spiritually.
There was a mismatch between the frameworks those of us who identify as “pro-choice” use to talk about pregnancy and the experience I was having. I very much understand and support the need to use language such as “the fetus” when describing pregnancies before birth, instead of using language like “the baby” — we who support women’s reproductive freedom know how the conservative and religious right has used words like “baby” to manipulate, scare and guilt trip women into keeping unwanted pregnancies.
That said, I experienced something more than a set of cells forming within me and something different from a baby — the closest I can describe it is that I sensed a spiritual being coming into existence. It wasn’t scary, it wasn’t sad, it just was. And on some level, during those two weeks of waiting, I did my best to let that spiritual being know that it was deeply loved by the universe, but it was not going to be born.
I don’t hear many people talking about this aspect of abortion very often. Perhaps it’s because there aren’t that many people who have a similar experience to me, or perhaps it’s because we haven’t figured out a way to discuss something that feels too taboo — to know that one is ending a potential life for a range of legitimate reasons, to feel deeply connected to that potential life and then to end the life without regret.
I had my abortion safely, legally and without secrecy. I am deeply grateful to all of the reproductive justice leaders, women, health care providers, legislators and others who made that decision possible.
Each year during the Yizkor service on Yom Kippur, I take time to remember this decision and its consequences in the section for mourning children. I know this doesn’t conform to traditional Jewish law, but I do it anyway. I look forward to a time when the Jewish community creates a new, public ritual to mark — and honor — abortions. Until that time, if you see me in synagogue weeping during that part of the service, you will know my tears are for a connection I chose to end, as well as tears of gratitude that I have autonomy over my body and my life. These are not tears of guilt, or shame, or second guessing. These are tears of recognition that something holy transpired within me and I am forever changed.
I am a 74-year old man, and I can look back at a life that someone sometime in the future will call a life well lived. But were it not for a mother who, against the urgings of her doctor, had refused an abortion, I might not have lived. By rights, I should be a poster child for those who staunchly support a ban on abortion. But I am not. I firmly support a woman’s right to choose.
My parents were born in Galicia and moved to the Netherlands, where they were married in 1932. Before the Nazi occupation, they had two children, Eva born in 1936 and Leah born in 1938. And then there was me, the product of an unplanned pregnancy, born November 23, 1941, 18 months into the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. My mother’s obstetrician had urged her to have an abortion. “It would be immoral,” he told her, “to bring another Jewish life into the world.” My mother wasn’t particularly religious, but on this occasion, she took advice from the biblical story of Hannah, a woman who would go to the temple year after year and pray that she might conceive. And it was in reading about Hannah’s agonizing desire to have a child that my mother decided to ignore the obstetrician’s advice and not to have an abortion.
When I was nine months old, my parents made arrangements for the family to go into hiding, my parents in a psychiatric hospital, my sisters with a devout Catholic woman and me with a Dutch-Indonesian family and their Muslim nanny. Three months later, my parents were deported. And the following year, my sisters were denounced and killed in Auschwitz. My father lived long enough to see liberation, but lies buried in the former Ebensee concentration camp. Only my mother survived. And all she was left with was me, the child she had refused to abort. But that was enough to give her the will to go on living.
I grew up with the Holocaust all around me. And it took me a long time to comprehend what had happened to my sisters. My mother’s neighbors would show me Eva’s notebooks and I would be jealous of her perfect handwriting. And my mother would tell me how sweet Leah had been and I would be envious of the praise she received. But then my mother would tell me what made me special, how close I had come to not being born and she would remind of the pledge that she, like Hannah, had made, “if the Almighty will give me a child, I will give that child to service of the Almighty all the days of his life.” That pledge became a deterrent in a Jewish mother’s arsenal of gentle psychological warfare and probably contributed to that life well lived.Yes, the moral questions posed by abortion are all too real for me. And yet I come down on the side of those who support a woman’s right to choose. The question isn’t whether abortion is morally right or wrong, but whether the State is the best arbiter of a deeply personal moral decision. It wasn’t that long ago, after all, that Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote those now infamous words in the Supreme Court’s decision affirming the State’s right to forcibly sterilize women it considered unfit: “is it better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute the degenerate offspring for crime or to let them starve for the imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind.… Three generations of imbeciles are enough.” In urging an abortion, my mother’s obstetrician was doing the bidding of the State. The question for me is who do I trust: my mother or the State?
— Alfred, 75, District of Columbia
I had an illegal abortion in 1964, and I have hardly mentioned it in the last 52 years. I might have mentioned it to my former husband. I know for sure my four adult children didn’t know because I told them one by one on the day I decided to write this piece, and asked each if my writing about it would embarrass them. They were a little shocked. Each said, “I had no idea. Why didn’t you ever mention it before?” They (so far) have had no other questions, including the most obvious one, and they all said they were okay with my now exposing this experience.
I was a sophomore at the University of Southern California. My boyfriend was a junior, and I had no intention whatever of marrying him.
I remember during the drama of this pregnancy, he had two personal tragedies going on. “First my cat and now my mother,” he said, giving their recent deaths equal weight. He came up with half of the $600 abortion price without any fuss. I don’t remember how I came up with my half — my allowance at the time (from my parents) was $5 per week. It’s an odd twist that he was Jewish — it was 20 years before I married a Jew and 30 years before I converted [to Judaism].
I also don’t remember how I found the name of the abortionist. That is quite a detail to forget. I do recall that a college friend whose father was a major law enforcement official in Los Angeles (he later became chief of police) drove me to a parking lot, where we were met by a young man who drove us to the site — a single-family home in Torrance. I had no appreciation for the medical or legal risks I was taking. I was only a little scared. When I had cataract surgery at Manhattan Eye and Ear 10 years ago, I was much more scared than I had been about this abortion. Maybe it was the optimism of youth.
There are a few details I do remember. I remember climbing up on a kitchen table. I remember being draped. I remember it was quick. I had a little cramping and I was fine.
And I remember the name of the woman who gave me the abortion — and that is the phrase I have always used, “gave me the abortion,” as if it were a gift — was Mrs. Ramsey. I somehow got the idea she was a disbarred doctor, but I am not sure if that was my own hopeful imagination at work. In a shocking coincidence, several years after my abortion, I overheard my mother and her sisters talking about an abortion my aunt Helen had had many years earlier. They mentioned the name of the abortionist: “Ma Ramsey.” I never let on that I had overheard this conversation.
I Googled Mrs. Ramsey’s name (having never done so before) in preparation for writing this piece, and I found this: The Court of Appeals in California in 1958 upheld the conviction of May Ramsey, alias “Mah Ramsey,” for an abortion she performed in Orange County in 1956. She had gone to prison 10 years earlier also for performing an abortion. The 1958 court opinion described exactly what I experienced: The woman who was getting the abortion was met in a parking lot by a younger man (turns out it was Mrs. Ramsey’s son), taken to a modest private home, laid on a table and subjected to a quick and safe abortion. However, in the court case (and not in mine), the police had been peering through the window.
In upholding Mah Ramsey’s conviction, the court describes details that I had long forgotten: Mrs. Ramsey was a woman in her mid-50s, hair in a switch on top of her head, spoke with a slight Southern drawl. There is no mention of her having been a doctor. The police saw through a window “a table with a woman lying on it, ‘her legs…her feet’ were in stirrups, and May Ramsey was sitting at the end of the table and between the legs of the woman. There was a quantity of surgical equipment in the room, a chair near the end of the table with a white dishpan containing several instruments, a card table with syringes and ’other medication’ on it, a spotlight or floodlight, an electric suction pump and hypodermic tubes and needles. The woman on the table had an aluminum instrument with a black rubber face mask tied to her wrists.”
That could have been me.
Her conviction was upheld despite challenges that the raid had been illegal. I don’t know if she served more time, but whatever happened to her, even this second conviction didn’t stop her — my abortion was a mere six years later. None of these legal opinions mentions that any harm came to any woman. Seems the others, like me, had a safe and uneventful experience.
I didn’t know then and maybe I never will know whether she was a political activist or this was just a way to make a living. At the time, I had no appreciation for her bravery, nor for what a public service she was performing. She conforms to the trope of the noble abortion doctor, and I hope it went well for her. Had it not been for her, things would not have gone so well for me.
The dictionary defines regret as a sense of loss, disappointment or dissatisfaction.
I do not regret my abortion, the illegal one I had shortly after my 20th birthday, seven years before Roe v. Wade became law. I didn’t regret my decision then, and I don’t regret it now.
I do regret that complete, comprehensive sex education — the kind that was not available to me in 1966 — is often still unavailable to our young people, leaving them vulnerable, unprotected — and sometimes pregnant. I knew so little that I accepted my boyfriend’s statement that he’d “pull out” and I couldn’t become pregnant.
I do regret that my abortion was performed without anesthesia by a masked man in a farmhouse, and that the $600 it cost to me at that time was equivalent to $4,000 in today’s dollars. I had to borrow money from almost everyone I knew, and the day before the scheduled abortion, I had to call my boyfriend’s parents, tell them I was pregnant and ask them for money.
I do regret the humiliation of having to stand on a street corner in downtown Baltimore, waiting to be picked up by a man I’d never met, a man who knew my first name and said he was going to take me to the county farmhouse where the abortion would take place. I could only hope that the underground network through which I made my arrangements was safe and reliable, and that my driver was not a serial killer.
I do regret that when my husband and I decided to start a family, I did not have nonjudgmental gynecological care. Seeing on my medical form that I’d had an abortion, and then performing the most perfunctory examination, a doctor wrote INFERTILITY in large block letters on my paperwork and left the room. His diagnosis trailed me to two other physicians, who performed unnecessary and expensive tests and surgical procedures, when the solution to conception was very simple: boxer shorts for my husband. I have two adult daughters who know my story and believe it is their legal right to make their own reproductive choices.
Finally, I do regret that more women don’t speak out about their experiences with abortion. We cannot and should not be shamed into silence, and we must make certain that women who are as desperate as I was do not have to make desperate choices.
— Rosalyn, 70, Maryland
I am 56 years old, a wife, mother and soon-to-be grandmother. I’ve just retired from a joyful career as a teacher’s assistant in an elementary school in Georgia. This wonderful life of mine was made possible by two abortions in my teens.
My first abortion was as a ninth grader. None of the adults in my life had taught me about sex, healthy relationships or how to stand up for myself in social situations. I got involved with an older boy who pressured me relentlessly. I got pregnant the first and only time he penetrated me in what was a frightening, painful and degrading encounter. My parents arranged the abortion and swore me to secrecy for eternity. I felt so deeply ashamed.
Then, when I was 19, I was in a relationship with a guy in his mid-20s. He was kind at first, and I thought we had a future. But then he began mistreating me, and I endured it because I had such low self-esteem. I was depending on the diaphragm, and when I got pregnant again, I sank into deep suffering. I still lived at home and could not tell my parents, so I would close myself in my bedroom closet, fall to the floor and silence my sobs in a pillow.
If he had wanted to get married, I might have agreed, simply because I was paralyzed by panic and passive in my despair. Thankfully, he arranged and paid for an abortion. He dropped me off alone, and did not come back for me until the clinic had long closed. I wandered on the city street in a fog of humiliation, and yet I was overwhelmingly relieved that I was not bound to him by a child for the rest of my life.
Those two abortions saved me. I was able to get a college education and build a thriving family with a loving man. The worst part has been facing – alone and in silence – the incessant malice of religious and political condemnation. The billboards and bumper stickers, the preachers and politicians — they all take delight in dehumanizing people who’ve ended accidental pregnancies. Decade after decade, I lived a kind of inner solitary confinement, tortured by the belief that others, if they learned the truth, would see me as a murderous monster and abandon me.
At the age of 40, I was finally able to confide in a friend, and a few years later I told my husband. Then, in 2013, I shared the truth with my grown sons. Instead of casting me out of their lives as I had feared, my loved ones embraced me with compassion.
I am so grateful for this chance to tell people that abortion care saved me, but the merciless public messages of shame hurt me, and that is why I will spend the rest of my life trying to shatter the silence and end the emotional brutality of abortion stigma.
— Karen, 56, Georgia
I recall sitting on the bed next to my mother during her final days, watching the Senate confirmation hearing of Justice Sonia Sotomayor. My mom commented how happy she was that she had lived to see women in such positions of power and respect, as well as how relieved she was that in her lifetime abortion became legal and safe. I was surprised by the latter comment. Nearly 40 years ago, when she discovered that I had an abortion as a law school student, she was furious and denounced me. It was just a few years after the landmark Roe v. Wade decision and abortions still had a deep stigma of shame, as did the underlying reason for my abortion – premarital sex.
We never spoke about it again, until that day in the hospital. She explained to me then that her fury had been rooted in her terror for my well-being. In fact, I was able to access abortion services at a local Planned Parenthood clinic in New York City and pay for it based on the clinic’s sliding scale fees. While I deeply wished that my contraceptive device hadn’t failed all those years ago, I was fortunate enough to have the ability to make my own decision to terminate an unwanted pregnancy, to afford safe medical care and continue with my life plans.
The story was quite different for my grandmother, as I learned that day. As a nine-year-old child, my mother witnessed her own mother almost bleed to death from a “back alley” abortion. My grandmother already had five children, and, as poor immigrants, the family didn’t have the resources to support another child. Because abortion was illegal at the time, she had very few choices for terminating her pregnancy. As my mother tells it, after the abortion, my grandmother began howling in pain and bleeding profusely. Unable to bear it, my grandfather left the apartment, leaving my mother to witness the agonizing scene. My mom recalled her terror as she saw her mother bleeding and screaming, certain that she would die.
This is what my mother feared for me when she went through my suitcase during semester break, a few days after my abortion, and found the clinic discharge instructions. Her mother’s experience could have been mine. If it had been just a few years earlier, I might well have been without access to legal, affordable, safe abortion services. After she told me her story, she glanced up at the TV monitor and expressed a hope that this new Supreme Court justice would uphold abortion access so no one else would ever have to see her mother nearly bleed to death or fear that fate for her daughter. I promised her that I would continue to work to make abortion safe and available.
Almost 41 years after Roe v. Wade, it remains critical that pro-choice advocates from the faith community actively urge our leaders to ensure every woman has full access to her reproductive rights. Our legislators must understand that people of faith are calling to protect a woman’s religious liberty and reproductive rights, as well as her health and economic security. As my mother’s memory pained her, it propelled me to action, especially through the National Council of Jewish Women. As an NCJW local and national board member and state policy advocate, I will continue to demand reproductive justice in the halls of the legislature and in the public square.
— Claire, 65, California
It was 1964 in Southern California. I was 23, in a committed relationship, and even though I was using birth control, I found myself pregnant.
I had vowed I would never have an abortion. Not because of religious or moral issues but because a 15-year-old high school friend of mine had died from an illegal abortion.
Well, now I was in that position and I desperately did not want a child at that time in my life or with that partner. I knew it was the wrong time for me and for any child that I might bring into the world.
I did not have the money to go to an abortion doctor in Beverly Hills, nor did I have the money to fly to Europe. So I started asking around and a friend told me of a “clinic” in Tijuana, Mexico. I called and made an appointment. I was told that I could bring a friend with me, and that the cost was $500 in cash. I was to meet someone in a parking lot behind a shop in Tijuana one night a few days later.
We drove to Tijuana and parked in the lot. A man came over to our car, told us that only I could go for the procedure, and I followed him to a waiting car with four other pregnant women inside. We were all desperate and scared.
The driver took a long, winding drive, trying to make certain that we were not followed by anyone. Finally, we arrived at a large house and went inside. There was no furniture except for a couch and a few chairs, and in one other room there was an examining table with stirrups for the procedure.The man (doctor?) who was to perform the abortion came in. He was fat and coarse. The money he had collected from all of us was peeking out of his pants pockets.
When I went in, I watched as they “sterilized” the equipment from the previous procedure by dousing it in alcohol and lighting it on fire. They did not have an autoclave to sterilize the instruments.
I was very frightened, but I had been assured on the phone that I would be given anesthesia. Well, that was the next big lie. They put a mask on my face, but when I breathed in deeply to get the benefit of the drugs, they removed it. They did not want to take the chance that someone would not come out of the anesthesia alive. The abortion proceeded without anesthesia and was very painful. Afterward, they administered an antibiotic shot. They warned us not to lay down in the backseat when we crossed the border so as not to raise any suspicion about what we had come to Tijuana for, and to see a gynecologist as soon as possible when we returned.
The driver took us back to the parking lot. We drove back to the States, and thankfully I did not experience bleeding, infection or any other harmful physical side effects.
I do not have regrets about getting the abortion, I’m only amazed at the danger, mutilation and even death that I and so many other women put ourselves through in those days, before Roe v. Wade. I have worked since then to preserve legal abortions.
I am celebrating my 40th wedding anniversary with an Israeli man. We lived in New York for more than 35 years and made aliyah five years ago. Our 25-year-old adopted daughter is living with us.
— Nancy, 75, Israel
I never again had that feeling of total integration of conscience and body as at the moment it dawned on me I was pregnant. It was eerie: I found myself standing in front of the window of a very upscale baby shop, with my head turned, observing a man holding his child up in the air.
“I am pregnant!” And I immediately knew that I would not have this baby. It was a matter-of-fact decision, and I did not struggle with it.
This happened in Brazil in the late 70s, in a country where abortion is illegal to this day, a country where politicians are considering making it even more difficult for a woman to have an abortion. Thousands of women die because they are too poor to afford the clinics where the other women go. What hypocrisy.
My best friend went with me. Another friend had recommended a decent clinic, and the procedure performed by a real doctor who was actually very caring.
This is the one decision in my life I have never regretted. My child would not have had a happy upbringing, and I did not have the right to cause unhappiness to another human being. I never felt any guilt.
I didn’t have the urge to become a mother ever, and today I feel great relief that I’m leaving no descendants behind.
— Ana, 58, Brazil