Back When Abortion Was Illegal

coathangerThe Ms. Blog asked readers to share stories of what it was like to get illegal abortions before the 1973 Supreme Court decision on Roe v Wade that gave women the right to terminate a pregnancy.

With permission, I have reposted a few of their stories. You can go to their blog to see more stories.

In 9th grade a good friend became pregnant by our AAU coach. He threatened to kill her if she told how she became pregnant. Her parents were divorced and her mother had committed suicide a few weeks prior. She borrowed money from everyone and wrote a check on [her] dad’s account to go to [the] local abortionist. She died in [the] girls bathroom a week later. … She was a very talented artist and composed music. I had known her since third grade and even now, at 62, can hear her laughter and have a caricature of myself she drew. She had to be buried in a different cementary as was Catholic raised, as did her mom. After her death a group told the coach to quit or we would tell. We were 14-year-old kids doing the best we could for our friend. … She was just a baby herself.

— Evelyn H.

When I was in a Midwest high school, we pooled our babysitting money to help our 16-year-old friend fly to Mexico, alone, for an abortion. Her parents thought she was staying at a friend’s home overnight. Imagine. I am 64. Never again—not going back.

— Bonnie B.

I’m a 62-year-old man but I know that my single mother had an illegal abortion in her teens, before I was born, that almost killed her. She couldn’t stop bleeding and couldn’t go to the hospital without facing criminal charges. All she could do was wait it out in a hotel room. Apparently, her boyfriend collected newspapers for her to sit on to collect the blood.

— Wm P.

Go to the Ms. Blog to see more stories#WeWontGoBack

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on February 5, 2016, in feminism, reproductive rights, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 31 Comments.

  1. When I first had sex I thought I was pregnant. I was about 15 years old. I had no idea what I was doing when I first did it so even though I used a condom I was very paranoid. My first thought was to get an abortion, but I knew I wasnt going to be able to tell my mom because she views abortion as the most terrible thing in the world. And maybe it is,but I couldnt imagine myself having a baby at only 15. I felt relief when I saw that I could go to a clinic by myself and maybe get an abortion if I was pregnant. Till this day I dont think I could ever have the courage to leave to Mexico to get an abortion or go to an illegal doctor to get one. It makes me sick to think that humans allow things like this to happen to young women. But now that Im i womens studies I see why people try to control what we can and cannot do. If our reproductive rights are ever stripped from us I will fight for women. No women deserves to ever go through these traumatic events.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience. And when we get to the section on reproductive rights you’ll get even more insight into why some people want to control women and their sexuality.

  2. These stories are so tragic and I’m wondering how some people still disagree with abortion. I have a close friend who got pregnant last year but had an abortion, and one day I got a call from her saying “I feel so ashamed and guilty about what I’ve done. People see me as if I committed murder.” It was financially difficult for her and her boyfriend to raise a child, so I feel like they were more considered for what would happen to the baby born in that circumstance if she gives a birth anyway. I know many people think that abortion is murder, however, what if their daughter gets raped and pregnant? They can’t say that she shouldn’t get an abortion because it is considered as murder. I do believe that all women should have a right to have a legal abortion. Having an abortion doesn’t mean they are irresponsible for the pregnancy, but personally it can be the result of their considerations of what truly the best can be for not only themselves but also their baby.

  3. These stories seem so foreign but yet are probably more common than we think. It’s sad to hear how many women have to go through these horrible experiences. It makes you think how close minded the leaders in power are. They ignore these circumstances and act like abortion is just murderer. Women have the right to handle their body the way they choose. I am curious about the aftermath of these cases and how these people find help, definitely scaring moments. Is there any facilities that they can branch out too?

    • These stories were all from before 1973 when abortion was illegal everywhere. Now the problem is that so many states are limiting the amount of clinics they have that women have to often times travel Long distances. That’s expensive and it can be dangerous, And they often end up aborting when there’re further along. Yet the legislators claim that they are protecting women.

  4. these stories are heartbreaking i cant even imagine the fear and pain these young girls faced. abortions should most certainly stay legal at least if they’re legal you can get them done safely and in a clean environment if they were illegal you would get cases like these we would see a lot more deaths infections and possibly sterile women all because the had no place to go without being arrested. pro people think that abortion is a way for irresponsible mothers to get rid of their unwanted pregnancies and I’m not saying that some people do use it that way but if we make them illegal again whats gonna happen to the girls who were raped and impregnated like the girl in the first story probably do he exact same thing she would attempt a self abortion and end up dying on the bathroom floor legal abortions all day everyday

  5. I personally do believe that abortions should be legal for cases like the little girl who got raped and pregnant by an AAU coach. Not only because she feared for her life because he threatened her if she told, but because of rape. I could not even begin to imagine to be violated in that way and to not have the choice of abortion and I had to keep the child and raise it and always be reminded of my rapist it is such a terrible way to experience something that is so sacred and supposed to be a beautiful time in a woman’s life, the fact that the coach stole that from her makes me livid. That goes for all rape victims and, unfortunately, she will not be the last but, at least, the woman is able to get the professional help she needs at her finger tips and now women do not have to go to extremes to seek medical help for their abortions

  6. I believe abortion should be legal and safe resources should be made available to all women. These are just three heart breaking stories of women who lost their life but there are so many more. So many women are shammed for having an abortion but don’t know the story behind it. Women are rapped and abused and can end up pregnant. So many lives could be saved by making resources affordable and available. Some countries have a problem with lack of safe sex education or resources to safe sex. If having a child is not in the best interest of the women why should she be forced to have a child? Sadly many women who are in situations where they should not be having to care for a child are forced to take matters into their own hands are either see an unlicensed unprofessional medical assistance or take their own life. Women should have the right to control what happens to their body.

  7. When I read these I thought about the statistics you referred to in class about how places that outlaw abortion have higher rates of it. These stories display how dangerous it can be to get an illegal abortion; going to Mexico alone at 16 and bleeding out in a hotel room are obviously very last resort measures/consequences that would never have had to happen if something as simple as abortion wasn’t illegal and demonized at the time.

  8. I feel so bad for everyone who went through something so traumatic and life-threatening. In Eritrea (Eastern part of Africa), abortion was illegal. Doctors would refuse to perform an abortion, so these girls had to go to local “medicine men”(or women) who would make them drink some type of liquid that was supposed to kill the baby, and the other option was just to commit suicide. Girls are under so much scrutiny if they got pregnant without being married, or old enough. So the girls who got raped, or abused had no options, they could not tell their friends and family or they would disown her or bet her for “shaming” the families name. The medicine man (or woman) would be actually giving the girls poison and so the girls end up killing not only the baby but themselves as well. These types of laws are defying the freedom that women should have to their own bodies.

  9. I believe in abortions not because I feel like people that are too young make dumb choices and make dumb decisions, but because if someone is really not ready to have a child should not have a child. These small quotes that barely had any words in them really just told me a story. I felt scared for those girls, and even now, what if one of my friends make a mistake, and have no choice but to quit there part time jobs, take time off of school, because they were not prepared. There are some women that can handle it, but not if they are living on their ow, or if they have no one to support them.
    Mental support is important when it comes to having children as well. You cannot manage to have kids if your mind is going to be elsewhere. I think the choice of whether you can have an abortion or not is really important. Some people are not ready to settle down. Some people do not want to have the child out of emotional scaring due to rape, or abuse. Some people just do not want to risk taking care of someone else, when they can barely care for themselves.

  10. They’ve got a lot of constituents who also don’t get that laws against abortion don’t stop it, They just make it go underground and cause more deaths.”

    I talked to my friend about that and told him how women would just go underground for abortions and it doesn’t stop them, He knew this and his view came from another angle that surprised me. I don’t know how many share this view but it may be why there are these laws despite some acknowledging that abortions still happen. I don’t see it the same way, but I guess some have more of a cynical view of morality. He said the problem with it is that society allowing abortions or too allowing of it causes more abortions or would. It would because he felt it makes abortions more “socially acceptable”, he gave a comparison to drugs how, while they are plenty of illegal drugs used.

    That many people don’t use drugs because of such not being socially acceptable, especially the hard drugs. I don’t know about that, I think what holds people off from drugs is it not being socially acceptable but education of how drugs fuck your life up. But he thinks, if women or girls feel it is socially acceptable and being told “it’s ok to abort the fetus” that more will do it. It’s interesting, it made me wonder what he thinks of people as a whole or society about morality and if he thinks laws and religion is what is basically keeping people from robbing and killing each other. I couldn’t watch but wanted to show me the bad stuff with some abortions where distrurbing stuff where some women handle it very wrong and many months along and aborted or where the baby comes out and right when out it’s head cut off. That is extremely upsetting, luckily most women or girls don’t do that I think with abortions, as that’s a baby now. I think it’s within 3 months for most abortions in the fetal stage. But he feels if more women/girls think it’s “ok” to abort, that the numbers of abortion will go up, and it’s because society shows that it’s wrong that the numbers of abortions aren’t increased.

    • “He said the problem with it is that society allowing abortions or too allowing of it causes more abortions or would.”

      But the reality is that the fewer restrictions a country has on abortion, The fewer abortions you tend to get. Scandinavia has the fewest restrictions and the lowest abortion rates in the world. A Catholic area like Latin America has strict restrictions, yet is among the highest in abortion rates.

      Sounds counterintuitive but when you have sex-negative societies you tend to not have sex ed (you have less of it in the Bible Belt), a lack of access to contraception, And girls feel like bad girls if they use it — so they don’t. And then you end up with higher rates of abortion. Especially if girls are going to be shamed for being sexual — destroy the evidence.

      • Yeah I know girls who have been pregnant not on purpose, they didn’t have an abortion, but could have been the case since it was an accident or not wanted and could have been an abortion if they chose so. And it wasn’t because of lack of education, lack of contraceptives, they had money and insurance to get it and the education to know about sex education, but they still allowed themselves knowing condoms help a lot to still decide to go without protection. More girls do that than you think.

        They either let the guy talk them into go without it or some weird reason try it themselves. My ex was like that and I’m glad I didn’t go ahead with it. She eventually did get pregnant by another guy, unintended of course and I called it remember talking to a girl I know who was acquainatances with my ex as the time, that she probably still didn’t learn and it’s only going to be a matter of time before she’s knocked up. And what happened? Yep and she sure didn’t want a kid, she did at some point but not at that time of her life, but she didn’t abort and has the baby, cute kid. But you can see other stories very similar to her, where they have the education and everything and do what these girls do, but they decide to abort instead. So that’s where it seems like it’s not necessarily about lack of education or health care to afford contraceptives, but just being stupid or knowing better but just ignoring common sense. I mean think about the pregnant at 16 reality shows,they have the child, but think of the girls who have a family that loves them and middle class and nice home and $. The girls are in school, they know about protection and have contraceptives but still decide to not use protection during sex and then abort the fetus.

      • I’m just talking about the social patterns: the less restrictions a country has on abortion the fewer abortions you get, versus the more restrictions you put on abortion the higher the number of abortions you get. And it’s partly because sex-negative countries don’t educate or make birth-control easily available. And also they shame girls so that they don’t use contraception, even if it is available. Because using contraception makes them feel like bad girls. I don’t know what was going on with the girls you were talking about, if they felt shameful or if the cost of contraception seemed too high or what. With Obamacare girls get free contraception and both teen pregnancy and abortion rates are going down.

  11. The stories are really heartbreaking 😦 In our country, too, illegal abortions took many lives before it was made legal in 1971…

  12. Harrowing. When will those who oppose legalized abortion realize that it actually saves lives.

  13. These stories are heart-breaking. We can’t and won’t go back.

    • No, we must not.

      And making abortion illegal doesn’t stop it. Desperate women get an abortion anyway. They are just more likely to try to do it themselves, or go to an illegal abortionist, or go out of state or out of the country which means they will be getting the abortion at a later time than they otherwise would, when it is more dangerous.

      The countries with the lowest abortion rates are the countries with the least restrictions. Like Scandinavia. Probably because they have more access to sex education and contraception. And there is less same in using birth control. The countries with the highest abortion rates have the strictest laws. Latin America is very Catholic and strict laws, but very high abortion rates.

      • Maddness. Abortion is still technically illegal in my state (NSW, Australia), however it is legal if there are social, economic or medical reasons that would threaten a woman’s mental or physical health. In other words – it is not entirely up to the woman, her choice needs medical approval however in practice no one is refused an abortion up to a certain number of weeks. Thankfully, here it is very rare to hear a mainstream politician suggest banning abortion. There are of course, anti-choice activists but I don’t think the general public would ever accept a ban.

      • Interestingly, the more the far right talks about banning abortion the more support it seems to get from the general public over here. But the next presidential election will transform this US Supreme Court, with four justices likely retiring in the next eight years. If we get a right wing president, that could be pretty scary.

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