Judith

You hear these stories about back alley abortions and people getting infections and dying, and I consider myself one of the lucky ones for surviving an illegal abortion.

So, I had this boyfriend.

It was a tumultuous time in my life! My father died when I was 15. My sister, who was a year-and-a-half older than me, got secretly married to keep her boyfriend out of the draft in the Vietnam War. No one knew. And my mom, who had lost two husbands, had some difficulties in her own life.

With all that in mind, it’s a good thing I had a boyfriend who was definitely an anchor for me. We did not actually have intercourse probably for a year. It was like Clinton sex, I guess.

This was probably at least a year into our relationship and it was just that one crazy, funky time that he didn’t have a condom. I was too young and innocent to have gone to an OB/GYN to get on any kind of birth control – the pill or an IUD or anything. I should have been on birth control. But I didn’t do that until after.

My mom died in ’03, and she was 89. Think about that, she was old school. She was like, ‘don’t you let those boys take advantage of you!’ She was not someone I could go to with this sort of problem.

I was always aware of when I got my period and I was always aware of when I was ovulating. And of course the day after, I knew I was ovulating and I freaked. And within a week when I was late for my period, I knew I was pregnant.

It was never a choice for me to go through a pregnancy and give it up for adoption. I just couldn’t even imagine that. I’ve always been very maternally oriented. I always wanted to be a mother. So, I couldn’t imagine having a baby and giving it away. It was not an option for me. Although, I applaud people who do that because there are some wonderful families who can’t have their own children.

I called a friend and said, “I don’t know what to do, I’m pregnant.” I was freaking out. She told me not to worry, and that she’d find someone to take care of it. This was probably 1967. So she gave me the name of some quack doctor. I mean, he was supposedly a doctor. I was lucky to have friends who supported me. My girlfriends were my support system. I’m not even sure who made the connection, but there was never any judgment on their side.

To go visit this doctor, I had to go from the Bronx in New York City, through a tunnel into Newark, New Jersey, and sit in this waiting room with all these people that I knew were doing the same thing. It was the creepiest thing ever.

He examined me, I was very early, and he was like ‘you’re not ready, you’re not ready.’ This doctor never really told me much about the process. He was giving me shots, and I would get out of there and it was like I have no idea what I’m getting. I can’t believe I was that stupid, I’m not that stupid anymore trust me.

At one point, he walked out of the room and I checked the bottle to see what he was giving me. I believe it was Vitamin B-12, it could’ve been B-6, I don’t know. But I had no idea – where the abortion was going to take place or when it was going to happen.

It was getting late into my pregnancy. I think this was past my third month when he finally said, “Okay, where do you live?” And I was just lucky that my mom would go to Florida for periods of time and leave me alone.

So he came to my house, the 12th floor of an apartment building in New York City and I laid on my kitchen table and I got an abortion.

I had no idea if this guy was for real or not. You hear these stories about back alley abortions and people getting infections and dying, and I consider myself one of the lucky ones for surviving an illegal abortion.

I often marvel at how different my life would’ve turned out and I’m amazed at how many people end up having an abortion. The fact that 1 in 3 women have had an abortion is pretty powerful. They’re just lucky if they can do it legally. I didn’t have that. But that’s just the way it is.

I’ve never looked back; I’ve never had regrets.

I did have a wonderful, supportive boyfriend who would’ve married me, but it was just the farthest thing from my mind. I knew I was not ready, it was not what I wanted, and I felt like after that length of time with him I knew I was not in love with this person.

Anyway, I ended up going to California with a boyfriend when I was 19. Even though everyone longs to go to New York City and it is a wonderful place, it was what I call a concrete jungle at the time. It was difficult to live there, there was a lot of crime, and things had not been cleaned up yet. I’d been held up at knife point twice in New York City. So, I hitchhiked to California with a boyfriend with just a backpack and a sleeping bag.

And ultimately, we split up and I’ve been happily married for 40 years. Now I have two daughters who have given me six beautiful grandchildren. My life would’ve turned out so differently if I hadn’t had an abortion; it’s not even funny.

Living in a Republican state and a conservative Christian community, there are not a whole lot of people who know my story, unless I know that politically they are on the same wavelength as me. It’s not something I would just share.

One time, I was at lunch with a bunch of people for someone’s birthday and it came up. I mentioned that I had an abortion, and one of the ladies just got up and left. She couldn’t handle it. That was really weird. I’m like, this is the 21st century—grow up.

So, I don’t go blabbing it to just anyone, but I’m sure all my closest friends have heard part of the story and know some of it.

My mother went to her grave never knowing. I never told her. But I’ve never looked back, and I’ve had no repercussions, nightmares, or bad feelings.

I want to tell my story because Roe v. Wade is probably one of the most important protections women have, and there’s a fear of it being it being reversed—a fear we’re going to lose women’s rights to make that choice.

Pro-choice doesn’t mean pro-abortion. It’s not pleasant, but it’s necessary for women to be allowed to make that choice.

And the fact that some of these idiotic politicians want to prevent women who are in distress or whose lives might be affected — it’s the scariest thing.

I always told my daughters to come to me if the time comes that they feel like they want to be sexually active. Of course, if they were 15 I’d tell them ‘hell no.’ Fortunately, we haven’t had any mishaps. They’ve had all planned pregnancies, and maybe that’s because they know my story.

I feel like I’ve been blessed and lucky in life to have made the choice I made.

Judith, East Tennessee

Susan

Because of this experience and hearing of similar experiences from my classmates, I felt a strong desire to work in women’s health.

I have been an OB/GYN in the Knoxville community for over 30 years. I would like to share my personal history with abortion and explain why I am an abortion provider today.

I grew up in a low-income family in Gatlinburg, although we never knew we were poor. My father worked as a cook, and my mother waited tables. Although no one in my family had gone to college (my father was not allowed to finish high school due to his family’s need for money), my parents encouraged my sisters and me to get an education. When I was 16, I became pregnant. Although my boyfriend and I used protection, condoms have a high rate of failure, and birth control pills were not available to unmarried young women. When I found out I was pregnant, I was very frightened due to my desire to continue my education and the limited choices available to women in Tennessee.

This was before Roe vs. Wade, and although abortion was legal in California and New York City, I could not afford to go to those places. I discussed my choices with family members and my boyfriend and elected to have an illegal first-trimester abortion in Knoxville. Even though I was lucky enough to not suffer any serious complications, as many poor young women did during those times, it was still a very painful and frightening experience done by a local gynecologist but without any counseling or explanations.

Because of this experience and hearing of similar experiences from my classmates, I felt a strong desire to work in women’s health. I met and married my husband of 36 years just before attending medical school at UT Memphis and went on to complete a residency in OB/GYN. My husband and I had discussed having children following our education but were dismayed to find out that our very effective method of birth control had failed just before I started medical school. We then made the decision to terminate the pregnancy. This time the abortion was done legally and was a much more humane and less painful experience than the first one. Several years later, after I finished medical school and my husband finished his Ph.D., we had two wonderful daughters.

In my 30-year career, I have referred all of my patients who were pregnant and who wanted to terminate the pregnancy to Dr. Morris Campbell, an excellent local OB/GYN working at the Knoxville Center for Reproductive Health. I chose not to do abortions in my own office because the counseling and pre-abortion services available at an abortion clinic could not be matched in a private office setting. I never had a patient who had a bad experience with having an abortion done at KCRH. I also never had a patient have a complication from a procedure done by Dr. Campbell.

Tragically, Dr. Campbell died of a hemorrhagic stroke in 2012. I elected to start providing abortions following his death. Tennessee had recently passed several laws that restricted abortion providers, including a law requiring that doctors performing abortions had to have active hospital privileges at a local hospital. I think many people in the lay community and perhaps some of our legislators did not realize what having active hospital privileges actually entails. In order for a physician to have active hospital privileges, the hospital requires surgeries be performed in their facility. For the OB/GYN specialty, this includes hysterectomies, Cesarean Sections, and other types of pelvic surgery. Fortunately, due to the very low complication rate from abortions, abortion providers encounter complications very rarely and therefore almost never need to perform these surgeries in the hospital setting. The hospitals cannot credential physicians not performing procedures in their faculty and actually require a certain number of surgeries to be performed in order to maintain active privileges.

For this reason, to have active hospital privileges, a provider must have a private practice in which they see patients who need various surgeries. In other words, in addition to working in an abortion clinic, the provider must maintain an active private practice at the same time. Financially and logistically, this is very difficult. Most OB/GYNs are part of a group practice or work for hospitals with fixed office and employee costs. Contrary to the beliefs of some state legislators, abortion providers in the Knoxville community actually make less money by providing this service than they would if they spent all of their time in private practice. It is also difficult for me to arrange to travel outside of Knoxville, since most of the doctors who would be happy to cover the clinics when I am out of town have not continued to perform major surgeries in the hospital setting and therefore do not have active hospital privileges. Doctors outside of Knoxville do not meet the requirements either, since the law stipulates that active privileges must be with local hospitals.

Requiring clinics to meet ambulatory surgery requirements is also unnecessary for the safety of patients having abortions. Many minor gynecologic surgeries are routinely done in physicians’ offices. The multiple and expensive requirements for ambulatory surgery facilities are not required in most states, and in these states the complication rate for abortion procedures is very low. Multiple medical studies are available to demonstrate this outcome.

In looking back to my personal and professional history, and in light of the multitude of difficult decisions that women must make in their reproductive years, I am happy to have lived in a time when women were treated with the respect to make their own reproductive choices. Birth control is not 100 percent effective, and families have a multitude of difficult decisions facing them daily. Please leave the decision of whether to continue a pregnancy up to the woman, her family, and her physician.

Susan, East Tennessee

Kay

The plan was to have him hit me in my lower abdomen with his fist so that I would miscarry.

Abortion wasn’t legal when I first got pregnant at the age of 15. I would hate for any young girl to go through what I did. It was about 1957 and I was madly in love and positive that I was going to grow up to marry my steady boyfriend, who was 16 at the time this happened. We’d been having sex since I was 13 and our method of birth control was for him to pull out, which as it turned out, didn’t work very well. My father was a pediatrician who was well respected in the community and my mother was socially active and a pillar of the Methodist church: to let either of them know I was pregnant was simply unthinkable. Since abortion was illegal, we took care of it ourselves. The plan was to have him hit me in my lower abdomen with his fist so that I would miscarry. The problem with this is that if I was aware he was going to do it I’d involuntarily tense my stomach muscles, so he had to do it by surprising me when I least expected it. Eventually, I started a very heavy menstrual  flow. I probably wasn’t more than eight or ten weeks along. I never saw anything that looked like a baby, although I looked for one. All I could find was great globs of blood.

The irony was that in the couple of years we’d been together my boyfriend had converted me to Catholicism, but my parents wouldn’t let me join the Catholic Church. Since I couldn’t go to confession and be absolved of the “murder” I had committed, I had to live with that guilt for several years. Still, I was glad we had been successful because being a murderer wasn’t as bad as being a social pariah would have been at that time. I had never heard the word “abortion.” I didn’t even know there was such a thing. Back then you got sent away to live with a relative and you came back either with a baby or without one and that was it.

Later on, in 1977, when I was 35 and had been married for several years, I had been nursing my first and only child for 11 months and became pregnant again even though I was using a diaphragm. My husband and I had not planned to have another child. We were astounded. Neither of us felt we could handle another baby at that time. He was 45 and I was looking forward to going back to work. We just didn’t see how we could do it emotionally, financially, or physically. We didn’t feel it would be fair to our daughter. I realized even if I could do this I would resent the child. I wanted to continue with my career and I was 35 years old. I had started to learn by then that our energy is not infinite; and I’d started to have some physical problems. My husband and I were in agreement, he was fully supportive, and we went to the clinic together. We were both very thankful to have that choice. Neither of us has ever regretted that decision. Having that support system made all the difference.

My third and final abortion occurred around 1984. During that time I was divorced, living with my nine-year-old daughter on around $800 a month in child support and alimony, and doing some freelance writing while looking for a regular job after being laid off. For a couple of years I had been going with a young man who was living with me. He was a returning serviceman who had seen the US Embassy in Beirut blown up, and he was working at a local restaurant as a cook and dishwasher. He had some of the same issues many returning veterans did at that time, among them heavy drinking. On the night I told him I was pregnant, he had come home late from work and he had already been drinking. He went ballistic. He broke an antique screen, hurled a chair across the room, tossed a stereo turntable out the door, and knocked the head off of a ceramic dog. When I tried to stop him he came at me and dislocated my shoulder before finally leaving. He came back a week or so later with roses, an apology, and no recollection of what he had done. I told him I planned to have an abortion and he said, “Well, that’s up to you.” I told him I’d appreciate it if he could see fit to pay for half of the medical fee. He didn’t say whether he would or wouldn’t help, but left after telling me he’d started to see a woman with whom I was acquainted.

On the day of my appointment at the clinic it was snowing and the roads were so icy I was afraid to drive, but I lived close enough to the clinic to walk and decided to do so, planning to take a cab home afterwards. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so alone as I did walking those few blocks in the snow to the clinic, but I didn’t cry until after the procedure. A woman who worked there spread some peanut butter on a cracker for me and said when she saw my tears, “It’s natural to feel a bit sad after.”

“Oh, it’s not that, but I think this peanut butter cracker is the best thing I ever tasted.” I had suddenly realized that her small kindness was the first thing anyone had done for me in months.

           He never helped pay for the abortion or the cab ride home. I would see him and my acquaintance together occasionally and often wondered if he ever got violent with her. A couple of years after I had put it all behind me, I was reading the Sunday paper and saw that the Right-to-Lifers had taken out a full page ad listing the names of those who opposed abortion, and there amidst all of the other names were those of his parents.

So those are the stories of my three abortions, all different. What they have in common is that (after passing through my Catholic phase) I have never regretted a one. I was thankful for the choice of a practically painless termination and a clean, safe, and kind place for the last two, and I hope every woman will always have that choice. I hope to help demystify the subject of abortion and help others who have had this experience know they aren’t the only ones who are out there.

Kay, East Tennessee