Now that the Supreme Court has overturned Roe vs. Wade, I want to share my experience as a woman who had to turn to an illegal abortion to end a pregnancy. The experience was frightening, degrading, and painful. It was frightening because I was not sure who would be preforming the abortion. Degrading because I was blindfolded during the procedure. Painful because the abortion was performed with very little anesthesia. No woman should have to go through what I went through, and no woman should have to overcome barriers to obtain a safe abortion.
At a time when abortion was mostly illegal in the United States, I was one of the nearly 12,000 women who sought the services of the Jane Collective. The Jane Collective, familiarly referred to as “Jane,” was an underground organization in Chicago that helped women secure abortions from 1969 to 1973. It was one of the only safe alternatives to self-induced abortion or seeking a provider illegally performing abortions on one’s own.
I was a college student in Ohio in the fall of 1970 when I discovered I was pregnant. Marriage was not an option, because neither of us wanted to marry nor did we want a child. I made the decision to terminate the pregnancy. Turning to my sister, who lived in Chicago at the time, I was referred to the Jane Collective. My sister had called a physician friend of hers, and he recommended the Abortion Counseling Service of Women’s Liberation, the formal name of the Jane Collective. Jane was mainly known through word of mouth, but it also advertised in college newspapers and underground publications.
I flew to Chicago, where my sister met me at the airport, and took me to her apartment. That evening she had guests for dinner. One of the guests was a woman approximately eight months pregnant. She was in her 30s, married, and excited about the expected arrival. I was unmarried, 19 years old, and not the least bit excited about the pregnancy. Seeing this woman, the night before my abortion, did not give me second thoughts about proceeding with the abortion. What was right for her was not right for me.
The morning of the appointment my sister drove me to, what I now know, was called the “front.” This was an apartment where women would wait to be taken to what was known as the “place” where the abortion was performed. At the “front,” women would be counseled by members of the collective. The woman counseling me asked me about the reason I was seeking an abortion. Was I comfortable with my decision? Was anyone coercing, or pressuring me to have an abortion? She advised me that an abortion was not a method of birth control and following the procedure I should seek some type of birth control if I had not used birth control before. I had.
Friends and family could stay with you at the “front.” What has stayed with me over all these years is the image of a young woman sitting with her dad. She was softly crying, while he had his arm around her, gently stroking her hair. I would later learn that she was also a 19-year-old college student and her mother had stopped talking to her when she discovered her daughter was pregnant. She had refused to help her in any way. Her father, in contrast, was there to comfort and support his daughter. This picture was in opposition to a younger woman who sat by herself, arms and legs crossed, staring at the floor. The story she later revealed was that she was 15, had taken the bus to get to the apartment, and had told her mother she was going to the mall.
There were five of us who were driven to the “place.” Four of us were white, and one woman was Black. Once we were in the apartment where the abortions would take place, we were seated in a living room, and we shared our stories. The Black woman, in her 30s, was married and had three children. She and her husband had decided they simply could not afford another child. The fifth woman was very quiet and did not want to share any information.
Before being taken back to the room where the abortion was performed, I was blindfolded. A woman then escorted me down a hallway and onto a table. It was a medical table with stirrups. I was given two shots. I have read from the published articles of the members of Jane that one shot was an antibiotic, and the other was some type of anesthetic. The anesthetic gave no comfort when the dilation and curettage (D&C) was performed. It was a painful procedure. A woman held my hand and reassured me that the procedure would soon be over. I know that a man performed the procedure because I heard his voice, but I of course could not see his face because I was blindfolded. I am thankful that, whoever he was, he knew what he was doing, because several years later when I was married and had a planned pregnancy, I learned I had a tilted, also known as a retroverted, uterus. In unskilled hands, my abortion could have resulted in a perforated uterus. This is a serious complication that could have caused hemorrhaging, infection, or even death.
Once the procedure was completed, I was taken back to the living room, and the blindfold was removed. We talked with each other as one by one we gathered back together. I learned from the Black woman that she was too far along in her pregnancy, over 12 weeks, to have a D&C safely performed. A technique called the “super coil method,” had been used that would cause a miscarriage. The coil is inserted into the uterus where the irritation causes expulsion of the fetus. When that occurred, she should go to an emergency room. When everyone had the procedure completed, we were driven back to the “front” apartment, reunited with the people that had brought us. We went on our separate paths having shared an experience that bonded us for a moment in time.
I share my story because overturning Roe will not stop abortions. Instead, in many cases, it will make them unsafe and even life-threatening. If you feel a pregnancy should not be terminated, then make that choice for yourself. But allow women that do not share your view to make the choice for themselves.